My 18 year old self loves Facebook

My 18 year old self loves Facebook

I was a little stunned by the U.S. election results. If I start out writing that down, I might be able to write a newsletter. This is not the first time I have suffered dismay and heartbreak after an election here in this country. I turned 18 at the time of Reagan’s defeat of Carter, and my devastation with my first sense of my categorical objection to U.S. politics has been the ongoing lament that I have heard in the background of my political heart over the next several decades of presidencies, both republicans and democrats.

I am, in truth, a socialist. I long to be able to count on the government to care for the poor, for healthcare for everyone, for free college tuition. I would rather pay 40% of my income in taxes and have very few homeless people than see people standing on every street corner with 10,000 mile stares in their traumatized eyes, sometimes even accompanied by children. (I see the children especially at rest stops these days.) I would love to have strict government regulation of carbon emissions and a commitment to alternative fuel sources. My longings have never been reflected in the dominant streams of American politics.

And now, my non-political ethics of constitutional rights and the very backbone of my commitment to justice and equal protection under the law have been voted against by almost half of the voting people I share a country with. My main emotional work of these past weeks has been the containment of spikes of rage so great that they almost feel like they will annihilate my personality. Like atomic bombs going off in my belly and my heart, and running diagonally out of my left shoulder. Blinding flashes of energy that momentarily obliterate the world. Pulsing and alternating with grief. Grief for the children in the rest stops. Grief for folks whose differences make them vulnerable. Grief for my clients who have almost uniformly had to work with terror and rage, especially those clients who grew up in homes or lived in marriages where there was a man who paid no attention to boundaries or respect. Grief for our beautiful planet and the species and habitats and treasures of life that are being extinguished with every breath I take. I breathe into the enormity for a moment, and then I breathe out and turn my attention somewhere else, trying to find the livable balance between my excruciating emotional response to current events, and anchoring myself in the exquisite details of this present moment: the way the air smells on this plane; the spiky-haired toddler smiling at me from the aisle as he passes;  my husband’s complex response to his father’s recent death; and my DC taxi driver’s story of Eritrea and the Italian soldier who got his grandmother pregnant during World War II and then left her to raise their son alone.

Even though I live a practice of Nonviolent Communication, and even though I am committed to connecting my feelings to my needs, it seems almost sacrilegious to the enormity of my rage and sorrow to name needs now, but I’ll try it out of devotion and for the hell of it. There are needs alive for mourning, for survival, for honesty, for honoring our planet, for intelligence, for forethought, for care, for responsibility, for vision, to have an effect, for mutual commitment to protection, for acknowledgment of betrayal of trust, for tenderness, the need to mourn ineffectiveness, for acknowledgment of shame, and of a haunting bewilderment.
As I name all these complexities and allow myself this self-expression, there is a slightly greater capacity within me to sit with what is true for me without having to move into strategic thinking. The more I am able to hold my center

(Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world – Yeats)

the more I can feel what needs to be felt: my own enormous power and conviction.

I bring the enormity of my rage here at the same time that the voices I most respect in this country are speaking out against the shaming and blaming of those who voted for Trump. As Miki Kashtan writes:

Along with Michael Lerner, who says that “Shaming Whites and Men Has Backfired“, I am troubled by the move to blame the people who voted for Trump. I have a deep commitment to honor the dignity of all, even those I wholly disagree with, and am challenged when I see people blamed and shamed, regardless of who they are. I want to be able to maintain a parallel stance of deep care for all, and at the same time being mobilized and committed to stopping harm. The two are not at odds for me.

It’s clear to me that without seeing everyone’s humanity, we will not find a way of moving forward that will actually create change. I have a complete conviction that making individual voters the problem and attacking them is a continuation of the very mindset that’s implicated in getting us here. Blaming them diverts attention away from what I see as the core cause: a system of intensified capitalism that is incapable of serving the needs of all.

The combination of remembering my own history of socialism, embracing my fury, acknowledging my needs, and letting in Miki’s final sentence helps me zoom out from my focus on half the voting population and return home to my familiar, wide-angle focus on my larger worries about our world. President Jimmy Carter’s care for the environment and the future are the last time I remember hearing my own concerns reflected in the halls of U.S. power. No wonder my heart broke the night he conceded.

When I time travel to that 18 year-old, her breath has stopped entirely. “Have you stopped breathing?” I ask her. “Do you feel disillusioned, disappointed and absolutely alone? Have you lost all desire to participate in US society? Do you have a sense of living in a world where you have no agency and no voice? Do you want to live in a world that shares your values?” She’s surprised to be remembered, and surprised to feel a breath again. I tell her about 2016 and about Facebook, and about the sweetness of being able to touch community on the internet. She’d way rather be with me, in a world where people loved Bernie Sanders this year, and where people are supporting climate activists, and where people are proactively considering effective action, even though Trump has been elected and is gathering around himself a committee of white male advisers who are specialists in eliciting fear and hatred. It’s still better to be here than it is to be stuck forever in 1980, not breathing.

Comments ( 2 )

  • Deborah Solheim

    Dear Sarah,
    Amidst my outrage, despair, and agitation, I’m finding solace, safety, community in connections like you’re offering here, sharing with us around the world.
    Praying to be of use and able to respond. Here’s a piece from a facebook post that I thought of while reading your newsletter posting:
    “Thank you … for giving me an avenue to feel safe. Though we may not have gotten the president we wanted, we found each other. You are all family to me.#pantsuitnation.”

  • Shirley de Rose

    You wrote in another post something like “with clarity comes rage, protest, and mourning.” When it came clear to the citizens that Trump had won I think that is what happened to some of them: rage, protest, and mourning. I am deeply saddened that some people are still in those 3 states of mind. They are still processing. And I would love to offer them empathy. But I am still stuck “under my hat” dealing with my own pain at observing their behavior. I breathe but still like an asthmatic. And it is comforting to know that you exist…

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