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Keith John Paul Horcasitas

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In Thanksgiving for the Right to Vote
By Keith John Paul Horcasitas
Sunday, November 02, 2008

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How a person with special needs inspired me to vote.

In Thanksgiving for the Right to Vote

To vote, or not to vote; that is the question: whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them. (Hamlet, Prince of Hamlet [revised], William Shakespeare, 1601)

With the presidential election and Thanksgiving coming up, I'm reminded of how blessed we are to have the right to vote for the people and the causes that are dear to all of us. Someone who really impressed upon me about valuing this right to vote that we may take for granted is Fr. Peter, a local diocesan priest who died in 2005.

I met Fr. Peter at a local nursing home when we would go to visit some other folks after Mass at the nearby adjoining chapel. Unfortunately, he had a debilitating stroke which limited his mobility and functioning to the point where he needed to use an electric wheelchair to get around, as well as his ability to speak was severely impacted.

Still, as the 2004 presidential election was approaching then, Fr. Peter was able to clearly communicate his strong desire to my wife that he wanted to vote in that election. My wife checked with the Registrar of Voters about how an individual in his situation could vote. Fr. Peter had already been registered to vote and even could have done it by mail if needed, but instead, he insisted on going to the polls.

Around that same time, it happened that I had found out through my own party affiliation that volunteers were needed to assist individuals with special needs, like Fr. Peter, in getting to the polls to vote. So I was assigned to meet with Rev. Paul, a local Lutheran minister, at the nursing home on that election day. We decided to use Rev. Paul's pick up truck, so it would be easier in assisting with Fr. Peter's needs.

Fr. Peter, in his pre-disabling condition, was known to have been an outspoken advocate for the disadvantaged, whether he demonstrated this at the pulpit or in the public square. One time, it was noted that the local bishop then had to dissuade Fr. Peter from participation in some peaceful public demonstrations that had been organized for a worthy cause.

Since his superior had told him that he could not attend any such public events in his regular priestly attire, he decided to go incognito - and actually dressed as "Santa Claus" at the peaceful advocacy event. The police declined to arrest him, as they had done to the other participants, since they knew who he was. Still, Fr. Peter did not want any special treatment, and so he drove himself to the jail in his Santa Claus outfit to join his comrades!

Anyway, Rev. Paul and I were so inspired and touched by Fr. Peter when we went to the nursing home to take him to vote. While he could only mumble a few words, his face shone with joy and smiles in anticipation of the voting. After a somewhat difficult lifting and maneuvering of Fr. Peter in and out of the truck, Rev. Paul and I helped him to the special needs area where his wheelchair could fit in and allow him to vote. The expression on his face was indescribable after he completed the process as a faithful voting citizen doing his civic duty! He was so thankful for his ability to exercise his right to vote!

I certainly have learned an invaluable lesson in life that Hamlet noted in response to Ophelia's reply: "I humbly thank you, Fr. Peter, for encouraging me to vote, well, well, well!" (Hamlet, Prince of Hamlet [revised], William Shakespeare, 1601) In a simple rearrangement of the lettering, when we don't vOtE, we vEtO our chance to voice for changes! Make every effort to get out and vote!

Keith John Paul Horcasitas, LCSW, MHA, 1133 Knollhaven Drive, Baton Rouge, LA 70810,, October 26, 2008.

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