We are standing on opposite sides of a canyon and no amount of reaching across this divide helps us to touch. The walls are slippery and jagged and our heels are dug in and so we look at one another from afar, wanting (maybe not wanting?) to bridge the distance. I am in profound pain, angry at times, and confused. I thought I knew you.
Though we, of course, shared differing priorities, I thought we shared a life philosophy. Isn’t that what drew us together? Today I’m bewildered and befuddled and the water that I once thought clear is muddy, so murky that seeing the earth below is impossible.
I might love you but I don’t know who you are any longer. I don’t know how to talk to you. It’s like we are each floating in separate boats on a wind-torn lake with the wind pulling us in opposite directions, the details of your face harder and harder to see as you move away, until I’m not sure if it was even you I was looking at to begin with.
I don’t know the answers. I don’t know how to talk to you or bridge this divide, this space where both of us have our feet planted solidly on different foundations and so this written expression might be messy. Forgive me if it is.
I’m not certain if we can ‘agree to disagree’ or ever understand one another. But maybe we can each find a way to communicate our emotions so that we have more information. What comes from there is anyone’s guess.
I recently had a conversation with two people who are polar opposites from me politically. I was testing the water. They were people I don’t know. I was testing myself, I think. I was trying to see if I could hear.
One was a woman who had called Hillary Clinton a baby killer because Hillary is pro-choice. This woman told me that she viewed everything in life through the lens of the bible and that abortion is murder. Another was a man who saw his insurance rates go up and did not believe that access to insurance is a human right. He did not believe we should take care of those that cannot take care of themselves.
I believe a woman has a right to chose what to do with her own body and I believe this vehemently. I believe that we should offer a hand up to those in need. How could I possibly argue my position with these people?
You want me to listen to YOU but you don’t want to hear ME. How will we bridge this gap?
I’m writing this on the assumption that you want to know what I think despite your own silence since the day after the election. Engaging with strangers has been practice for talking to you, someone I actually care about.
I cried myself to sleep on election night. Many of you told me that my emotions, my personal response, my feelings of loss were over the top.
The earth shifted. I mourned mightily. I had believed I lived in a country that was making enormous progress towards liberty and freedom for all, a country that would not tolerate hatred. I believed that the majority of those I held near and dear supported the rights of every human being and who would fight against injustice and would protect our natural resources. People who believed that it is better to build bridges than build walls, people who would not tolerate or excuse a man who mocks the disabled and women and who throws twitter tantrums. I believed that most of the people I knew were intelligent, thoughtful human beings. I believed we were finally ready as a country to elect a woman as President, not a perfect woman, not as a token female, but that we were ready to appreciate and elevate a woman who had spent her entire life in service. An imperfect woman ready to do the job that needed to be done.
I was wrong on many of my assumptions.
The bar was lower than I thought possible.
The hypocrisy and the nastiness Trump brought to the table was horrifying, yes, but what was most disturbing was the support you provided him. The way you said things like, we need a change, he says what he’s thinking, he’ll surround himself with good people, and so on and so forth, excusing every single disgusting action this man took.
This experience was more painful for me than 9/11 in some respects. Why? Because after 9/11, we had each other. We held hands across the horror. We stood united against transgressions against human liberty, regardless of skin, gender, religion. We stood together.
This wasn’t a hockey game where my team lost or I didn’t get a job I had hoped for. This election was a loss of all I hold near and dear as a human being. Do you understand that? I want to talk to you about this grief, but whenever I open my mouth, you say things like, get in line, get behind our President, get over it, and do not attend to my feelings of incredible loss. You do not listen. I cannot and will not normalize this man’s behavior and I cannot and will not blindly follow any human being. I thought you were smart enough to do the same.
I was blind to people I personally knew, blind to thinking that any of them would support a man who mocked the disabled on public television, has no respect or understanding of women, has lied over and over again and uses rhetoric that is meant to create ‘other.’ Rhetoric that is meant to divide us. Did you know Hitler used the same tactics? He thinks Mexicans, like my husband, are criminals and rapists. Trump cannot acknowledge when he is mistaken, has never apologized for his mistakes, corrected his lies, does not display an understanding of grace and humility, and has no desire to learn to understand the daily workings of the United States government. Trump thinks in tweets without context or content. He attacks anyone he believes has wronged him. He states that he knows more than anyone else, despite his utter ignorance about our very Constitution.
This is my opinion. And maybe you don’t really care.
What am I to make of you now? How am I to reconcile who I thought you were with the man you worked to put in power?
I walked into dangerous conversations. I could not believe this nastiness really existed. I found myself so angry at times that I almost stooped to their level. I’m teaching myself how to speak up, how to stand up, how to use my voice. But it’s messy.
Did you know that I, like many women, have suffered abuse, harassment, and sexism, culminating in my divorce mediation hearing in 2014? Massachusetts alimony reform laws ignore the contribution of stay-at-home moms and do not protect these women. My ex husband made six figures. The experience was sexism on steroids. We do not advance as a society when our words are pure hypocrisy and bullshit. I sat outside in a public lobby while my ex and his group of attorneys reclined in leather chairs around a conference table. But these things mattered little compared to the experience of my youth, my life as a girl. They were just one more layer.
It breaks a woman a bit when she grows up under the majority judgments and rules of men in a society that lacks the sounds of women supporting one another. Some of the fractures we endure when younger, take decades to heal. Unfortunately, women contributed to this as well. During my youth, society viewed sexual abuse or sexism through the lens of “what did she do to bring this on,” or “maybe if she wasn’t wearing a low cut blouse,” or “she was drunk, what did she expect,” and so on. When I was younger, my voice fell silent because I was afraid to be blamed and in fact, I DID blame myself. It must have been my fault. I must have done something wrong.
I never told. I didn’t fight back.
Today, I do have a voice. It is wobbly and uncertain and gets pretty emotional at times, but I’m not going to stop using it. I can’t.
When you request my silence, I am newly assaulted.
I announced on Facebook that those that supported Trump were not welcome in my life, and I wrote those words because my first instinct had been to just write in a fit of rage, “F*!k you Trump supporters.” I figured that it would be wiser to try to express myself a bit more maturely.
Those words were my first attempt to say something I continue to struggle with, but just as I want a President who can take a breath and consider that he might not be correct or might have made a mistake, I, too, need to walk that talk.
I could have chosen my words more wisely.
My anger and frustration are borne from your blind devotion to this man. I have not heard you denounce his policies on the things that are the glue that holds a society together as human beings. I have not heard you denounce these things. Does that mean you support his efforts? Will you speak up? Would you speak up for me if my rights were threatened? My children? Your neighbor? The barista who serves you coffee? The person sitting next to you on the subway?
Do you have my back?
I’ve heard people say, “I’m not a racist. I’m not a homophobe. I’m not a climate denier,” but when push comes to shove on fighting for these things either by calling into question a cabinet selection that wants to eliminate public education or pretends the involvement of Russia into this election is not an issue, I hear crickets.
I want to hear you. I want you to hear me. I struggle to reconcile the friend or family member I thought I knew but who has voted for a man who represents everything I find reprehensible. The distance between you and I is deep and traumatic and yet what I hear is ‘get over it, move on, let it go, wait and see.’
When you say this to me, this is what I hear you saying: Let go of your values, your hopes, your belief system. Stop fighting, lie back and enjoy it.
And I have to say, no. No, I will not.
I will not and cannot be silent. I was silent when I was a young girl in situations I could not handle. I was silent because I was young and frightened and I could not find my voice to shout, “Stop. This is WRONG.”
But I have a voice now. I’m older and wiser. I’m not afraid to stand up for what I believe is right, even if it means a bitter divide with those I love. I have a larger vision, and it is not one that only surrounds my life or those I love, it is a vision that wants everyone to be treated with respect and human kindness.
I was raised Catholic, converted to Judaism, and have a lot of the Buddha in me today. I’m a religious mutt.
Do you think you could tell me what you are feeling for real? Tell me how you are navigating the decision you made with the person you believe yourself to be. Help me understand that you are still there and you can still see ME despite our different life perspectives? Help me understand that you give a shit about my values. Help me see that you are not just advocating for yourself.
Appreciate the pain I’m in even if you don’t understand.
Do you even want to understand? Because if you do, the first thing you need to do is understand that for me, and millions like me, this experience is akin to grieving a death.
If my activism is an affront to you or my values seem silly to you, then maybe we are at such an impasse that we need to let go of one another for now.
We have a country divided and yet we talk about building walls and getting cozy with foreign evils. We have a man in power who sits in an ivory tower lining his own pockets and fanning the flames of hatred.
I find the likelihood of a backwards slide into a past that was not kind to women, religious freedom, sexual preference and civil rights abhorrent. I thought it would be to you as well.
The silver lining? I and many others like me are mobilizing. We are learning how to get involved and are ready to shoulder the responsibility that you have, with your vote, shirked. We are awake now. We are ready to battle for human justice and to protect our planet. The bear has been poked and will not be going back to sleep for a long time.
But, I so wish you were next to me and that we were fighting together.