Sunday, November 13, 2016

Post-mortem

My close friend and I took this picture on Election Day. We posted it on Facebook with a cutesy caption. It was my idea.

We had just voted for different candidates at the same polling place, and taken our little girls out for ice cream sundaes afterwards. How beautiful, how very American, it would be, we thought, to stand together, shoulder-to-shoulder, and graciously and humbly declare ourselves friends and sisters on such a divisive day.

I was giddy with happiness and hope. I had just cast a ballot for a woman who I’ve admired practically my entire life. I had waited for her to be my president for 20 years. I sat in the disabled-access polling box with my little girl and we smiled as I filled in that little bubble with her name next to it.

I must say, it’s a lot easier to be gracious and humble when you’re sure you’re going to win.

This week has been a test for me. I grew up in a bubble, grew up believing certain things. I was taught that it was not OK to judge someone by the color of their skin, what religion they practice or don’t practice, their physical appearance or abilities, or who they love. I took these things for granted as truths, “universally acknowledged,” to quote Jane Austen. When I read Harry Potter to myself and to my daughter, the idea of “Muggle-Born Registries” seemed to be an allegory for distant events, far-removed from the beautiful and inclusive America of the 21st Century. A good reminder for history.

Now we’re flirting with such ideas today. I think everyone can agree, it’s chilling.

Do I believe that my friend, and indeed, even most of our new president-elect’s supporters have hatred and racism in their hearts?

No.

I don’t believe that. I can’t. It would be too much to bear. But I believe that the handful of those who do have hatred in their hearts now have permission for those feelings to be normalized, vocalized, and even acted upon. Now it’s up to Trump and his supporters who don’t feel this way to loudly denounce such words and actions. They’re the only ones who can do so effectively.

I’m white, middle-class, educated, employed, heterosexual, and live in the Northeast. Despite my heartache, my bubble is intact. Yet I do fear for those people who are more vulnerable than I am, including my little girl, who has a physical disability. The world has never been a particularly hospitable or easy place for the differently-abled, but we’ve come so far. Just 30 years ago, when I was her age, my daughter’s life would have been so different. I can’t watch that progress erode away.

But I also think back to where I was one year ago: In the hospital after my daughter had what can only be described as a terrible surgery with a painful, months-long recovery. Who came into my home, without hesitation, bearing food and craft projects, to sit by her side and talk me off the ledge when we had a hospital bed in our living room and my daughter couldn’t sleep for more than 30 minutes at a stretch? My friend in the above picture. Who makes sure that every pathway—literally and metaphorically—is cleared when my daughter is in her care? My friend in the above picture. Who was the first to donate a big, generous box of art supplies when I was collecting them for Boston Children’s Hospital? My friend in the above picture.

And who promised me, in the days following the election, when I was heartbroken and terrified, that she would be by my side, always fighting for what is right on my daughter’s behalf? I think you can guess.

Already, I’m seeing people in my life who are saying, “We might have different opinions about some things, but not the big things. I stand with you.” For that, I’m so grateful. May others who are marginalized also be so lucky, and may those who supported Trump be as brave and outspoken as my friend to tell the people who they love, “I stand with you,” my Muslim friend, my gay friend, my black friend, my immigrant friend.

That's America. 

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