There have only been a few days in my almost 4 decades where my life changed dramatically in the space of 24 hours. And none of them have been in a “I won the lottery!” way. And yesterday was one of those days. You may be thinking “It was an election. Get a grip. Did your life really change so dramatically?” Let me explain. But first get a glass of wine or some hot cocoa or some weed, because apparently that’s legal now…this is going to get messy.
Yesterday, I woke up filled with the kind of glee reserved for Christmas morning and tropical vacations. I bopped around the house getting my three year old ready for daycare. His tantrums didn’t even put a dent in my mood because I KNEW what was going to happen today. I dropped my snotty, screaming little lovebug off at daycare and headed to the lake nearby for a quick run before heading home to work. I listened to a #nastywoman playlist that I made myself. #beyonce
As I ran, I thought about how, as a girl watching election coverage in 1984, I was confused by Geraldine Ferraro because I couldn’t understand what she was doing there. I was 7 years old and just starting to wonder why no women were president. I wondered if women weren’t president because they weren’t smart enough. I wondered if they weren’t natural leaders. I wondered if they didn’t have the temperament. I concluded, as a 7-year-old child, that women weren’t suited for the role. I concluded that women weren’t as strong as men. It never occurred to me that something was wrong with the system. It never occurred to me that I lived in a world that treated its boys as more valuable than its girls. I don’t remember if I ever asked my parents. I just know that in my young mind I understood that it just wasn’t a job for someone like me. It wasn’t a job for a girl.
As I ran, I teared up thinking about how my small boy would grow up in a world where his first two presidents were not people who looked just like him. A man of color and a woman. I knew there would be plenty more white men after them and I loved that he would get to see all sorts of people as leaders. I felt like the world was changing and that the American dream that we talk about was actually becoming a reality. I was proud.
Fast forward twenty-four hours.
This morning I woke up heavy with the weight of grief and loss. I don’t use those words lightly. I’ve experienced acutely painful loss and grief and I felt them in me this morning, familiar companions that I hoped I would never see again. I felt shocked. I felt numb. And I cried unexpectedly. I felt shocked because like so many others I did not see this coming. I felt numb because despair is paralyzing. And I cried because I was hurt that so many of my fellow countrymen and women chose a leader that stood on a platform devoid of compassion and loaded with divisiveness, anger, blatant misogyny, and racism. This was not my president. I wondered if this was even my country.
As I dropped off my unusually cheerful child (thanks universe!) at daycare this morning, I walked in just as another parent was getting ready to walk out. The teacher at reception called out to him to “have a great day!” and he looked up, caught off guard. His face reflected the same shock and hurt that I felt and he just said “I’ll try but I don’t know if I can” as he looked back and forth between the two of us. My eyes welled with tears and I nodded because I couldn’t speak. He is black. His wife is white. They have two children under age 4. I would be willing to bet that he is wondering if this is his country anymore either.
After I navigated my way through the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, and depression, I went over and over in my head how and why and why and why and whyyyyy did this happen? Here is what I came away with. This is not the time for blame. The country has grown so divided to the point that we have fractured. And not just the little hairline cracks that heal without a cast. We are femur-snapped-in-half-sticking-out-of-your-thigh-we-might-have-to-amputate broken. And we aren’t just broken in two. This is not a clean break. We also broke a hip, 3 fingers, and shattered one of our arms. We need some serious healing and it ain’t gonna happen overnight. We have two very distinct groups on the right that want different things. We have a very similar situation happening on the left. It’s not to say we all want totally different things. In fact, I believe that you could take any two of those groups in any combination and find a Venn diagram of overlapping interest and common goals. But we have done absolutely nothing in the past several years to try to identify where we want the same things. We have made ourselves more divided through rhetoric, through left or right-skewing media, and through our inability to see past our own ideas and truths.
The bottom line is that this country is made up of all different kinds of people and that the majority of them are good people. I do not believe that all of the people who chose a leader that is the human version of a toxic dumpster fire are racist or sexist. I know actual good people who voted for a walking circus peanut and they did it because they feel that they aren’t being heard and they want change. And they aren’t being heard because we are all shouting at each other and no one is listening. I believe that a lot of us want the same things. I also believe that in order to move forward we all have to be willing to compromise because being 100% absolute in our stance has gotten us where we are. Which is that we are about to have our leg amputated and we have a slithering orange Muppet as our president-elect. No disrespect to the Muppets. You know I love you guys.
I don’t know where to go from here and I’m legitimately fearful of the damage that a Twitter bully in a baggy suit with an animal pelt on his head will do in the White House. But I do know this. I am going to try to understand the people around me. And I’m going to try to respect their opinions. I want to be able to have a civil, productive dialogue with people I don’t agree with. We’ve come to a point where all we do is trade insults and share memes mocking each other’s beliefs and delete “friends” and even family from Facebook because we don’t like what they have to say. Nobody ever changed someone’s mind by sharing memes like this.
If we want to have a voice in this country, if we want to have our message heard, we need to listen and we need to stop shouting. I am not suggesting we downplay our opinions and give up on our beliefs. I’m suggesting that we have to go about this with compassion and understanding and kindness and love. We are all humans here. Even that walking bag of dirty diapers with several accusations of sexual assault and an upcoming trial date for fraud. But seriously. When I said my life changed dramatically in 24 hours, I meant it. Not just because this talking Cheeto with a tuft of corn silk could make actual policy changes that impact me and the people I love. But because I realize that I have not been listening. I have friends that supported Bernie that were very hurt when Hillary secured the nomination. I shrugged it off because I thought, well that’s what the people want. Clearly it wasn’t enough of the people. I know a lot of conservatives who are horrified by Trump and felt like they faced an impossible decision between Trump and Clinton. I shrugged it off because, to me, Clinton was, is, and forever will be, a far superior choice to that butternut squash in a power tie. #imwithher #nastywoman
But the point is I shrugged off the opinions of people I care about and respect because I was just happy to get what I wanted. We’re not going to get anywhere stepping on each other’s heads, even if we want to do it just to see what the hell is going on with that hair and if it’s actually attached to his head with velcro. I’m changed because I am going to work on advancing my ideas, my truths, and my causes with compassion. I have to acknowledge that there are opinions that matter outside of my tribe. Because shit just got real, real quick. This is how I cope with grief and loss. I turn to action and find purpose. Mine is going to be to build bridges in my community and in my circles, to find common ground together, and to do it with love, kindness, and compassion. This one hurts and there are some tough days ahead, but we can’t afford to lose our shit and waste energy pointing fingers. We have to do the work to make real change at the ground level or we run the risk of continuing to isolate each other and creating an even bigger orange monster. I hope you’ll join me.
Note: I am aware of the hypocrisy of peppering this post about compassion and understanding with childish digs about that talking candied yam with a reality show, but it’s a process people.