What choice do we have?

How do we go on living, moving, breathing, and creating knowing that our nation is so divided?

I woke up this morning to the sun shining in my window, fearful of what I’d see when I refreshed the news on my phone screen. There it was. PRESIDENT TRUMP. Though I’ve been very silent about my views on social media, with every ounce of my being I believed that Hillary would win. I did not give a thought to the potential of a Trump victory. It’s going to be fine, I told myself all night as I watched the election unfold. But it’s not fine. It’s not going to be fine for so many of the people that I love deeply.

How did this happen, I ask myself? Many reports are saying that rural voters triumphed over urban voters in a historic movement, as these forgotten people across America finally saw a campaign they could get behind, in an effort of “Making America Great Again,” and showed up at the polls. This proved itself as the votes trickled in late into the night. But I am filled with too much hope to think it’s the rural people I know who are supporting this movement and waving this devastating banner of fear. I grew up in a small town of 1,500 people in southwestern Minnesota. My hometown is filled with wonderfully loving, supporting, kind people. They care about the sick, they ruthlessly help their community, they champion the young people in their lives, they openly embrace their non-white neighbors (though it’s only a mere handful, the majority of which were adopted into white families), and at the base of it all, they are humans trying to love God and love people.

My home county, like every other non-metro county in Minnesota, shows blazing red on the election results map. Last night, 59.8% voted for Trump vs. 33.9% for Hillary, a huge shift from a D+1 in 2012 to a R+26 in 2016. Something drastically changed since 2012. Perhaps Trump’s rhetoric of fear appealed to them? Perhaps they’re scared for the future of their farms and small businesses? Perhaps they can’t erase their negative perception of Hillary Clinton as an untruthful elite? Or perhaps they don’t know, they can’t know, how it feels to live as the other. They are mainly white (ranked #11 out of 87 counties in MN for white % voters), they are mainly Christian, they rank in the middle on median income and college education. They are not the other. But they don’t really have many opportunities to interact with the other either, these marginalized members of our community. They don’t live on a street with people of all faiths, all races, all orientations. They don’t see the power of social change at work or know how it feels to embrace people experiencing homeless or hear languages other than English spoken around them while riding the train to work. I understand my experience is different living in Chicago, but how do we come to understand this collectively? For those who aren’t moving, who don’t encounter differences around them, who aren’t given the chance to see things another way? I don’t know how to do this because I never asked them. And I should have.

I’m sitting in my apartment, mourning that I did not do more to fight for the values I believe in. I didn’t help, I didn’t canvass, I didn’t debate, I didn’t volunteer, I didn’t further the campaign in any way other than my single vote. For this I am ashamed, more than I can express. But it begins now. Not a battle, not a war, not stakes driving the divide larger and despairingly vast, but fighting to collectively find a place where we can all agree and start there. I plead that we find comfort in our shared humanity and do what we can to create positive change for all. What choice do we have?

In the meantime, I’m comforted by the great 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.

[Wendell Berry, from “The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry”]

 

Sources: http://www.npr.org/2016/11/08/501073212/minnesota-2016-presidential-and-state-election-results  Current results from AP (as of Nov. 9, 2016, 3:47 p.m. ET). Unemployment numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2015). Other statistics from the Census Bureau (American Community Survey 5-year estimates). Median Income numbers are taken from Median Household Income.

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In the pursuit of reclaiming my life, I've spent the last six months on sabbatical filling my days with thought-provoking words, compelling poems that speak truth into places I was unable to locate, pottery and poetry, and the pursuit of wholeness.
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  • “They don’t live on a street with people of all faiths, all races, all orientations. They don’t see the power of social change at work or know how it feels to embrace people experiencing homeless or hear languages other than English spoken around them while riding the train to work… how do we come to understand this collectively? For those who aren’t moving, who don’t encounter differences around them, who aren’t given the chance to see things another way? I don’t know how to do this because I never asked them. And I should have.”

    This. Just this.

    I had this exact conversation with my mother-in-law today. We asked each other how we could calm the fears of those who don’t get the opportunity to see the other on a regular basis? I don’t know how to do this because I never asked them either. A really hard lesson, but one I hope we are learning from.

    Loved reading your piece on this!

    • Jenna,

      Thanks for reading and thank you for your thoughts on this. I really debated posting at all, but I had to do something. I had to try and express how I was feeling that morning. And more than anything else, I now want to do what I can to understand all hurting people across our country. We need to continue to ask these questions.

      Elisabeth

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