America is breathing out.
For seventeen months or thereabouts it has breathed poison gas, damaging lungs and hearts the nation over. Now it exhales, waiting for the first hit of oxygen. This is recovery: we learn anew what good air feels like. And like lungs and hearts, people do not snap back to good health after trauma.
I am too young to have known an uglier seventeen months. My parents and many of my friends remember worse than this. It doesn’t make their experience any easier than mine. It’s only pain compounded by pain. I said to my mother the other day, before the election, and meant it: “Our long national nightmare is coming to a middle.” (With apologies to M. Reynolds.) Because no, you don’t snap back once the pain stops. You are never the same person again.
It’s worse than impolite to tell anyone to “get over it”. It’s plain impossible to expect the desired result. Oh, you’ll see us getting on with our lives, picking up the pieces, but we have to do that the same way anyone does after disaster. We have to do it one lungful at a time. We have to step, and step, and step until walking is natural. We lift each brick, toss it on the pile: this cannot be salvaged. This must be rebuilt from scratch.
I’m not sure whether it’s worse or better for people who were already living this way.
I know that I have experience with depression and what sparks it in me. Winter is unkind; naturally, we hold our elections in November. Uncertainty makes me anxious, and right now the only certainty I have is uncertainty. I don’t know what happens next. And this is already part of me. Am I better at coping because I understand? Because I recognize grief and post-traumatic reactions for what they are, and can perform the appropriate emotional first aid?
Even the people Mr Trump promises to help have had a long election season to endure. Most of us, on both sides of the aisle, agree that Congress has been worse than useless in addressing our needs. I had good fortune with the Affordable Care Act, probably because I live in New York, which implemented even the broken version as intended. Those who live in states where their government decided to break it even further, I don’t envy them. They can’t see the good because for many of them there has been no good. Their version of the ACA came damaged, without a warranty.
I dreamed last night of a song I can sing very well. It’s called “Mountaintop Removal”; it is absolutely pertinent to the misfortunes of the white working class. And when that plant closed, the workers all left town. For how many has that been a reality? I live in a community on the very edge between rural and suburban, near enough to the city that people can find gainful employment without having to move, and I’ve still felt the distinct lack of opportunity out here. What must it be like without the shelter of the city?
We don’t share our stories enough, I’m thinking, to be able to appreciate why we vote the way we do. We don’t ask each other “What is your priority right now? What do you need in a lawmaker?” We tell others what we need, but we don’t ask them. That’s a problem.
We’ve also been gerrymandered all to hell. My town’s been stuck to the top end of the Southern Tier instead of the bottom end of Greater Rochester. My interests necessarily take a backseat to people who live way out where there are no cities, just vast stretches of farmland and the odd factory. I would like the choice to align with the city again. I would like to be re-redistricted. Chris Collins is my legislator de jure, Louise Slaughter de facto. Worth noting that I have actually *met* Louise (seriously, that’s the name on all the signs, everyone knows it). My mama’s seen her at our Wegmans. I wouldn’t know Collins if you marched him in front of me wearing a great big sign saying “I’m Your Congressman!”
As I exhale, I take a step and then a step. I pick up each of these bricks and take a closer look.
I have done this so often it really is second nature to me now. I think of people who have not, and I wonder: can a long national nightmare beget national post-traumatic stress? Can an entire people take such damage that they won’t “get over it” for some time to come?
I posit that it’s possible. I am unable, at seven-thirty in the morning, to summon the proof, if proof there be. I only say that I’m planning to treat the people around me like we’ve collectively survived the Blitz. I can do this because I went straight from St. Trinian’s to the University of Hard Knocks. I received my M.A. in Endurance concurrent with that B.A. in Human Services. If I hadn’t got the one, I wouldn’t have the other; my advisor did tell me she’s seen plenty of people give up, towards the end of a degree with just a few credits left. That I’d beaten the odds nicely.
My people do that. Beat odds, I mean.
Since I’m still standing, it’s my job now to help other folks up who’ve been knocked flat. It’s my job to give shelter to the hurting. Mine is to understand as much as I can. Human connections are so powerful. Compassion is the greatest gift we possess. It’s also the greatest gift we can give, one we can give without losing our own. It multiplies. How gorgeous is that?
It’s my job to defend those who have been placed in danger by the lashing-out of others who might be angry, but have no business taking it out on innocents. Take it out on me instead. I’m stout enough. I’m what happens when you cross Slytherin and Hufflepuff. I’m the tiger daughter of a dragon mother: this is a formidable combination. I have resting you-were-saying? face. And yes, I wear a safety pin.
I am standing here with open hands to receive your stories. Your fears. Your hopes. Underneath all the anger, what are you feeling? Really, now? When that anger passes, what will be left? You might find you are looking into the abyss the same as I’ve done, and you don’t want to fall. Anger won’t make a net to catch you or throw you a rope to hang on tight. The only way to defeat the abyss is to puzzle out why it’s there.
I want to help you find out.
your darkness/is shining/my darkness/is shining