Column: It's still true: Finders keepers, losers weepers

"Finders keepers, losers weepers." I learned early in life that it's not as simple as that. It's a lesson the entire country is living and learning in the aftermath of the presidential-election-without-end.

I never dreamed that the lesson of the blue jay feather would ring true 42 years after it was learned.

It was a humid summer afternoon in woodsy suburban Connecticut. I was 5. My mother's friend from New York was visiting with her son Donny, also 5. Donny was already having a very bad day when they arrived at our house.

The mommies decided a walk to the river would distract Donny and cool everyone off. Donny dragged along, whining and interrupting. I was quiet on the walk so the adults could talk. Along the way I found a large, shimmering blue jay feather.

"Finders keepers, losers weepers," I called. Right away Donny started whining that he wanted a feather too.

At the river we took off our shoes to wade, warning Donny to be careful of the mud wasps. The mommies tried to catch up on old times, but soon Donny was the center of attention, stung by a wasp that he had stepped on. He cried, he screamed, he moaned, he kicked, he whined even more. We made a mud pack for his foot. He had to be carried. Nothing would make him feel better.

Except my blue jay feather. My mother made me give Donny the feather - forever - because he was our guest and he was unhappy.

I have never forgotten the unfairness and injustice of that decision although now, as a parent myself, I can see why it seemed like a good idea at the time to my mother.

Lessons learned that day: 1. Good behavior is not always its own reward; 2. Whining still isn't worth it; 3. Life is unfair.

It's this last conclusion that has resurfaced now that the election is still unresolved after 30 days.

I had no idea before the Florida debacle that counting votes is really an art rather than a science.

I didn't know that the word "justiciable" (pronounce jus TISH a bul) existed until Justice David Souter used it on Friday. I looked it up. It means "capable of being disposed of judicially."

At this point judicial trash-mashing probably looks pretty good to both presidential candidates.

But here's how I see it. The votes in Florida were not all counted. As we now know, under our present system, many votes do not count.

We're not going to get a "real" count in Florida before inauguration day due to mechanical failure, human error and political maneuvering. And being ahead in the popular vote doesn't count as long as the electoral college does.

Once the election is finally "decided," Congress, state legislatures and governors, local government, civic groups and voters should take all that's been doubted, questioned, and learned in the last month and use it to reform the election process and revive participatory democracy in America.

So it's time for Mr. Gore to give the blue jay feather to Mr. Bush. It's not fair, but it's life. And life goes on.

Abby Johnson consults on rural community development, grant management and nuclear waste issues. She is married and has one middle school-age child.

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