A somewhat return

I have not been able to find my way here for nearly a week now, and that has felt unsettling. Last Tuesday night, I kissed my boys goodbye and headed to an all-community Meeting for Worship at school. I find these Quaker meetings infinitely comforting and thought-provoking and couldn't think of a better way to begin Thanksgiving break.

As I sat in the Meeting House, alone but surrounded by so many thoughtful others, as I pondered the utter discombobulation I've felt since the election, as I listened to those who felt moved to stand and speak their own confusion and worry, I felt some peace. I felt the relief that washes over any of us when we remember or see that we aren't alone in something. 

I know I'm not alone in the worry I feel about our country, in the wonder about how to bridge divides that seem like vast gulfs, in the frightened disappointment about how far facts have fallen from their rightful place of common ground. But it's still nice to be reminded of connection, with friends, acquaintances, and downright strangers. 

There have been many such reminders during the past weeks: knowing looks and warm hugs; whispers across Thanksgiving tables; texts and emails, calls and posts checking in or asking for a bit of support. They ease the paralysis that sometimes sets in when the concern builds and starts to weight me down.

Jack and I at the Turkey Trot For Hunger finish line

Jack and I at the Turkey Trot For Hunger finish line

This Thanksgiving was the loveliest one in years. We ran our annual Turkey Trot For Hunger. Jack and I matched pace for the whole 5K. At lunch, we served four different pies. All sixteen of us participated in our I Am Thankful For... game. My boys and their darling cousins get along famously. My oldest niece slept over that night, she, Ol and Jack all camped out in Ol's room. We spent the entire next day with her, her sister and parents. Have I ever told y'all that my sister-in-law and I have known each other since middle school, and that she married Tom's brother, and Tom and I met at their wedding? Best man + bridesmaid = engaged 10 months later. Life is funny.

Last night was my supper club's final dinner of the year. I had been up much of the prior night with a feverish Ol and home with him all day. I was tired as get-out. It was pitch black by 5:20pm. I was fairly certain I'd not cooked my cake quite enough. My hair. You should have seen my damn hair.

I pulled that mess into a ponytail, lint-rolled my cat-encrusted sweater, frosted the cake, and begged for a second wind as I slowly made my way to my friend's car, thankful beyond belief that she was giving me a ride. In her trunk was a beautiful basket loaded with a pot of homemade soup, a variety of toppings for it, a large bottle of wine, and a gorgeous loaf of bread. She hugged me tight, and I felt warmth creep back into my limbs.

At another friend's house, where the six of us met, I felt my shoulders drop away from my ears a bit. Felt a familiar sadness and worry hanging in the air but also felt the warm embrace of care. We'd all made delicious food, nourishing food, food made with practiced hands and love. We poured glasses of wine, raised a toast, talked. 

Again I felt surrounded by thoughtful, engaged others, and again I felt some peace. There was laughter and lightness but also real, substantive, well-informed discussion. We are all worried, vexed, pissed, sad. We are all dismayed by the 2.5 million vote differential in the popular vote, by the racist speech that seems to have lost its muzzle, by the unqualified people being given cabinet and other enormously important positions.

I look at my friends, these fascinating, kind, talented women -three of whom were not born in this country- and I look at my luminous children and nieces, and I give and receive knowing looks and big hugs, and I want so much better for us all. ALL of us. My friends, family, acquaintances, and downright strangers.

There cannot be room here anymore for racism and sexism and xenophobia and the longing for a day when "great America" meant great only for white Christian men. Going back means stripping away the progress towards equality that women and people of color have risked and given everything for. Many of the jobs that have been lost are not coming back. We all need to work mightily to create new jobs and training for them. But we need to stop carrying on about a time and place that is no more, an ugly call that Trump rode to the highest office in the land.

I better understand now how ignored some in this country have felt. I do not better understand but I do see now just how deep and rabid the hatred of the Clintons is. I am reading and talking and asking questions and trying to figure out where to go next.

But this is going to take all of us. This isn't just on me and people who happen to live on the coasts. It is also on those who voted for a constricted perspective in which there isn't room for people of color, of various faiths, of different sexual orientations, who are pro-choice and pro-environment and think factual information is important. I will not apologize for doing everything I can to foster an America that is more inclusive and tolerant. An America in which there are more rights and justice for more people rather than fewer rights for most. 

Some things are black and white

I'd love to say I've been MIA for a reason other than grief, but I can't.

Again this morning, as with every morning since last Wednesday, I woke up with an aching, burning pit in my stomach. It is a fire born of heartbreak, grief, rage, worry, and disgust. It is a sudsing discomfort that sits with me all day, sometimes in the background, sometimes more prominently.

A few days ago, I awoke before the sun. Inexplicably, circling my mind was the word retarded. Years ago, that word, as part of an expression, often fit the bill of perfectly describing flabbergastingly silly things. Silly, largely inconsequential things. Things like Daylight Savings, most of Pepco’s decisions, and dry clean-only t-shirts were "so (fucking) retarded." 

I never meant my use of retarded to insult or harm. I grew up with it used as a common expression. I didn’t know, didn’t think about the deeper implications of incorporating it into my own language. I'd simply come to think of it a slang conveyance of superficially irritating grievances. This was a failing, and I am deeply sorry.

Only as an adult did I learn that many consider it an offensive and hurtful term. Only as an adult did I stop to think “what might it feel like to hear this?” At that moment, it was a no-brainer to stop saying it, not least so that my children would never hear and therefore inscribe “retarded” as a phrase in their own handbooks.

“Retarded” doesn’t directly hurt me, but it directly hurts many. It directly offends many. Were I to continue using the term, potentially passing it on to my children as acceptable and also demonstrating to others that I found it acceptable, would be to say to every person out there, who I know and don’t, with any sort of disability or challenge to which ‘retarded’ might refer or dismiss or mock, “your hurt, your discomfort, your sadness isn’t important to me. I don’t care. I like my word so you deal with your feelings when I use it.”

That is not respect, it’s not empathy, it’s not any showing of humanity. It’s an ugly display of privilege, even if it first came from unknowing. I couldn’t look at myself if I didn’t excise that expression from my repertoire.

In the days since the election, I’ve seen and heard about a shocking number of heinous racist acts: cars egged, swastikas drawn, children told to “go back to Africa” and “you’re getting sent back to Mexico now.” I’ve seen signs hung above water fountains in a public school: “whites only,” “colored.”

As awful, I have read and heard about, both first- and secondhand, people who voted for Trump saying things like, “I’m not a racist.” “Don’t blame me for X; I only voted for Trump because of Y.” “Trump is a great man.”

That ugly shit happened in Silver Spring, MD, slap dash in the middle of a seriously blue city and state.

That ugly shit happened in Silver Spring, MD, slap dash in the middle of a seriously blue city and state.



While I believe that most Trump voters knew exactly what they were voting for (see above) and either supported that or decided other things were more important (like guns), I desperately hope that for some he answered another longing. I don't understand that, but I would like to try and imagine that some of his voters will now stand up and say, "I voted for you but I don't support your bigotry. I don't support you seating a white nationalist, anti-semite, wife-beater as your chief strategist. I don't support swastikas being drawn on school walls."

[See this article for all the hate crimes just in the DC-area since the election. See this one for the more than 300 such crimes nationally since last Wednesday.] 

Without such protestations, we who didn't consider Trump good for our country know even more surely where we stand: in a deeply divided country in which much of the populace refuses to reckon with the utter, absolute wrongness of racism, sexism, and bigotry of all kind.

Silence in the face of injustice is assent and approval of it. There is no middle ground. It's knowing you simply can't call something retarded anymore and so you don't, except it's that much worse.

For a moment of peace, listen to this

Today was really hard

I didn't sleep much last night. The meager hours I caught were in bed with Jack, curled together under his Star Wars quilt atop which the Rebel Fighters try to ward off the encroaching, malicious Death Star. Ah, the eternal divide between dark and light playing out in multicolored threads above a mother holding her son close.

After a family dinner of gumbo and a We're With Her pie, Oliver went to bed early. He is little, young. For now we don't burden him with too much in the way of elections and who will vote how. It is enough now to teach him about community and humanity and how to always work to better both. He went to bed dreaming of the Minecraft Lego topping his Santa list. I think that is as it should have been.

Jack though, nearly ten-and-a-half, is politically aware and interested. He attends a Quaker school in which values of justice, equality, inclusion, stewardship, and peace are infused into the curriculum on a daily basis. They have just completed in-depth studies of The Middle East, Islam, the Electoral College and voting in America. Discussions are rich and substantive. 

Jack was up watching when Clinton won the nomination. We cheered together, and he cried alongside me. I issued thanks that my children would grow up differently than I did. That no longer would a white man be the only picture in their heads of what a President looked like. 

You see, I really thought Hillary would finally shatter the glass ceiling. Many have mocked me today for feeling so stunned, but stunned is precisely how I feel. I also feel deeply ashamed, sad, and worried. 

Last night, Jack sat next to me on the couch, earnestly coloring in his printed-out Electoral College map as the returns came in. Tom got up for a second bowl of gumbo. Nutmeg returned home from his evening romp through our neighborhood.

We, all of us, brimmed with hope and joy. And I wanted my boy to witness it all.

I've waited my whole life for a woman like Mrs. Clinton to lead us. She's not perfect. No one is. Not one Democrat and not one Republican. She is absolutely the most qualified candidate in my lifetime. She has served Americans, haters and supporters alike, for decades.

Tom voted for her with such pride, early and enthusiastically. Since I met Tom I've known what an ardent feminist he is. He's a quiet one, as he is quiet in most all ways, but his actions and respect speak volumes. 

And Jack. He exhausts me, but he is my North Star. His compass always points toward goodness. Toward justice. Toward kindness. Knowing him makes me a better person. For all the ways he is challenging to parent, he is easy. He is a deeply moral human, one who chooses love over exclusion, who always stands up for what is right. 

As the night drew late, and Jack's red pencil needed sharpening while blue did not, he began to cry. "Mom," he whispered, "Will my Muslim and Mexican friends from school have to leave now?" Is that a question any child in this country should ask? No. My heart began to pinch.

The numbers kept coming in, and it struck us all that a man endorsed by no major newspapers but rather by the KKK and NRA, a man with multiple claims of sexual assault, fraud, discrimination, and racketeering issued against him, a man who has never demonstrated the slightest bit of concern for any of the poor and immigrant and female citizens of this country, a man who has spewed so much racism and divisiveness, might take the mantle of leader from President Obama, the first Black president. A man of such grace and dignity and principle may have to pass the torch to someone who bragged about grabbing women by their genitals because he could. My heart pounded.

Around 1, Jack and I got into bed. He was weepy and exhausted, and I, struggling mightily to rein in my panic and disgust and dismay, found myself wishing I'd pushed harder to tuck him in earlier. I hugged him close and promised that he was safe and that we would always share and fight for love and tolerance.

This morning, all of us bleary-eyed and exhausted, the election over, Jack asked, "Mom, what do we do?"

"Honey, all I know to do is to try and be a bright light of goodness. Will you help me?"

He hugged me tight, like a baby koala gripping its mother, and said, "Yes, Mom. That's what we'll do."

And then he walked upstairs and put on his Hillary shirt. At school, some ribbed him. "Jack, she lost. What are you still wearing that for?"

My son simply said, "Because I'm proud to. Because she would have been a good President."

I cried a lot today, y'all. I felt a great deal of fury and sadness too, and unremittingly nauseous. It was a gray and rainy Wednesday, and honestly, that felt totally appropriate.

I asked myself some tough questions and read as much as I could. I talked to friends, acquaintances, family, a number of whom feel decidedly less safe and less seen than they did yesterday. I heard confirmed reports of racist graffiti in various parts of the country, I saw women gloating about being "deplorable and proud." I'm not sure how to ingest those things. My head continues to spin and my heart continues to hurt. I don't have a lot of hope right now. I don't feel at peace.

But when I look at my sons, when I think of how Jack has handled a decision that I still struggle to handle, when I think about his tired eyes and sweet smile and how he put on that shirt and then literally put one foot in front of the other to get packed up and out of the door to school, how he left just after asking me "what is something I can do today for anyone who is sad?", I am heartened.

I think that if Hillary can stand proud, in the face of so much hatred and such searing loss, that if Jack can square his young shoulders and go forth in kindness and compassion, then I have a challenge to accept and a standard to meet. I am profoundly lucky and I don't take that for granted.

This country has a lot of work to do, and I will do all I can.