The results of the recent election have sent many of us into a tailspin. My first impulse was to withdraw from the world and create a cocoon for myself, which I actually already inhabit in Northern California where the government passes sensible laws about legalizing marijuana; reducing access to guns; caring for the environment; and honoring everyone’s rights.
Photos of ostriches hiding their heads in the sand fascinated me when I was a child and still do. While I would love to imitate this behavior, I know it isn’t productive. I can’t just wait out the next four years and hope Trump and his administration will self-destruct in the meantime.
But I do worry about this interim period and how to view my fellow Americans. I find myself eyeing colleagues, friends, and neighbors suspiciously. Did s/he vote for Trump? Even strangers come under scrutiny. When I’m standing in line at my favorite market, I wonder about the checker and what his/her politics are, as well as my fellow shoppers. I also wonder why I should care so much.
A country that prides itself on being the most successful democracy in the world needs citizens that not only can read and think critically but also feel bonds that go beyond family and close friends. If we only hurl insults at one another, how can we discover the ties that do bind us together?
With family, I have a shared history and genes that help us to transcend our difference. I recently spent several days with my older sister in Ashland, Oregon. She still lives in Canada and flew to San Francisco where I live. I then drove us to Ashland so we could attend the Oregon Shakespeare Festival together, the first time we’ve done something like this without our spouses in over 25 years.
In 1963, I moved to the States because I felt trapped by the provincialism I felt in Alberta at that time. Though uneducated then, I instinctively knew I would dry up and die if I remained there. California has offered the kind of nurturing environment I needed, one where I could flower and embrace my more liberal tendencies—on all levels. My sister, a lovely woman, has chosen an opposite direction, and, in fact, in most instances we live at opposite poles.
She is an evangelical Christian who believes that hers is the only true religion. More eclectic, I find her God is too small and take sustenance from many different faiths. During this trip, I could sense she was still trying to “save” me and told her of my concerns. She admitted she didn’t want to die and lose me forever. If I didn’t believe that Jesus was my savior, I wouldn’t go where she hopes to end up. Though she has a college degree, apparently she can’t grasp that I also have strong spiritual leanings and my own understanding of what might face us beyond this earthly life.
So while we were able to connect in terms of our shared family history, and have many common values (she couldn’t understand how anyone could vote for Trump and is puzzled as to why Americans fear a single payer health care system), we essentially live in contrasting worlds. But we are bound together both by our Canadian heritage and also by a willingness to step outside of our comfort zones where we can meet in multiple ways.
Surely we Americans also belong to a large family with shared memories. While we won’t always agree on certain things, if we accept the family metaphor and want to find ways we can interact positively, then maybe these next four years won’t be the disaster we fear. But we must be willing to step out of our familiar, safe communities and discover the many ties that do ultimately bind us together.