I woke up late on the Wednesday morning after election day, slightly hungover and not feeling very much. It’s not what I expected. The late night and slightly hungover feeling I expected; but, I thought I’d wake up with tears in my eyes and rocks in my heart, and I didn’t. I just felt empty.
To escape the eerie feeling created by this inner-absence, I wanted to take action. I was ready to put a line under the heartache and give something of myself to the world. I wanted to start small — a single act of kindness for a stranger — and I wanted to do it right away.
But, my husband did not wake up feeling that way. He was mad… really mad and really sad, actually. Neither reaction was right or wrong (there’s no such thing), but it put us in an unusual spot: unable to know how to help each other.
I went about my day in a haze. I did stuff. I did it slower than usual. Did the world look a different color to you last Wednesday? It did to me.
In a coffee shop that afternoon, I overheard two young women (probably not old enough to legally drink) saying they couldn’t be around their friend because as she was “not politically engaged and just didn’t get it.” One said she only wanted to be around people who felt how she felt, before going into an informed analysis of how Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s defeat might shape our community. The other agreed, and said she would remove the friend in question from their group’s text chain.
Meanwhile, Javelina coworkers expressed despair. What would happen to healthcare? LGBTQ and immigrant rights? A woman’s right to choose? My instinct was to soothe — tell them it would all be ok — and as I heard myself say the words, I knew I wasn’t soothing. I was dismissing. I was putting my natural reaction ahead of theirs. If I could do that day again, I would ask more questions. Seek to understand their feelings.
When I woke up on Friday, ALL the grief was there. The sadness, the despair, the fear. And in that moment, I was grateful that my husband just heard me and didn’t try and make me feel better.
In a completely unscientific survey of my Facebook friends to see if others were experiencing this same unexpected reality, one friend very eloquently stated:
“The outcome means different things to different people, so even people united against it are grappling with how to mourn or move forward. How do you help someone else work through this when you are trying to work through it yourself?”
In the election’s aftermath, my Facebook feed was a mishmash of people calling on others to react in the same way they were, punctuated with clever hashtags or ranting justifications that related to their personal circumstances.
These reactions were all amongst people who voted the same way as each other. In one major way, we are all aligned; but our reactions have been like glass shattering — a bunch of shards jumping off in all different directions, uncontrollable. And we just don’t know how to help each other.
And then, there are the households and friendship circles where some people voted for Hillary and some for Trump — talk about reacting differently. Some people I respect and admire a great deal voted differently than I did. Trying to wrap my head around this fact has been confusing at best and physically painful at worst.
My major regret from the past 12+ months has been being so dismissive of people who felt differently than I did about the two presidential candidates. While I was not necessarily conscious of it, I took absolutely zero steps to understand where they were coming from. If I learn one thing from this experience, I would hope it would be this: declaring that you are right and they are wrong doesn’t actually achieve much. If I could do this past year over again, I would ask more questions.
Another respondent to my Facebook probing said: “ All I can say is: Lovers think quite different thoughts, lying side by side. After election results, we must respect each other’s differences, no matter how difficult that may be.”
So, I’m going to take her advice and start there. And then I’m going to ask more questions.