It has been several days since the election and I am still not recovered. I am not certain why this has hit me so hard. I have had my candidates and parties lose elections before. Often, in fact. I am in mourning, the same way I was in mourning after my marriage ended, or when my parents died. I function fine, work is getting done. I still laugh and read and pet the cat. I sip my coffee in the morning. Wash the dishes. I talk each day with the woman I love.
But I am not right. My mind is restless. Flighty. Left to its own devices, there is an emptiness, a deep sense of loss that has not let go of me yet.
It is, I have come to understand, not the loss of something real. It is the loss of an illusion.
I am 61. I grew up in the age of the struggle for civil rights. I was young, but I can remember Martin Luther King’s speeches on my parent’s old black and white television. My mom and I were in downtown Richmond the night he was killed, and I can remember seeing looters and rioters. I remember a car burning. I remember the fear as we drove through and finally back home to safety. I remember the horror of learning of his death. Even then as a young teen, in a household that held a (At that time – he changed as he aged) bigoted father, I knew they were fighting for something basic and good – the right to simply live like everyone else, with the same opportunities. I remember Bobby Kennedy, and his death and how those two murders left me feeling we had fallen backward and would never recover.
I remember the women’s rights movement like it was yesterday. To me, naive as I was (and still am, evidently), I felt like it was a no brainer. Women deserve the same opportunities as men. But it was a struggle. A fight. We had to, just as we did in the civil rights movement, fight in congress to pass laws. We have had to fight to have those laws enforced. We’re not there yet, but we’ve made progress.
I have lived the battle for LGBT rights. My son is gay and that has given me a perspective I never had in the earlier battles for people to simply be allowed to be people, to be like everyone else. And it has been a battle. People have been hurt. People have been damaged. People have lived in fear, and were just starting to emerge in recent years.
None of these battles is over. We’re not there yet.
But there has been a prevailing American story that we were a people who at our most base level believed that we should be fair, that even if we weren’t there yet, we were working to be there. It is what we wanted for ourselves and we had come to a place where it was considered wrong to belittle each other just because we were…. different.
That was my illusion. That is what gave me hope. That is what made me proudest of our country. Not that we were there yet. Not that we were somehow perfect, but that as a nation we had an unspoken contract with each other to make this a place where everyone had the right to pursue a good life on a level playing field. No, the field was not level, but ultimately, that was the goal.
I am not so sure any more.
This is not about Trump being elected President. He will either accomplish great things or he won’t. It is way too soon to be certain.
No, this is about the atmosphere of this entire election. The atmosphere of hate and dismissal that has been released. The atmosphere of fear that has emerged from it all. It has become OK to belittle people, treat them vilely, dismiss their worth. Dismiss their concerns. Dismiss truth in favor of…. well I am not sure what.
When I became a pastor, the Methodists put me through a set of psychological exams. It was standard procedure for all new pastors. I did fine, but they warned me that I was perhaps a bit naive, too willing to trust people, too blind to the ugliness around me. This, they warned me, could set me up for disappointment.
Guilty as charged.
I want my illusion back. I want to believe we are not a nation of hate. I want to believe that, even if we are not there yet, we want to be a place that believes every person has value, has the right to be treated well, has the right to rise. And just now, I’ve lost that.
I will move past it. At least I think so. Even in the writing of this, I am reminded of the back and forth nature of each groups’ struggle for simple acceptance. Other races. Women. People of different sexual identities. It’s never been a straight line. Things are too deep rooted to change quickly. A lack of understanding and a lack of knowledge and fear of the different is, left untreated, is a recipe for anger, fear, and hate.
Anger, fear, and hate – that is what comes naturally to people who have not taken the time and challange to understand those who are different. It is how we are wired. In time, I hope we will move beyond that and say “We can be better. We can care more. We can.” and do the work to get there. I want to see this as a setback, a detour, not a surrender to a state of hate.
And so, I mourn. I don’t think my illusion will ever return. Maybe that is good. Maybe not. I don’t know.
But I miss it.
Be well. Travel Kindly.