PEAKS ISLAND — I was rushing to catch the bus on Tuesday. I knew I was going to miss the 9:10 bus because I had been talking with my neighbor about the election, voting and all of the uncertainty and anger that have surrounded this election cycle.

We talked about the stock market, the ballot initiatives and the legislative races. We have different political opinions, so our conversation was cordial but not deep. We agreed that the cool fall weather – a touch of frost on the ground – signaled a change to a slower, perhaps more predictable season.

Walking briskly up Exchange Street and realizing it was time to break out a warmer jacket, I was stopped by a man who saw the “I voted today” sticker I was wearing. “Excuse me,” he said. “Who did you vote for?”

A QUESTION OF SURVIVAL

I was struck by the directness of his question, but I freely shared whom I cast my votes for in the presidential, state and local races. He looked puzzled and asked, “Did you vote for the people who won’t increase the price of food? I want to vote, but I don’t know who won’t increase the price of food. Who should I vote for?”

I could hear a sense of urgency in his voice, and I knew this was not a rhetorical question or even a question about which political party would do better. No, the core of his question was about food – survival.

I stumbled to find words to continue our conversation. I looked away and sighed, frustrated. The answer to his question seemed so complex, yet his question was essential, simple and impossible to answer. Who was the food candidate?

As we talked a bit about the election, I learned that he has been staying at the shelter on Oxford Street. He said he has a hard time reading, doesn’t watch much news on television and doesn’t have a computer or a cellphone. He said he once had food stamps a year ago but that those benefits had been eliminated.

He, like many of us, came to Portland in search of work. He does day labor, but it’s been rather sporadic. He said he missed his family, who live Down East, and hoped they were warm and safe.

I didn’t ask, but I assumed he probably wasn’t being paid Portland’s minimum wage for his work. I also didn’t ask about the state ballot initiatives, but I assumed they probably weren’t high on his list of priorities.

All of this got me thinking. Who was the food candidate? Who was running on a platform of social inclusion? Who shared a vision for controlling food costs? Who said, “I am working hard to earn your vote so I can keep the cost of food low”?

How many people entered the ballot box with a single focus: not political ideology or leadership, but rather food? How many voters thought about the food as they cast their ballots?

HUMBLED BY FOCUS

I was embarrassed as I thought about my conversation with my neighbor, my own worries and concerns about the election and the future. Those concerns pale in comparison to the larger issues that many people in poverty face every day. The change in season means crowded shelters and public spaces, shivering walks in inadequate clothing, and the hope of something warm to eat.

My walk to the bus stop took me down Preble Street, past the soup kitchen. While waiting for the bus, I noticed that the crowd waiting for the kitchen to open seemed both larger and quieter – people with hands deep in their pockets, breathing out steam during muffled conversations.

The bus stop seemed darker on Tuesday. It may be the time change or change in the season.

On this day and beyond we will turn our attention to the new leadership and their goals, vision and hopes and dreams for the future. I’m hoping one of them will emerge as the food leader.