Thursday, November 10, 2016

On a Night that Wasn't

It took some time for me to find these words. I have spent the past 40 or so hours in something closely resembling shock, with a healthy dose of disbelief, and a sprinkling of fear mixed in for good measure.

This morning, for the second morning in a row, I woke up and for a second I didn't remember, and then I did. And I wanted to pull the covers over my head but my son was stirring, so instead I got up and lifted him from his crib, kissed his cheeks still warm from sleep, and carried him into my room. I settled him down on my bed and as I stood for a minute and watched him drink his beloved morning bottle, the words started to come.

As I write this, I am sitting on a train heading into Manhattan for my ninth day at my new job. A job I like very much and am thrilled to have started, but that I haven't been able to bring myself to write about here or even mention very much at all. All along the train platform people have been staring at each other with glazed eyes and shell-shocked looks on their faces.

"I can't believe this happened," they say to each other. "What do we do now?" they ask.

There were tears that sunglasses worn despite cloudy, rainy weather couldn't mask, questions that don't have any answers, and whispered acknowledgment that we are suddenly hurling towards a profoundly uncertain future. One that the majority of the pundits and pollsters and talking heads on cable news assured us over and over again was unlikely, if not out of the question entirely.

I thought the train yesterday, and my office, would be emptier than usual, people having chosen to stay home, to call in sick rather than face their daily routines on little sleep and under the specter of what had happened just hours before. But they weren't. People opted to come to work, to be in the world, to face yesterday in rooms full of people, processing it all in groups rather than alone.

Last night I had a big meeting at work, and at the beginning of the hour the head of the team stood up and acknowledged that most of us were probably having a pretty bad, exhausted day. Everyone nodded. He said that he was too, that he stayed in front of the TV all night and had only slept an hour or two. He smiled. He said he understood. He said we would get through this. At his direction and insistence, more than 200 people in offices across the United States stood up from their chairs, stretched their arms above their heads, and high-fived the person sitting next to them. Ridiculous, maybe, in light of the week's horror, but damned if for a minute or two after that we didn't all feel just a tiny bit better.

It turns out that Hillary Clinton was right all along. We really are stronger together.

It's a strange irony, and a strangely comforting one. She wasn't wrong, and we weren't wrong to believe in her, to embrace her message and to champion her vision of hope and love and diversity and inclusion. And in this new reality, that message might be more important than ever. We have always known this of course, and know it even more strongly after watching her graceful and courageous concession speech yesterday morning, but the voices on the other side are loud, and our exhaustion sometimes makes it hard to filter them out and remember who we are and what is important. But we must.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have not been a lifelong Democrat. I have written about it in these pages before. I have voted for both Democrats and Republicans, but the issues that I care most about have increasingly aligned me with the Democrats over the past decade. I voted for President Obama in 2008 and again in 2012. And I have supported Hillary since the beginning of this long, exhausting campaign, not just because she is a woman and not because she was the "least bad," but because she was experienced and prepared and perhaps the most qualified person to ever run for President of this country. And because her view of the world is one in which I would be proud to raise my children. I wanted her to be my President. Their President.

And so. Yesterday morning I got up early to vote. I wanted to go before I went to work, but more than that, I wanted to take my son with me to the polls. It was still dark outside when we parked at the elementary school a few blocks from home. The gym where we voted was packed with families, mothers and fathers who wanted, as I did, their children to be there to see us vote for a woman for president. A lot of our kids were little, but we thought that one day we would tell them how they were there on the day that history was made.

I caught the eyes of some of the other mothers in line, and we smiled and nodded to each other, members of a secret club, with full hearts, in quiet understanding of the weight of the day. With the acknowledgement that we were casting these ballots not just for us, but for our grandmothers and great-grandmothers who did not live to see this day, and for our children, some of whom were literally sitting at our feet as we voted, too young to understand what was happening, so that we might raise them in a world where they take it for granted that a woman can lead a country.

I was emotional as I filled out the ballot, my eyes filling with tears as I slid it into the scanner, walked back to my car, dropped my son off at daycare, started my day. I hoped that later that night we would watch Hillary Clinton give a long-awaited and much deserved victory speech under the great glass ceiling at the Javitz Center in New York.

By midnight, it was increasingly clear that that speech was not to come. And I was devastated. Am devastated. For myself, for my son, for everyone who feels less safe today than they did on Tuesday morning. For this country.

So many of my friends and colleagues worried over how to explain this to their children who are old enough to understand what happened. And to be completely honest, I'm relieved that, as the mother of a 16 month old, I'm spared that particular conversation right at this moment. But it didn't stop me from thinking about what I would say to him if he asked me. And thinking about it has helped me process where we go from here.

If he asked me, I would tell him that this is the way that a democracy works. Someone wins and someone loses, and it's ok to be sad that the candidate that you supported lost.

If he asked me, I would tell him that women and men are equal and that a woman can be just as good a president as a man can. I would tell him that in his lifetime another woman will run for President, and that one day, a woman will be the President.

If he asked me, I would tell him that we will spend the next four years working hard and fighting to make sure that this country stays a safe place for everyone who lives here.

If he asked me, I would tell him that it's more important than ever to be a good person, and to be kind, and to treat people who are different than we are with love and respect.

If he asked me, I would tell him that hate and mean words have no place in this house and in the world. I would tell him that I won't tolerate this, ever. That this is not who we are.

If he asked me, I would hug him tight and I would tell him that I love him and that he doesn't have to be afraid. I would tell him that it is my job to protect him and that we will be ok.

And we will. Because we lost, and we might be afraid, but we aren't powerless. I keep reminding myself that I am the same person I was yesterday, and so are my friends, and the people in my family and none of us want to leave for our children a country and a world steeped in hate and fear and stripped of rights. And there are millions of other people in this country, a majority in fact, who agree. I'm not alone. We're not alone.

This isn't the way this was supposed to go. So we let ourselves mourn the loss of the world we had hoped to wake up to yesterday morning, and then we get up. We hold our families close and surround ourselves with good people, and we let our anger and confusion and sadness spur us to action. We fight for freedom and for equality, and for the families and the people who have the most to lose over the next four years. We fight because we do not, will not, accept the descent of this country into a swamp of racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and hate. We fight because our children are watching and they are counting on us to show them the way through. They expect no less of us and we should expect no less of ourselves.

This isn't what we wanted, what we hoped for, what we dreamed of. But this is where we are.

So now we get to work.