It wasn’t until I hung up the phone with the nice woman at the senior citizens’ center that I realized what I had just agreed to do. This was last Friday. I was pitching the idea of teaching creative writing to her 50 or 60 seniors when she invited me to come do a “sample” class.
“Sure, I can come in at 9 o’clock on Wednesday,” I said.
When I hit the red button on my iPhone to end the call, it hit me. Oh my God, that’s the day after the election. Well, OK, that will give me a built-in topic to get them writing, I thought. And then with a laugh I thought, I won’t be having as many margaritas Tuesday night as I had anticipated.
So this morning, with one hour of fitful sleep and a yogurt and coffee, I propped myself up to go talk to seniors. I had no idea what to expect, if they’d be happy or sad or disconnected. I just knew this was not a coincidence and I needed to go. I had just been putting messages out to the Universe that I wanted to help heal the nation whichever way it went. This was a resounding answer to that prayer.
I stood in front of the room while they passed around paper and pens. I had already been greeting many of them when they came in and I liked the friendly vibe I was feeling. There were a few language barriers, but for the most part they worked together to hear my message
“I want to give you an opportunity to express yourselves today,” I said. “Can I get a show of hands? Who would like to write about the election?”
A few raised their hands. Many were engaged in what I had to say, but wanted to hear more.
“Here are a few ideas to get started,” I said. “You can write a letter to the new president. Or you could write down three things that will change because of the election. Or you could write a poem. Anything goes. Just be honest. I will give you 10 minutes. Then whoever wants to share with the group can do that, OK?”
Some nodded. Some were already writing. I walked around and talked to those who were not engaging to see if I could help things along. It was already clear to me that it was mostly African-Americans who seemed afraid to put thoughts to pen.
“I’m not comfortable, “ one woman said with a shrug.
“I understand, “ I said. “Do what makes you comfortable. But thank you either way for being here and holding space for others.”
She smiled just a little. I moved around the room. A good amount of people were writing and I took a deep breath. A few beckoned me over to show me what they’d written, asked if they had to put their name on it. I told them it was optional. When their time was up, I wound up with a bunch of paper in my hand. They wanted me to read their pieces aloud.
“God bless America!,” I read. “Life have to move on. No matter what or how. Why upset? You are not the only one.”
“I am happy with the outcome of the election,” I read from another. “I voted for Trump not because I like him but I think he is a lesser evil. I believe he can lead and make America great again.”
And then I read this one, written in large block letters:
The coming of CHRIST
Worst day in America – 9/11
Second worst day in America – 11/9
I read it straight, but it made me catch my breath. Wow. It hit the room hard, but I kept reading mostly positive sentiments for Trump. After all was said and done, most of the people who participated seemed pleased they had shared. At the conclusion of the class, while they all chatted amongst themselves, I walked around the room and spoke with them individually, encouraging them to join me for future creative writing exercises there.
One African-American woman took my arm, and whispered, “That was me who wrote about the worst day in America.” I nodded and thanked her for her honesty. I hope she knew when I met her eyes that I agreed it was one of the darkest days in our country. Later I looked up the Revelations passage:
And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.
As I walked a few blocks after the event, my mind was turning over all of it. The racial divide disturbed me so. Make no mistake about it, this was a push-back on our African-American, Latino, Muslim, and gay friends and neighbors. They felt the sting, like a rebuke. I felt it for them, as each bit of voting was tallied the night before, as the results were announced. The stinging reality that half of America’s citizens were flipping the finger to the other half. And let’s not forget to include women in that.
This one is not about politics. It’s not like losing to George W. Bush and then being gracious and moving on with our lives. I differ with Mike Pence politically. I differ with Chris Christie politically. But Donald Trump? That’s about humanity and how I see compassion and an embrace of our neighbor. This is a man without character who sees himself and people who look like him as superior. He’s a power grabber and now we’ve handed over our entire lives to him. I hope he’s terrified, but I don’t think he’s smart enough to know he should be.
Meanwhile, I’m reading comments and talking to people who see this as an economic statement from our citizens around the country. They say Americans who have been reeling for a while financially are calling for change here. If that’s true of a portion of our electorate, OK.
But what a load of crap from many who voted for Trump. I know so many of them. I’m related to a bunch. And I don’t have amnesia. What struggle have they had? What’s tripping them up in their lives that this guy is going to solve? I’ll tell you.
You don’t get to sit at a holiday table with me and ask what Martin Luther King Jr. ever did for this country and then ask me to forget that when you cast this vote. You don’t get to tell me you’ve renamed a few of the communities around the state based on their racial makeup, like “Nep-coon,” and then say this has nothing to do with race. You don’t get to sit across from me in a diner while I watch your whole back stiffen because a mixed-race couple walked in and expect me to forget it. Or ask me why “they” need to be a part of everything when a black person on TV appears in a commercial. Or bitch about the very existence of Kwanzaa and then divorce yourself from that outlook on the world. It’s part of who you are. You voted in a man who has reawakened white supremacy, a man who never even denounced their endorsement of his candidacy. And I’ve never heard one of you look the least bit horrified by it.
Why? Because you’re not.
You’re complicit in racism, like it or not. You can keep telling each other in your dog whistle fashion that this was about wanting something “refreshing” in Washington, D.C. But just stop. We all know what you mean.
Even if you don’t even know it yourself.
That senior center is a microcosm of this nation. How do you bridge a divide when doing so will require so many of us to turn our backs on our fellow man? How do you reach across a chasm with respect when people who claim to have faith in a higher being dismissed the very Biblical teachings they claim to live by to pull the lever for a man who is morally bankrupt? The latter is not opinion; we have many, many facts to back this up and they all come from his mouth (“I moved on her like a bitch”).
How do I look my God in the eye and justify being OK with this brand of hatred? Clearly this is meant to be an introspective time, at least for some of us. Like a magnifying mirror, Donald Trump has reflected back to us who we are as a country and revealed the ugliest blemishes.
I’m going within. It’s all I can do as a spectacle unfolds. I think we now know who the real ‘values’ voters are.