“When despair for the world grows in me…”

For the past week I’ve been thinking- every day- about what to post here on my blog. I write mostly about walking and traveling and sometimes about coffee, and I will certainly keep writing about those things.

But it just didn’t feel right to come back here and write my next post about Scotland and pretend like the election never happened. I don’t write about politics here, but I do write about my personal experiences: I tell my stories. And what’s going on in the US and my reactions to it are very much a part of the story of my life.

When Donald Trump was elected to be the next President of the United States, I was horrified. I didn’t believe it could actually happen, but that also doesn’t mean that I wasn’t worried and anxious all through the election cycle.

Because sometimes I saw how it could happen. I live in a liberal area (a county outside of Philadelphia, PA), have liberal neighbors, a mostly liberal family and mostly liberal friends. But when I opened my ears, even in my very liberal area, I heard people speak of their support for Trump. And when I would drive just 30 minutes north, or west, I would start to see the signs. Navy blue with white block letters that spelled out: Trump. Pence. Make America Great Again. A week and a half ago I drove out to my parents’ house in Lancaster- a mostly conservative county- and I took back roads and I saw nothing but Trump signs.

It was always all around me- all around all of us, I suppose- but it was always easier to push the fears away and say, “There’s no way our country will elect him to be our President.” It was what I said when I traveled this summer: every other person who saw my American passport had a question or a statement to make about Trump, and my response was to groan and shake my head, but then to say, “But he’ll never be our President.”

It was easier to believe this. Maybe I had to believe this, because what was the alternative? It was something very, very difficult for me to imagine.

As a white, heterosexual, cisgender and able-bodied woman living in the United States, I have a whole lot of privilege. It’s been pretty easy for me to move through life and take advantage of the opportunities given to me, without having to encounter much- or any- resistance, or intolerance, or violence, or hate, or prejudice. For that, I am very, very lucky.

But I am a woman, and sometimes, I get very angry at the way I’m treated. And it’s been like that for a long time. I can remember this one night when I was in high school- it was late spring or maybe early fall and I was standing with a few other girlfriends on the sidewalk that was at the edge of a small college campus. A car full of guys drove by; the windows were open and they leaned their heads out the window and shouted at us- catcalled at us.

My instant reaction was to take a step into the street and shout back at the car that was, by now, far down the street. So I yelled, moved back onto the sidewalk, and my friends were staring at me with their mouths opened. I can’t remember exactly what they said, but it was something like this: “Nadine, it’s not that big of a deal. Calm down.”

Calm down.

My freshman year of college I was working a lunch shift in the dining hall- wearing a worn red apron and a paper hat that stuck like glue to the sweat on my forehead- and a barrel-chested guy  in a white t-shirt approached me. I thought he wanted a salad plate, but instead he bent down close to my ear and whispered something very, very crude. It was supposed to be a pick-up line, I suppose, but to shrug it off as an “innocent” pick-up line from a young and cocky college student would be to overlook what it really was. Sort of like dismissing something as “locker-room talk”. I stared at him, hard, but I was unable to say anything. So I turned on my heel and walked away and never forgot what he looked like.

A few years later we became friends, but in the days when we were still getting to know each other, he said something to me that took me by surprise. “You hate men, don’t you?” he’d said.

It couldn’t have been further from the truth. But I used that moment to remind him of what he had said to me in the dining hall. “I don’t hate men,” I said. “But I do hate the way that some men can sometimes treat women. With that one line, you made me feel unsafe, and embarrassed, and ashamed, and angry, and small.”

Had he heard me? Had he really heard me? To him, it was only ever a pick-up line.

When I was a sophomore in college I took a writing class called “Sex, Gender and Identity”. I was the youngest student in the class; there was always a long waiting list because students were always fixated on the ‘sex’ part of the course description, and not necessarily because they took the subject very seriously. But I did. The professor of the course would sometimes photocopy the papers I wrote and hand them out to the rest of the class as an example of what an ‘A+’ paper looked like. I’ve held onto these papers and when I read them now, I cringe at how bad the writing is. But there’s something else I notice in my words, something the professor had undoubtedly noticed, too: a passion. A burning fire. I cared deeply about the topics I was writing about.

In those days I spoke up. But in the intervening years, something has happened to that voice, and I realize that it’s become quiet. There are a lot of reasons for that, and some of them are complicated, but here’s one: I shied away from anger. I still do. Long ago I made a very conscious choice to be positive, to be kind, to be open and accepting and to spread happiness where I could. It’s so ingrained to how I live my life that I can see how I step away from negativity. I see a person who talks down to others, who is intolerant, who is racist, who is misogynistic; I stay away, and choose to keep them out of my life.

That’s how I’ve reacted in this election, too. It’s been hard for me to stomach. I tried to watch the debates but I had to turn them off because of the way Trump spoke to Hillary. I couldn’t stand it, so I shut it off. I turned away. I told myself that our country wouldn’t chose a leader who makes racist remarks, whose comments about sexually assaulting women he brushes off as “locker room talk”, who wants to ban Muslims from entering the country, who threatens to turn back the legalization of same-sex marriage.

And when Trump was elected as our President, my very first response was to think, “Now would be a mighty fine time to move to Europe.” (Now, don’t get me wrong, I’d sometimes dreamed about moving to Europe well before this election cycle…)

But to move, to turn away, to flee, to take myself out of the country of my citizenship… it’s not the answer for me. I’m am American, and for better or for worse, I’m proud to be an American. We are powerfully divided, but this is my country. And these last few weeks have shown me and reminded me of what I so strongly believe in: Liberty and justice for all. That all men are created equal. To love your neighbor- all of your neighbors- as thyself.

I remember the young woman who stood up to sexism, I remember the 7th grade kid who stood in front of a classroom of her peers and recited Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech (now thinking this could be the reason I didn’t get invited to many parties…). I’ve never stopped believing in freedom and equality; I’ve never stopped working hard to provide a safe and welcoming space for every teenager that I work with, but the fire that I’d felt when I was younger? I feel it again. It should have never gone away, but maybe the important thing now is that it’s back.

And it’s back for a lot of us. I see it on Facebook and Instagram, I hear it from my friends and from my colleagues at work. For me, this is about love and acceptance- messages that are needed now more than ever as we’re seeing a trickle-down from the campaign and election of racism and sexism and bigotry. There are dozens of things that we can all be doing, and I won’t list them out here but I’ve read some excellent posts and articles and here are a couple links: Twenty Things You Can Do When The World Is Terrifying, Leaving is Easy/ Fighting is Harder.

The other thing I’m going to do- and have never stopped doing- is to get outside and take a walk. You all should. Breathe in some fresh air, notice the sky and the grass and the trees, clear your head. I’m also going to keep baking bread, and keep petting dogs, and keep smiling at strangers.

I’ll leave you with this beautiful poem that was shared by a friend of mine the other day: The Peace of Wild Things, by Wendell Berry.

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.