With Thanksgiving approaching, it’s time to count our blessings. I admit, I’m a gratitude junky. As a natural pessimist, I’ve realized how good gratitude feels and I’ve consciously cultivated it. We introduced a “three good things” daily discussion around the dinner table years ago for my also pessimistic now 9-year-old. My 4-year-old twins joined in as soon as they could talk. We recently upped the ante with a “Graditudinator,” a repurposed takeout container my kids decorated in which we put little pieces of paper all week with things we’re grateful for. Then we read them together Sunday night.
But this holiday season feels different. With the Cubs winning the World Series for the first time in 108 years (GO CUBBIES!!!) and the upset election, it feels a little apocalyptic. The Cubbies finally winning was a blessing beyond measure for Cubs fans all over the world, but the election last week rocked me to my core.
In hindsight, I kept my head in the sand about there being any real possibility that Donald Trump would win the presidency. From the moment I broke down in grief-filled sobs at 4 am November 9th, I have experienced the full range of human emotions, and I never know what each new day is going to bring.
I thought I was past the initial shock and grief, but then Friday’s announcements of a KKK sympathizer and pro-torture guy for two powerful government positions brought me low again. Despair, fury, anger, fear have all run their course through me, as have a need to understand. And a poignancy to daily life, an appreciation of the things I so often take for granted. Here are five things I’ve found to be grateful for, as we approach this holiday season:
1 – The simple things in life
My 4-year-old daughter’s tiny hand grasps a crayon, her perfect little knuckles illuminated by the early morning sun, as she carefully traces her letters at the kitchen table this morning. Her whole body is focused on the effort of spelling and writing the word “apple sauce.”
There’ve been moments like this each day throughout the past week where I’m overwhelmed by the simple joys of life, that normally might have slipped by unnoticed. But in the backdrop of intense uncertainty in the broader world, I have slowed down enough to truly appreciate my small beings.
My three kids don’t know why the adults around them are so upset about the election, but they notice everything. Their joy is contagious. They teach me so much every single day about kindness. When I uncharacteristically vented about being cut off by a big pickup truck the morning of November 9th, I was greeted by a shocked silence from the back of the minivan that was broken by my son, “Mommy, that wasn’t nice. We don’t call names.” I apologized and admitted I was wrong.
We’ve talked some about the election, at age appropriate levels. I was blessed to catch a live webcast on Facebook by Hand In Hand Parenting founder Patty Wipfler the day after the election, and some friends put together an info sheet with parenting resources (and a lot more regional resources).
2 – Spiritual practice
I am intensely grateful for the Buddhist practices I discovered 3 years ago. I’d be lost in a storm of emotions if it weren’t for this anchor. Buddhism has allowed me to hold all my conflicting, intense emotions with compassion. With Buddhist practices, I know I’m not the sum of my emotions. I’m the ocean in which my emotions swim.
I’m also grateful for my Unitarian church. Having a place to go and be with loving, supportive, nonjudgmental people who have so much collective wisdom and heart in this time of grief has enriched my healing, centeredness, and resolve immeasurably. Liberals don’t have many choices when it comes to organized spirituality – I spent 20 years without a spiritual community knowing I would fail the “litmus test” of beliefs in traditional religion on just about every count. Finding the Boulder Valley fellowship a couple years ago, I had no idea then what a “port in the storm” this group would be in this time of difficulty.
3 – A wake-up call to engage more
Sometimes it takes a shock to the system to be able to see clearly. I’ve been working in racial justice on and off over the past couple years, but this week I’ve been painfully aware of my white privilege as I make my way in the world. Something as simple as leaving the rec center Saturday morning, I saw an armed policeman who I knew wouldn’t look twice at me, a middle-aged white woman. That’s white privilege in action, and so easily not noticed.
Belatedly, I’ve made a pact to not shy away from difficult discussions on race, on politics, on women’s rights.
My sister speaks heartbreakingly of the palpable fear parents, students, and teachers alike are feeling at the school where she teaches, a majority Latino charter school in Chicago since November 8.
The election of a man who proposed banning Muslims, says most Mexican immigrants are rapists, and speaks of women in terms that make me feel violated makes it really impossible to avoid the problems this country is facing.
This, in the backdrop of social turmoil that was beginning to resemble the ‘60s even before this crazy election. A lot of people, including me, believe that race was an unspoken draw for the white voters who flocked to Trump – read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander for the full story, or watch the new hit Netflix documentary, 13th.
A controversial article on the safety pin movement made me realize painfully that I personally helped to contribute to the election of Donald Trump, by not talking more openly with my fellow white Trump-supporting friends and relatives. Belatedly, I’ve made a pact to not shy away from difficult discussions on race, on politics, on women’s rights.
Not wanting to offend or start a confrontation is a powerful muzzle, even though I engage in activism in other ways. Luckily, I recently joined a compassionate communication practice group (also known as nonviolent communication). There are some really great tips out there for engaging in these tough conversations, such as this article. The trick is not getting attached to changing the other’s opinion, but rather to focus on listening and really hearing what the other person is saying. In essence, this means focusing on process over result, a teaching that has become so ubiquitous in management training, parenting, and emotional intelligence guides. And it takes some pressure off these types of discussions – you’re not trying to convince, you’re listening and sharing your truth in return.
4 – A heartfelt understanding of things we all have in common
Unfortunately, a big thing most of us share is fear. It’s so close to the surface within American culture these days. Many sociologists have written on the “culture of fear,” one memorably in a collaboration with Michael Moore a few years back. But this week, I’ve really felt the bodily sensation of fear. Fear for country, for the world, for Muslims in the US, immigrants, minorities, and fear for my daughters, growing up under a president who speaks so derisively of women (the words, “Grab em by the p***sy!” kept maniacally repeating over and over again in my head November 9th).
In the precious moments when I get past the horror and quiet my mind, I feel like I understand better now how some people on the other side of the political spectrum might have felt when Barack Obama was elected eight years ago.
In an interview on her new book, Strangers in Their Own Land, author and sociologist Arlie Hochschild dissects the rise of the Tea Party based on her travels in rural Louisiana. She stresses the need for greater empathy in the Trump era. She talks of our “deep stories” – our sometimes unconscious worldviews that inform everything from career choices to religiosity to political affiliation. The story of many of those she spoke to is one of continued stagnation and trying to stay afloat in an economy that seems to have forgotten them. “[Y]ou, in fact, are not feeling good about yourself. In a way, you’re kind of in mourning for a lost identity and way of life,” says Hochschild of her interviewees’ perception after Barack Obama’s election. I was fascinated by the premise, and I need to read that book. Just reading the interview opened up a window into the humanity we all share. I never thought I would be struggling to make ends meet, with two biochemistry PhDs in my family. It doesn’t feel good. At least I know it’s temporary. Some people don’t feel that assurance.
We don’t consciously experience it this way, but everyone just wants to feel safe, to feel like we can provide for our kids, to feel like life is fair. But getting stuck in blaming the “other” – whoever that other happens to be – just doesn’t work. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote:
Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.
May we all dig deep to find lessons from this election, and focus on all the things we can be grateful for in this crazy, terrible, and amazing life. For those of us feeling overwhelmed by fear, especially if you personally have experienced aggression during this difficult time, please reach out to someone you can trust, a community organization, or depression resources in your community. We are truly in this together!
- Rodriguez-Myer, I., Davidson, K. (2016) Support for Families resource document.
- Keelty, C. (2016, November 12). Dear White People, Your Safety Pins Are Embarrassing. The Huffington Post.
- Groot, M. (2016, November 18). Disagreement and Connection after November 8 [blog post].
- The Editorial Board. (2016, November 18). Donald Trump’s plan to purge the nation. The New York Times.
- Smith, J.A. (2016, November 11). Why We Need Empathy in the Age of Trump. Greater Good Science Center E-newsletter.
- Glassner, B. (2010). The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things: Crime, Drugs, Minorities, Teen Moms, Killer Kids, Mutant Microbes, Plane Crashes, Road Rage, & So Much More New York, NY: Basic Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group.
- King, M. L., & Washington, J. M. (1986). A testament of hope: The essential writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. San Francisco: Harper & Row.