About a year and a half ago, when my husband died, I woke to find that my life had changed, irrevocably, and, like it or not, I was in a new world where the rules of just a few hours ago did not seem to apply.
On Wednesday, I woke to a similar quaking, welcome to some and despaired by others. And in the twilight, I did the exact same thing I did on that terrible morning that took my husband from me - I opened my eyes and noted that the sun was rising.
I realized, with a shock, that my heart, though heavy, still beat. My breath, though labored, still flowed steady.
On both mornings, I trundled my sleeping son into his stroller and journeyed down to the Intracoastal Waterway to get a better look at the sun rising above the solemn water. I nodded at other early risers on the path. I greeted each with a smile, and got one in return, except for those buried in their headphones.
And then, as I had the year before, I was shaken by something profound and startling. I’d craved this moment of human interaction. I’d been led to the sun, the water and to the glancing acquaintance of friends and strangers alike because the moment was too big to survive alone. I would not get through it without other people, and was so very grateful to find that I did not have to.
We will not get through this without each other.
For the past year, I have watched, with growing anxiousness, as the nation seemed to divide itself right there in my Facebook feed, wedged apart with a jagged cudgel of words formed of beliefs and standards each may not have been aware the other held. Fights were started. Friends were hidden, blocked and cursed. A stress buffet of bourbon and fluffy fried things were eaten (well, at least in my house.)
There was no doubt that roughly half of us were going to feel relieved that something new and unexpected had come to pass, while the other half was checking their temperatures and, perhaps, the expiration dates on their passports. I am not here to debate, and I am not attempting to downplay or Pollyanna away the things that you are feeling, whatever that is, because it’s real. I can neither allay your fears or temper your enthusiasm.
I am simply acknowledging that this is where we are, which is divided. We have to decide how we are going to move forward. And all that I can offer is this - we have to stop screaming at each other long enough to listen. Aren’t our throats shredded and sore by now, screaming at a wall of stone ears that refuse to listen, stopped up with fingers singing “La la la, I can’t hear you?”
I will not dismiss your anger, whatever may have caused it, because it is yours, just as you can’t dismiss mine. Unless we’re fleeing to Canada or Costa Rica, we’re stuck with each other, and I plan to stay put because this is my home, the country my ancestors sacrificed their bodies and humanity to help build. This is where the work begins, not only on the agendas we each have set, but of beginning, again, to see each other as humans instead of talking points.
I might sound naive, or too sunny, but believe me when I say that I know about loss, about grief. I have become so accustomed to the taste of tears that I could bottle them and do commercials promoting them. But I cannot live in that grief. I can wrap myself in the lessons learned from it. But I can’t live there. I would die.
I don’t want to die.
So we must do the messy work of removing the hashtags from across each others’ faces and see that we want the same things. I want what you want. I want people to acknowledge that each of us are Americans, that each of us has the right to object to each other’s speech but not to blot it out. I want you to think of me, and my son, and others who may not look, worship or love like you, as fellow Americans to be protected, and not strangers you have to protect yourself from.
A year ago, when my world seemed like it was ending, people I barely knew or had never met except from behind these pages, reached out to me. They sought me out across generational, religious, racial and ideological lines to lift me up. There were people with whom I’d had previous wars of words who saw me floundering in sleepless nights on Facebook, yearning for some connection, and let me know I was not alone. I had not died. I had more to do.
We have so much work to do as a people, just like I still have work to do in my own heart, in my own home.
But I did not get to where I am alone, and we cannot get where we are going alone, or without the people we’ve been screaming at. We need to extend the offer of humanity that we demand.
So for the moment, I am going to take a deep breath. I will binge-watch Amazon’s “Good Girls Revolt” and Netflix’s “The Crown,” each about troubled times that had to be endured, and eat lots of popcorn. I will say yes to invitations of well-meaning people eager to discuss our state, or just stare at each other, over a drink or a nosh. I will reach out to everyone who is not screaming at me, and promise not to scream at them. Maybe we won’t say anything at all.
But I will breathe. And I will work. And, most important, I will continue to head towards the sun. I will, as both Andy Grammer and Tupac suggested, keep my head up and look ahead. There’s no other way to move forward.