I didn’t realize right away that I was grieving. It took an article with a headline about post-election grief for me to recognize that ache in my heart, that cold pit of fear in my stomach, for what it actually was. It was reminiscent of an awful breakup, or the unexpected loss of a loved one. I am grieving, and I’m not alone.
Even miles away on this southern continent, I felt the earth shift below me that morning after the election. Like everything I had known to be true in my life had suddenly evaporated without warning or explanation. And so I’m grieving. I’m grieving for what could have been. I’m grieving because this isn’t the country I thought I knew. I’m grieving because our collective innocence has been shattered. We can’t really go back to where we were. We thought we were moving forward, and instead we still have so far to go.
I took my nation for granted. I realize that now. I grew up in a safe bubble with amazing hippie parents and never questioned the fact that everyone should be treated equally. It seemed human nature to me. How could anyone believe differently? And even though our tiny hometown had small-minded people, I always thought they were in the (very small) minority. I never could’ve conceived that almost half our nation felt this way. Disillusionment at its utmost. My eyes have been opened.
My ugly truth is that I’ve never been active (or even remotely interested) in politics. Whenever the topic would arise among friends, the discussion would become heated and someone would inevitably become pissed off. But nothing was ever really resolved during these conversations. Nobody was converted to the “other side”. It seemed useless to me, and a good way to create tension. I had resigned myself to the thought that people’s beliefs were their own, and they had formed their opinions long ago; it seemed an inane source for discussion. And so I’ve avoided anything to do with politics, to the best of my ability, throughout my adult life.
My oldest sister has always tried her very best to inspire me to become more involved. “Come caucus with me!” she’d try to convince me. “Why? I’ll vote for whoever they pick as our candidate,” I’d respond lazily.
A frequenter of the library, I’d get hit up several times a week for various causes. “Oh, I already signed that one,” I’d lie through my teeth. Why should I sign something I knew nothing about? I’d justify to myself.
When petitioners would knock on my door, I’d tell them to give me a website where I could read more information on the topic. “I don’t sign anything before reading about it,” I’d tell them. Of course, I never actually looked into the cause, and I’d throw the materials away as soon as they were gone. (Shameful? Yes. I realize that now, and am both embarrassed and disgusted to admit it.)
Marriage equality? Hell yes! I’m glad everyone can get married, it’s about damn time. Feminism? Count me in! A woman’s body is her own? Of course! I’d watch the world around me begin to evolve, and I was proud of the changes, but I had done nothing to further them. I took it for granted that people would always do what’s right.
When I saw innocent African Americans being gunned down by those who are meant to protect each and every one of us, I was appalled. Black Lives Matter. But I continued to watch it occur, time and time again, and I did nothing. I convinced myself I was powerless, but that was a lie. I was lazy. And I am ashamed to admit it.
I’m not on social media, so I can’t see the explosion of anger or hurt or fear that I’m sure has appeared on various platforms throughout the last week. But I can see the reactions around me. The local newspaper headlines, the clerk at the grocery store, the taxi driver, the young nephew at my current homestay. Everyone is curious about my feelings toward the results, and this time I’m not shying away. I’m freely expressing my opinions on the president-elect, and it does not seem un-American at all. If anything, it feels more patriotic to immediately renounce him. How the hell did we get here?
I realized today that I am no longer angry at these results. And I can forgive my neighbors who voted for someone else (I may never understand it, but I can forgive it). We are where we are because we still have some major work to do. When I look beyond the shame and the shock I can almost see a place where we emerge stronger; united. And for once, I’m not willing to sit aside and watch others do the heavy lifting for me. Neither will I watch this country turn into a nightmare for my niece and nephew, and anyone else who may come along.
Something has changed within me. I can literally feel a strength beginning to emerge, a steely resolve ready to stand up for what I believe in. But it doesn’t stem from hatred or anger; more a fierce determination to fight for everything I took for granted. I no longer feel lost and stricken. It’s time to take back the power I so blindingly cast aside for years. I am a pacifist, but I refuse to be passive. I am finally ready.