Dear Paul & Joanne*,
I cannot tell you how grateful I am to you both for taking the time to meet me last week. You came out in the pouring rain, not for a lighthearted night of drinks and karaoke, but to talk charged politics with your tortured, melancholic, liberal friend. I hope it did not feel too burdensome, and that you would do it again.
It was quite the emotional evening for me, unsettling, sometimes uncomfortable, and also dominated by love. Joanne, we have known each other about 15 years, and I know you are not a fan of politics in general. Paul, I know you mostly through your witty holiday cards, and your occasional Facebook posts that often touch on politics. You lean right, it seems, about as much as I lean left. You gently called me out when I shared a Trump supporter-shaming video, reminding me to hold myself to a higher standard of discourse on all platforms. That is why I sought you out. When you engage, you exemplify the attitude toward political discourse that I aspire to.
I described to Joanne over the phone how distraught I had been since November, something akin to “watching the fabric of my generation’s social progress torn to shreds by a maniacally fomenting, double-machete-wielding narcissist.” You seemed genuinely surprised and curious—why did this election have such a profoundly tormenting effect on me? What made millions of people pour into the streets around the world in protest? I was incredulous at your incredulity, and yet I felt a mutual, loving acceptance between friends who only want each other to be happy and feel secure.
At dinner, I could tell that you both cared acutely about my distress, and wanted to help alleviate it. You reassured me that the worst case scenarios are highly unlikely to actually happen. You reminded me that hyperventilation and arm flapping are not productive energy expenditures. You gently encouraged me about the long, jagged, often meandering, and also inevitable path of social progress, and the importance of taking the long view.
I admit that I felt a little defensive at times, as if anything I said about the origins of my distress would be met with, “You’re overreacting,” and “You’re worried about nothing, please…” We later agreed that it is never helpful to invalidate someone’s emotional response to a stressor, regardless of whether or not we can relate. Paul, you are so well-read and convicted about your opinions. I did not see a point in arguing, as you did not seem interested in debate, and I left feeling disappointed that I had not presented a stronger defense of my liberal ideals. The whole exchange felt lopsided in favor of your position. But I did learn from your point of view, which was one of my primary objectives.
Most importantly, our conversation revived my mindfulness practice. You’re right—energy spent catastrophizing about a hell-on-earth future is energy wasted. As Michael J. Fox says (I paraphrase), “Don’t spend your time worrying, because if what you’re worried about actually happens, now you’ve lived it twice.” My energy is better spent in the present, attending to what is, rather than what I fear might be. And I feel justified in my shock and dismay at what is. In my opinion, Donald Trump has defiled the presidency and brought our politics to a new moral low that I could never have predicted. I don’t need to ‘go apeshit’ over the future, as there is plenty of wreckage to confront right now, not the least of which is our collective refusal to engage one another in civil discourse. I can center, ground, and focus, breathe deeply and engage, one step, one person, or one loving couple, at a time.
Last week Dan Rather wrote my heart on his Facebook page:
The threats, the lies, the willful disregard for the rule of law should be limited to the world of Hollywood caricature. To see this played out each night on the news, to read about ramblings and inconsistencies in justifications for actions that should never have been taken, is to see a moment of great peril for our nation.
I remain, however, an optimist. I see the swellings of civic engagement and action. I hear the voices of those who demand that this subversion of our national ideals shall not stand. I have covered social movements of the past, and never have seen one where so much power and numbers lie on the side of the opposition. This is a clash for the values of our nation. Our destiny is in our hands.
Our nation’s patchy, irregular social fabric may be strained to its limits today, and even torn in some places. But the threat of real disintegration has brought forth multitudes of weavers and quilters to repair and protect its integrity. I can acknowledge this ‘collateral beauty’ and contribute my part, through conversations like ours, to help mend the tapestry, and bend that moral arc of the universe more toward justice.
Thank you, my dear friends, for helping me train for this marathon. You hold me up and make me stronger. I hope I do the same for you.
Sincerely and with love,
*Not their real names