Monday, November 21, 2016

'Whew! OK' and then actually not OK...

Her brief shimmying moment during that first debate sort of summed everything up: As awful as this circus was, the colossal difference in sheer intellectual maturity between the thoughtful adult and the large toddler on stage gave me new confidence as an American and as a woman.

This nightmare blip would be over soon and very soon, and then we could each return to proactively pushing for justice and compassion in myriad ways – all with a capable Madam President at the helm. “Whew! OK.”

“Happy Election/Apocalypse Day :-),” a friend texted me. I winked an emoji back, delighted to wait quite some time in line at 6 a.m. two weeks ago to fill in that oval beside the name of an accomplished, badass lady. She would continue so much of what the deeply decent, gracious human who has occupied the Oval Office the past eight years began, and I was proud to cast my vote for her.

It was such a happy albeit early morning that I selfied it. I stopped and chatted with Lewis on my bike commute, rather than just rolling past with the usual wave or high five. And all day at work and around my neighborhood, the mood seemed different. It really felt like the best day of 2016. My power was turned on, and starting right then I’d be strong.

Cut to about 7:45 that evening, when I casually turned on the news and popped the cap off a delicious hard cider I’d purchased a few days prior for that specific night. Suffice to say, I should have purchased more than one bottle of the stuff.

Like so many, I didn’t sleep much that night, despite turning the TV off by 10:30 or so. I kept waking and crying. The sleeplessness and weeping spells continued over the next couple days, simmering down to a dark but settled cloud of grief and anger by the weekend.

Winter is coming, winter is here. The wind and the dying leaves and the physical chill that have finally made their presence known in St. Louis over the last few days seem a fitting accompaniment to the present triumph of fear, hate and ignorance in our cultural climate.

I’ve been told by several more conservative friends that those are strong words. Hateful words. And the other day, a white woman in the row ahead of me on the train loudly ’splained to her college-age seatmate, who was reading some real news on her laptop from what I could tell, that all of the protesters are “brats” and “need to get over it.” She certainly shut down the conversation on Amtrak that day. Yeah, she sure told us what we are: We are brats. We are nasty.

That’s been the voiced tone of many irritated by the grief and pushback over the election results on social media, too. Those who either voted for the president-elect or feel a measure of relief and hope at the prospect of his presidency are deeply offended to now find themselves considered complicit in what’s occurred and what may come in these next months and years.

It’s no fun to feel hurt, and I’m not trying to argue that everything that’s been said about the election of DJT has been nice or helpful by those of us who are not on the right-wing side of things. I am sorry that folks are going through that cognitive dissonance and inner discomfort.

But I still cannot feel all that bad for those grappling with that sort of hurt/personal offense right now. Frankly, some of it smacks of DJT himself, who, instead of getting it together mentally to become a non-catastrophic leader of the free world (even just in terms of developing a more healthy temperament and some capacity for reflection and critical thought, let alone developing workable policy), has been losing it again on social media – this time over a really very thoughtful, respectfully relayed message by the diverse and newly vulnerable cast of “Hamilton.”

I do think we must, more than perhaps ever before, find it within ourselves to listen to one another, give each other the benefit of the doubt and really seek to understand where those with different perspectives are coming from. And I do believe we have much in common with one another and need to celebrate all of that good and light and love.

But it’s also a time for taking sides, for speaking up, for working harder than we have been on behalf of the oppressed and those in danger– and not for apologizing for calling certain statements and actions unacceptable, inhumane, racist, selfish, etc. As much as we cringe at Facebook threads that go off the rails and poke fun at the idea that people’s minds *ever* get changed by social media ravings, let alone uncomfortable in-person conversations, those sorts of interactions are kind of all we’ve got, in some ways. And our country, and our entire world, is at stake. We have to keep at it.

I have seen minds changed, including my own, through conversation. Hugely bummer conversations, even – including several that still make me cringe in my own case, as well as feel a wave of gratitude.

Here’s one, gulp/cringe: Back in the early 2000s, over ice cream with a friend at Cold Stone Creamery, incidentally, our chitchat somehow briefly turned to state ballot issues. I don’t recall the exact nuts and bolts of the bill or referendum or whatever it was, but the gist was that LGBT couples would have some of the same domestic privileges and protections and rights that straight couples did.

Anyway, at one point I said something rather facile to my friend (and now to my deep dismay) about understanding where they’re coming from but still seeing it as different than a marriage and not something I felt I could vote in favor of. As I explained my view, my friend began to have kind of an odd look on her face. Unbeknownst to then-quite-conservative-and-Bible-thumping me, two women at the table behind me – plus their young children – were seated at a table behind me, just trying to enjoy their ice cream.

My friend, to her credit, quietly and gently pushed back with her own view of why the Colorado ballot initiative made sense. And just then the family of which I had been so spatially and ethically unaware walked past our table on their way out the door.

“Honestly, it’s just so that we can take care of each other in the hospital and have the same privileges with our children and that kind of thing,” said one of the women, to whom I am now forever and awkwardly grateful though it stung at the time. I don’t remember what she said word for word, but I do remember it was calm and persuasive…and firm. Unapologetic.

In that moment, I wanted to crawl into a hole forever. Actually, I still want to crawl in that hole a little bit. But more importantly I wish I could somehow thank that stranger (as I have my friend) for responding to my narrow statement with such resolute grace. Her life, and her love for her partner and her children, matter so much more than I could see at the time. And if she hadn’t shared that with me, hadn’t taken the time to counter me, it might have taken me even longer to recognize that.

So…on that embarrassing note…here’s to continuing the conversation, including the difficult ones, in the midst of a new and terrifying chapter. I do believe that deep-seated beliefs and blind spots can change, especially when we are given windows into others’ hearts and personal stories – and also when we are called out, sometimes fairly and sometimes maybe not totally fairly, for elements of badness in ourselves and in our society and subcultures. It’s natural to feel defensive, but it’s also possible for those moments to lead to self-reflection and action that result in needed change.

Whew! OK. :-/


K. Lee said...

Evie, Thank you for such an eloquent statement. This election, like none other in which I paticipated, has left me stunned, saddened, and grieving. I could go into all the reasons, but your hope that conversations will continue is so important to hold on to at this moment. Thank you.

perfectpitch said...


Thank you for your insightful and deeply personal blog post. I particularly admire your willingness to confron yourself publicly about something in your past that is now quite obviously painful for you to admit.

I am hopeful, as you are, that dialogue and conversations, real or virtual, can continue. Unfortunately, I think it is has been all too easy for some to take others' insecure feelings of "us" vs. "them" and reinforce and amplify them to a point where it has become nearly impossible to scale the intensity back and attempt to simultaneously assuage fears and solve the real problems. It's far easier to find scapegoats for problems than it is to engage in active conversation leading to problem-solving.

I truly think putting a "face" on issues such as those related to your personal episode makes all the difference in the world. I know that I personally live in a city of great diversity, but I have not always. Issues become personal, and thus important, when one has close friends and family members who are of different sexual or gender orientations or ethnic or religious backgrounds.

Keep the dialogue going, keep writing and sharing, stay nasty...and maybe sit in the Quiet Car next time! ��

Susan Spector