Two years ago, after a series of health problems and other major stresses had taken a toll on her, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. Like anyone who has been through this, there are lots of ways it could have played out depending on a variety of factors.
Initially she was given a good prognosis based on the normal course of her particular kind of disease; you listen to what the experts say and hang on to that when the news is good. But when you take into consideration so many other factors that have nothing to do with visible symptoms, textbook analysis or testing you see a different picture, and understand it to be a much different reality than what you are being told or hope it could be. Even though deep down you know the truth, you keep yourself in a little bit of denial for self-preservation, because that’s the only way you could get through it.
The following period was one of the most painful, challenging times in my life, as she went through eight months of suffering, a tense roller coaster ride filled with glimmers of upswings and moments of despair. But the underlying feeling, whether any of us wanted to admit it or not, was she was not going to make it, and at the end of June last year she passed away. Even though we knew it was coming, when it actually happens you are still in shock and have to process and digest it, grieve the loss and deal with all the collateral consequences of such an event.
I bring this up to you now because it is the best analogy to describe how I felt when the results came in Tuesday night. For me, and in my observation of so many, the day after the election was a National Day of Mourning. Because although the GOP candidate technically won, our country as a whole lost, not just because of how close it was, but how split apart and divided we are as a result. Amplified by technology and media, we feel this more viscerally than ever.
Unlike many of my friends and others who opposed and then were shell-shocked by the announcement of our new President-elect, I had seen this coming since the summer, slowly and steadily building with a ferocity and stalwartness that you would have never guessed if you only went by the mainstream media. I paid close attention to the backstory and aftermath of Brexit, recognizing a mirror image of ourselves across the pond, and had a terrible sinking feeling in my stomach when it happened. I paid attention to the worldwide trend towards nationalism. I opened my ears and eyes as wide as possible, kept coming across non-stereotypical supporters and noticed traditionally assumed liberal outings and locales were populated by more “Make America Great Again” t-shirts and hats than I would have imagined.
In an effort to understand how this was happening, I observed and sometime interacted with people outside my circle, read articles and watched un-sarcastic straightforward reporting of why they were for this individual; I read the often pain-filled, hateful comments and tweets on articles with biases on every side of the spectrum, and as heartbreaking and difficult as it was, and now even more so continues to be, chose not to un-follow, block or delete any of my FB friends and family who posted about the then Republican nominee, (many of who are now coming out of the shadows and gloating in their win without any empathy for the fear that so many are experiencing as a result). I made an effort, and will continue to make an effort, to engage thoughtfully with them when possible – because if we can’t reach out and be civil to the people in our own sphere of influence, the rest of the nation is doomed.
After gathering all of this “data”, and seeing that the debates and late-breaking scandals did not change their positions an inch, to me, the writing was on the wall, and if it was not going to be an outright win for them, this would be very, very close. Like with my mother’s illness, I was not surprised at the outcome, but held out hope and stayed in a little denial in order to keep myself from really going there until I absolutely had to. And here we are.
Obviously, if you voted for the person who won, you are likely not experiencing this, and I’m sure are more than content with your candidate’s victory. As I wrote on my Facebook page on Wednesday though, regardless of why you might have voted that way, this change indeed came at a very big cost, because the man elected also carries with him the promotion, glorification and inflaming of bigotry, racism, misogyny, sexual assault, xenophobia, Islamophobia, bullying etc., and if you were one of his supporters I implore you to please do your part to mitigate the horrendous side effects and collateral consequences your vote has set in motion by speaking out often and with conviction against these things, and demonstrate the opposite of what he exemplified and modeled in his campaign.
I learned a lot in my “research”, and was reminded that no voting block is a monolith, especially since we are such a diverse nation; with traditionally only two parties, this in itself was understandably the cause of much discontent and frustration. There are legitimate reasons for everyone to have wanted change. If I was a career coach working exclusively in many of the rural areas or depressed industrial towns, it would indeed be more difficult for me to do my job. Other folks succumbed to fear-mongering and scapegoating. Others were just disgusted with the whole process. The media did not offer equal, broad or totally impartial coverage, nor did they make it easy for anyone to get the straight story about anything. People on the left, right, and in everywhere in between expressed themselves through anger, sarcasm, name-calling, and even violence, and are continuing to do so.
Most people found it more comfortable and comforting to stay in their own bubble and feel good about themselves in their own echo chamber. What I did took time, intention, and much restraint. It did not feel good being exposed to so much I find distasteful or flat out wrong, but as a citizen living in (what will still hopefully be) a democracy, I felt it was my duty, and will continue to stretch beyond my choir, and at the very least listen, not respond by yelling or attacking, and either politely agree to disagree, and at best find a way to some mutual understanding and acceptance.
Those on every side need to understand not everyone is like them, nor thinks the same way or wants the same way of life, but that does not have to come at each others’ expense. We must call out our own when they are being intolerant or feeding into stereotypes. And we must make sure our rights are not violated or suppressed. This will take vigilance and courage. But then again, we are the home of the brave, right?
The reality is that we cannot go backwards, we must move forwards and come to some compromise as to what that forward should be. How are we going to do that? What can you to make yourself stronger and more perceptive? Your community better? Yourself more accepting of anyone who is different or “other”? How can you become a master listener? How can you use your career to serve others simply by doing what you are meant to do and brings you a sense of peace and fulfillment? How can you step out of your bubble, especially on social media, and when you can, in person?
Last month I wrote about the end of an era and a sense of displacement in my PGG Stranger in a Strange Land. Things now feel as strange as ever, and it’s about to get even stranger. I’m hoping that this is the breakdown our country needs in order to have a breakthrough; how poetic it is that Leonard Cohen, who I quoted in Let the Sun Shine In, died yesterday: “There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” It’s up to us to create a new reality that deems everyone equally valuable and allows each other to thrive.
My apologies to any of you I may have offended by offering my viewpoints on such a personal matter, but more than ever we need to share our experiences and perspectives with one another in a safe, grounded and open-minded manner, because that is the only way we will find out that we actually have more in common than we think. This is a revolutionary act that is not partisan, it’s patriotic.
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