Some weeks really let you know who your friends are.
Believe it or not, I’m not talking about the election. (Yet.) During the week before the election, I had some much-needed repair work done on my house. (Comments were allegedly made by the contractor about danger of the sink and/or tub falling through the bathroom floor. Allegedly.) This required me and Zoe to move out for five days. I had it all planned. I would spend two nights in a hotel and two nights with friends.
Naturally, things did not go to plan, because construction never does. I ended up needing to spend four days with my friends instead of two. It’s one thing to say to someone, “Let me know if you need anything.” It’s another to say to your friend who clearly needs many things, professional therapy among them, “Please pack up yourself, your cat and all your physical and emotional baggage and bring them into our home for an unspecified period of time. How do you like your salmon?”
I got to sleep in my own bed the night of the election, which did not go my way, and got my worst night’s sleep in a week. And that’s compared to six nights of sleeping in the same room as my cat who likes to poke my face repeatedly at 3:00 am, sometimes with claws extended.
I’ll save my thoughts about the election for another day. Or maybe never, because a lot has been said already, most of it unhelpful. This was a particularly contentious election cycle, leaving feelings raw and bleeding all over the place. How do we get through? Cohesion seems a lifetime away. Right now I’d settle for a lack of open hostility, a promise that everyone, liberal or conservative, can get home safely at the end of the day. People have taken to the streets, protesting our second electoral college-only victory in twenty years, and a friend of mine got temporarily trapped in her car, fearing she’d end up a casualty of mob mentality. Other friends have reported incidents of verbal and physical harassment against people of Islamic faith and people in the LGBTQ community. Hate crimes have increased over the last two years, according to the FBI’s statistics. I haven’t been able to find stats on how things have changed since the election, but I’m willing to bet the news isn’t good. The night after the election, I passed a woman in the restroom who happened to be wearing a hijab. I complimented her on the beauty of the colors in it, partly because they really were lovely but more because I felt a visceral need to let her know that I acknowledged her as a fellow human and that she was safe with me. The encounter probably did nothing for her, but it did something profound for me – it got me out of my introvert box, to talk to a total stranger, to try my admittedly weak best to establish that we both deserve space on this planet.
As I type, more fighting goes on. What can we do? How do we start talking to each other? More to the point, how do we listen to each other, in a way that will do any good?
It’s hard to listen to someone who has fundamentally different opinions than you do. You have to bite your tongue a lot, to stop those instant responses from coming out and establishing the battle lines straight away. You have to appreciate that pain is pain and they have a right to their grievances, even if you feel they’re less grave than your own. You have to take into account that the person you’re talking to may not show the same courtesy and listen to your side. It’s hard, and it’s exhausting. (My spiritual education keeps reminding me that God never promised anyone, in any religion, that the work would be easy. Quite the opposite, actually.)
I tried to do this shortly after the election, to ask someone who called Ms. Clinton’s agenda “insane” what exactly it was about her ideas that were insane. The answer I got addressed a lot of the speaker’s personal feelings about her. I couldn’t find anything in it that described specific problems with her policies on education or foreign policy or the economy, or any other issue discussed on the campaign trail. I still don’t know what he feels her “agenda” was, exactly, much less why he found it crazy. And no, he did not ask why I felt the way I did. Was anything accomplished? I don’t know. It didn’t feel that way, but maybe I didn’t really listen any more than he did. The only thing I can tell myself is that maybe, since I asked the question and didn’t try to counter his arguments, he felt that someone on the other side tried to listen to him for once. Maybe.
There are compromises that can’t be made. Physical harm to someone for their views cannot be allowed. I will do my best to defend anyone who is a victim of violence and mob mentality, whether that mob is fueled by the right or the left or anywhere in between. I will do everything in my power to prevent views based on someone else’s inferiority, based on religion, skin color, gender, physical ability or sexual preference, to be written into laws. You are entitled to your opinion – I just won’t let you push it in the way of someone else’s rights. But even if I oppose your conclusions, I will do my best to remember that how you got to your point of view matters. If you could do the same for me, that would be lovely.
That’s the best I have right now. Knowing that I find some people’s views really, really offensive, I’m guessing that my attempts to listen will leave a lot to be desired. But I don’t know what else to do.
Till I can come up with something better, I leave you all with this song. I’ve listened to it a lot lately. My dad doesn’t like to sing much, and since his speaking voice is a rich baritone, he’d sound completely different from this, but it’s his heart I hear when I listen to it. His, and maybe a few friends’ dads, telling me that circumstances come and go in the world, and all you can do is your best, but how ever far away you feel from your goals, don’t give up on them. I will take that from my dad and all the other folks who will never really seem old, because their wisdom is timeless.
Kimberly has her home back at last – well, Zoe has her home back, and Kimberly is allowed to live there, and both are slowly coming out of their boxes.