IN an election year, it can be hard to maintain a sense of goodwill toward neighbors with opposing viewpoints. Candidates promote childish rancor with their sludge-slinging. Bumper stickers clash on city streets. ''My, my . . . your lower lip was quivering just now,'' a co-worker commented sardonically on my own emerging passion during a desktop discussion. Recently I found myself arguing with my grandmother for the first time in my life. This presidential election has played on my thoughts and emotions: my anger, hope, and sense of brotherhood - more than any other.
On the day Geraldine Ferraro came to town for a lunch hour rally, I fidgeted as noon approached. I was still diligently riffling through papers and trying to focus on an impending deadline when a friend mentioned, ''Weren't you going to go to . . . ?'' It didn't take much to persuade me to leave. Deadlines come and go, but true political inspiration is rare. What's more important, I reasoned confidently, a pile of paper or the future of my country, the world? Never questioning how my presence at a rally could accomplish world peace, I grabbed my umbrella and caught the subway downtown.
Despite drizzle and a wood fence that blocked the view of the podium, a large crowd had gathered - eyes glued to any visible piece of campaign banner. Around us, persistent agitators marched in time to their chants for an independent candidate. ''Pro life'' advocates with graphic signs encircled the mass of eager spectators, who chose to absorb only the amplified slogans emanating from the central platform. After half an hour, I jumped off the ledge I had shared with five other bodies and umbrellas. I was satisfied that I had come, seen, heard, and gotten a bit wet - all for my noble cause.
But as I headed for the subway, my satisfaction waned. A disturbing photo held by a demonstrator caught my eye, and I felt dismayed that I had not let any opposing view intrude on my single-minded venture. Though I assumed that a harsh monotone would answer any question I might ask, I turned back.
The woman holding the photo listened to my slanted question on how to weigh all the issues of the campaign, and we talked. We tried to find untried twists of logic. Our efforts at persuasion fell flat. In parting, we agreed that it was ''good'' to talk to each other, but our confident smiles betrayed that we remained unmoved, if not confirmed, in our disagreement. Again I felt dismayed.
Yet on the subway back, when I found her words in my memory, I gained hope that mine had caused second thoughts in her mind as well. Perhaps there were open, reasoning minds behind her placard and my campaign button after all.
A similar, stronger lesson came from my political altercation with my grandmother. When we became deadlocked over the arms race and stopped in silence , I held my breath. I worried that I had just destroyed something sacred in rebelling against her life's experience. I had just challenged her view of a world she'd struggled all her life to comprehend. Had I just separated myself from her love as well as her history?
Then, just as suddenly as the silence had struck, my grandmother's face lit up in an impish smile, and she broke away saying, ''I have something for you.'' I followed her careful, feeble steps to the windowsill lined with her pots of small plants. ''Here, this little cutting from my hibiscus has caught on quite well. It might even flower again soon. Take it to Boston . . . just don't let it tip over. . . .''
A flower, of all things. There was no questioning her loving gesture and no choice but to accept it without hesitation. Nothing had been destroyed in our moment of anger but perhaps a piece of my childhood.
The confusion and political controversy of this campaign have challenged us all in our faith in brotherhood and healing. The passion of the election year must not - cannot obscure the love which God gives us to share with our neighbors. Even with those neighbors on the opposite side of the fence.