One summer, about nine years ago, when my daughter was three years old and the Rev. Raphael Warnock came for his annual visit to Martha’s Vineyard, she grabbed him by the hand and led him upstairs to her room to take him on a tour of her extensive dead bug collection.

Raphael reminds us of that moment while letting on that his son, now two years old, has a dead bug collection, although his is more specific.

“Lady bugs,” Raphael says with a deep laugh. “He collects dead lady bugs.”

It is New Year’s Eve. Pickle (her nickname) is now 12 years old and instead of showing Raphael her dead bug collection she is canvassing for him every day in Atlanta, going door to door to get out the vote and help voters in his historic U.S. Senate run, to poster the streets and, at this moment, to hand him a hat and noisemaker to celebrate the New Year.

My wife, the Rev. Cathlin Baker, and Raphael have been friends since they met as Union Seminary students in the 1990s — studying together, fighting for social justice together, marching together and growing together. Their relationship deepened, along with the whole family, as Raphael came to preach at the West Tisbury Congregational Church every summer on the Vineyard, and Cathlin preached twice at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.

And so when the Georgia runoff election for the U.S. Senate was announced we made the decision to drive to Atlanta to help out in any way we could. We left the day after Christmas, bringing with us family friends Kyra Whalen and Jennifer Frank.

Election day is five days away and we feel honored that Raphael has chosen to spend a quiet New Year’s Eve with us, along with his sister Wandetta. The windows are open, we are masked and social distanced, but we are together.

Raphael tells us stories about the campaign trail, about all the people he has met around the state, about hiring a staff and learning the ways of campaigning (his first), and the origins of his puppy commercials which went viral.

In turn we tell him about watching training videos every evening and then being deployed around the city during the day, getting out the vote and helping to counter voter suppression.

Most of the neighborhoods we visit are poor, disenfranchised places where people struggle in ways I cannot imagine. In a former life I would have avoided these neighborhoods. Now I take my children there and burst with pride as I watch my 16-year-old son Hardy walk up to a stranger’s door to encourage him to vote. I am impressed with Hardy and to be honest I am a bit impressed with myself as a parent, offering up this experience to him. But my bubble quickly pops as a hard looking young man comes to the door and tells Hardy to get off the porch in expletive-laced words.

We beat a hasty retreat.

That is what the ground game looks like. Moments of anger or knocking for nothing — no one home yet again — offset with moments of beauty when a woman comes to the door and you explain that her absentee ballot has been rejected for any number of reasons but here is how to fix it and she puts her hands together in prayer and thanks you.

At one house Pickle and I knock on a door and then step back to create social distance while we wait for a response. But as I step I nudge something metallic. I look down and see that I have kicked a bullet shell casing. In fact, the front yard is full of bullet shell casings. Pickle and I back away quickly and move on to the next house.

As Pickle relates this story to Raphael, he suggests that we come to Savannah for the weekend. He will hold a rally there, in his hometown, with Vice President elect Kamala Harris, among others.

In Raphael’s puppy commercials he loves dogs and they love him. But at the moment I am not loving my own dog. We have traveled to Savannah with the dog (when we travel as a family we leave no one behind) but have now found out that dogs cannot attend rallies. I do the dad thing and say I will take it for the team and stay behind with the dog. And since the rally is set to be a long one, four hours or so, I drive back to Atlanta. Later that night texts from the kids roll in.

“Dad, after the rally we went out with Raphael to a restaurant.”

“Dad, people keep coming up to the table. Raphael just took pictures with two little boys.”

“Dad, the owner of the restaurant stopped by to say hello. She was at home but ran down the street when she heard Raphael was here. She told him her family is all Republican but she is for Raphael.”

“Dad, we got to see inside of Raphael’s campaign bus.”

“Dad, we wish you were here with us.”

Back in Atlanta, we hit the campaign trail again, driving, walking, talking, calling, doing whatever our ever-growing network of staffers and volunteers asks us to do. The organization is incredible. It is Jan. 4 and as I walk the streets, seeing signs and posters and images of Raphael Warnock, I swing from excitement to anxiety every few minutes. We all do. We can’t sleep. We stress eat. We watch the movie Selma. We go to another rally, this time featuring President-elect Joe Biden. We are front row and there is our friend Raphael with the President-elect, and thousands of people are going nuts. Pickle and I invent a new dance routine and a man says to me, “Nice moves.”

I have never been told I have nice moves but here in Atlanta it feels like anything is possible.

On election day we all wake up at 5:30 a.m. to start the day as poll monitors. Cathlin puts on her white clerical color and I marvel, as I so often do, at this woman I have known since we were in high school. She has always walked the heartfelt path, the way of humility and justice and selfless courage. Raphael once introduced her as “My sister with the righteous rap sheet,” referencing her activism arrest record, and I beamed with pride. For so long I felt as if I walked with her from a bit of a distance where activism and standing up for what you believe was concerned, not wanting or knowing how to put myself on the line. But this morning I am side by side with my wife and my children.

At our polling location more than half the voters find out they are at the wrong location. We give them directions to their correct polling location, urging them to stay the course and get their vote counted. Every potential voter is determined and focused and I let myself begin to believe — just a little bit.

In the afternoon we knock on more doors. When I pick up more literature I meet a woman who attends Raphael’s church. As we talk she tells me she remembers Cathlin preaching at Ebenezer, remembers her words and her spirit. We are masked but there is no stopping our hug.

In the evening we head to a place called the Georgia Beer Garden, across from campaign headquarters. A few friends and family are gathering there to watch the returns with Raphael. People keep texting me. Their energy is frenetic. But in the bar, it is mellow. Raphael chats quietly with everyone, does not even look at the TV, and acknowledges it will be a long night or more likely several days before anything is known.

But as the evening continues the mood shifts — up, down, up, down and then up, up, up. Raphael and his team move across the street to prepare. Then we are told to come across the street too, to be part of this historic moment. We walk through a metal detector and head upstairs to the war room.

When the verdict is clear, the campaign manager whispering the numbers coming in from Dekalb county long before Steve Kornacki will deliver them on the news, a ripple moves through those of us gathered. It starts quietly, almost tentatively, but then explodes with cheers and clapping and tears.

Before making a speech to the room, before giving thanks, Raphael calls his 82-year-old mother in Savannah.

“Mom, can you hear me?” he asks. “This is Reverend Senator Warnock calling.”

The crowd erupts in cheers and then quiets down as Raphael listens to his mother on the phone. He turns to everyone.

“She says she is still Mama.”

The day after the election I wake before dawn. We were up very late but I can’t sleep. I drive to the coffee shop where I have gone each morning while in Atlanta to start my day. After I get my coffee and head back to my car I decide I don’t want to drive right now, choosing instead to walk.

Atlanta is a city of murals. I walk down Edgewood Avenue and pass a mural of the late Congressman John Lewis. A few more steps and I pass a mural of Stacey Abrams. Then George Floyd appears three stories high. I turn off Edgewood and head down Jackson which leads to Ebenezer Baptist Church and the Martin Luther King center. And all along the way are images of Raphael Warnock. My heart is so full that I decide to keep walking.

The sun is rising in Atlanta. I have my shoes on. And I am ready.