I have lost both of my parents and my mother-in-law over the last decade. I know what wrenching, all-encompassing grief feels like, and I have certainly witnessed it in others. Last night I felt the overwhelming and unbearable heaviness of that brand of grief, and it continued unabated when I woke to shock, made my son’s breakfast, and faced a very grim day. It is not hyperbolic or overly self-indulgent to feel this grief today and in the coming weeks.
I am in mourning for my country.
My college-age daughter is having a different reaction. She sounds angry and disgusted at least at first light. I suppose there will be many people who feel that way. I suppose my grief will give way to anger soon, as that is probably where it is naturally headed. But right now I feel the loss of will, of muscle, of energy.
I’m not ready to pick up and move on and fight the good fight. What fight is left, I wonder? The Republicans control all branches of government. There is nothing remaining on this carcass for us to pick at. Perhaps the anger that presumably will set in soon will lead to a renewed sense of purpose. I truly hope so. But in the meantime, I am laid flat.
There will be much written about the end of our country as we know it – the end of a great run. Right now, I want the bastards to see the light, which means I want our president-elect to fail miserably. But I know that emotional response is born of defeat – it is certainly not the intellectual one.
I told both of my teenaged children – one who voted for the very first time in this election – that they cannot be disillusioned. That they now must find a path to becoming part of the solution, whether that means working in government, running for office, choosing careers in social justice and law, working for the media, creating documentary films, or becoming scientists who make climate change their central focus. Perhaps they won’t enter any of these professions. Maybe they should still do whatever they want to do in what was and hopefully still remains the great land of opportunity. But as white children of privilege, I want them to think about their responsibilities to the world, because in many ways I feel that I have failed to do that. We have failed to do that. And we are now failing their generation.
I was consumed with the idea that I had failed my mother when she died. She was an alcoholic, and she had failed me many times over. But she was still my mother, and I loved her, and I grieved for her in a protracted period of mourning that I never would have predicted. I grieved for the loving and devoted mother she had been to me in my early childhood, the mother I missed out on as a teen and young adult. The truth was that in her later years, I had kept her at arms length to protect myself, pulling her back in only when it was comfortable or convenient for me.
My instinct is to keep this country at arm’s length now, to protect myself from its moral failings and uncertain future. In grieving, I want to walk away, cut off the pain, cut out the people who are causing it. Secede. The thought of a Trump family presidency, a Newt/Rudy/Steve Bannon cabinet is abhorrent and terrifying. The thought of Obama no longer being our president is enough to bring tears to my eyes every time. The missed opportunity of a Hillary Clinton presidency, the lost wonder of the first woman in the White House, is so difficult for me to absorb. I shook her hand in the wee, dark hours of election morning, when she returned to Westchester Airport after her final rally. Oh, what hope and joy I felt just 24 hours ago.
As people tell you when you lose a loved one, you will feel hope and joy again. You will laugh again, sooner than you realize. There will be days when you cannot get out of bed, when the sadness is so real and thick that you can’t cut through it. The only thing you can do in those moments is let it wash over you and close your eyes.
But as the days and weeks after this election accumulate, and time begins to work its magic, we progressives will have a responsibility to wake up and fight for our country. We owe it to our children, to ourselves, to our forefathers and to the future.
If you have never been involved in politics before, consider joining up. If you have never taken a public stand, do it now. Run for your local school board, learn all you can about climate change so that you can educate others. Prepare to march on Washington as the Supreme Court takes a turn to the right. Send money to Planned Parenthood. Prepare your children for the future by arming them with an excellent education and that old American can-do spirit.
I might go back to bed soon as it is too early to think that far ahead. I am trying to stave off the images of our new reality. I am still grieving and will be for some time. But this too shall pass, and now as the new underdogs, we will have to turn out. We will have to rise up to demand our rights, to demand our future.
Mourning is temporary. But action begets action, and is thus, self-sustaining. Look at the popular vote: our numbers are strong. We are strong. Just maybe not today.