Thursday, November 10, 2016

after the election

Last night I spoke with a friend who is a counselor at a high school here in New York City. He told me his office was a steady stream of children in crisis yesterday - a girl threatened suicide because she's afraid her parents will be deported, another girl, wearing a hijab, sat in his office sobbing all afternoon. My friend was understandably distraught. When I came home last night, the two doormen in my building, one from the Dominican Republic the other from Azerbaijan, usually friendly, outgoing and talkative guys, were uncharacteristically solemn and avoided eye contact. I texted with a neighbor who was trying to comfort her 11 year old daughter who's worried her friends at school, who are different colors and from different ethnic backgrounds are now in danger.
Traveling around town yesterday, fellow subway-riders were silent and somber. I became acutely aware of my whiteness (and my maleness). Can people think I had anything to do with this? Do they associate me with this tragedy? I'm vowing to replace my usual on-the-subway irritability with kindness. Our world, especially now, lacks kindness, I'll do what I can however small the gesture.
I'm only slightly encouraged crowds have taken to the streets. I know activism works, but I've also seen vital movements: Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street... be ridiculed and squashed. I'm angered by the stream of empty platitudes and false optimism: it's gonna be okay, we'll get through this. No, actually, not all of us will. Friends and lovers didn't get through the Reagan administration in the 80s, yet somehow Saint Ronnie is still held up as a shining light. And maybe the PTSD I've sustained these last decades since my friends' agonizing and senseless deaths, or the 21 years since my own HIV diagnosis have colored my disillusionment, but probably no more than for the families of Eric Garner, or Sandra Bland, or countless others. Or the suffering of the men and women whose sons and daughters rot inside an unjust industrial prisons system for something as innocuous and benign as walking the street with a joint or jumping a turnstile.
Perhaps what hurts most is that out of fear, or ignorance, or anger, or spite, or hatred, or bigotry, our fellow countrymen and women have done this to us (and themselves). The feeling of betrayal to our nation, and especially vulnerable communities is not only painful, but feels also deeply personal.
There are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Right now, I feel as if I'm flailing around in a pool of the first four. Old traumas have been triggered, and I know, for myself, I've actually been experiencing physical symptoms of shock: clammy palms, rapid breathing, nausea, weakness, dizziness... On the streets and in public spaces, it feels as if we're suffering a collective fight or flight response. The uneasiness and calm is uncannily reminiscent to those days after 9/11. It's still all very new, and in the coming weeks, as the toxic dust from this catastrophe begins to settle, we'll see how we manage.
This morning, I'll brush my teeth, and make my bed, and feed my cats, and do the dishes, and do all sorts of other regular things as if today were a regular day. This morning, the sun is shining, the air is brisk, people are going to work, and feeding their children, and walking their dogs, and shopping, and banking, and doing all sorts of other things as if today were a regular day. But it's not a regular day.