As Election Day drew closer, I heard a lot of people say, "I'll be so glad when this is all over.” Their shoulders sagged. Their jaws tightened. I understood what they meant. They were just as tired as I felt. They wanted the giant lawn signs to go away, the twenty-four-hour news cycle to shut down (or at least find something else to talk about), the continuous stream of toxic vitriol on social media to end. They wanted to get back to the rhythm of daily living. I almost nodded in agreement, thinking: Yeah, me too.
But Wednesday came, and I couldn’t sigh in relief because I understood that even though the ballots were cast and the votes counted, the "this" they are really tired of is not going anywhere any time soon. "This" is the unprecedented and deeply troubling low that our country sank to over the last weeks and months in the discourse around two polarizing candidates and what they each represent. "This" is the cracking beneath the surface of our relationships as the dialogue moved from policy to personal ideology. From political position to questions of basic human decency. "This" is the realization that what stands between me and a lot of the people in my life is not an aisle, but a canyon.
We know who our next president will be. That knowledge leaves us in a pretty anxious place because we also know that half of us are profoundly unhappy with him. Resentful of those who put him in this unthinkable position of power. Frightened of what's ahead. In that unhappiness and fear and resentment, can we keep the accusation out of our glances when we pass our neighbors on the street? When we face the cashier at the grocery store? When we speak to our children's teachers and coaches? When we sip coffee with friends? When we gather with extended family? Can we keep them from reading in our expressions the unspoken question: Was it you?
I want to believe that we can. I want to believe that the new world order we've awoken to won't fundamentally change us to the point where we can no longer co-exist. I want to trust that all the good that launched our relationships long before the Election of 2016 and solidified them over time hasn't disappeared. That the love and kindness that prompted us to exchange house keys and disclose garage door codes, to carpool for school and swap kids for sleepovers, to share milestones and hold each others' hands on some very dark days haven't been cancelled out by the unfiltered recognition of clashing world views. I want to have faith that we can confront our differences, talk about them with honesty and passion while still demonstrating empathy and respect, move forward from here, and reestablish some common ground. I really want to believe that we can.
The heaviness that hangs in the air makes my belief waver. I'm struggling to figure out how we step out of this moment into the next one. How we see beyond the ugliness of this election to the beauty in each other. The chants to "Make America Great Again" that felt so vile during the campaign have suddenly taken on new meaning for me. On Tuesday, something ruptured at the core of this country and left behind a giant hole. A hole that won't be easily repaired. Perhaps our new leader has an undiscovered ability to fix things, but I doubt it. More than likely, the fixing will require all of us. We'll have to fight to reassemble the broken pieces of our foundational values: tolerance and equality and morality. To be effective in that fixing, we need to give the fractures in our relationships time to reset. So for now, be patient and forgive me when instead of meeting your eyes, I have to look away.