Let’s Not Waste This Moment! by Penny Gill November 5, 2020
This is a profound opportunity to deepen our understanding of some fundamental realities of the United States. Let me explain, please. But first, let’s remember, we are worn out, thread bare, disappointed, stunned, and afraid. And much more. Why were the polls so wrong? Why does half the country seem to live in another world than I do? What do those “other voters” long for, that this is what they believe they must support? Remember, these questions are also about me and you, and those we know and trust. This is a painfully searing moment in our individual and national lives.
Friends of many political persuasions all ask me, though it isn’t really a question so much as an anguished cry of confusion and fear: How can it be that half of the country sees the world so differently than I do? How can I trust even our simple, ordinary ways of doing business, living in neighborhoods, or educating our children?
It is surely no wonder that we are frightened, disoriented, and up-ended in such unfamiliar ways. It has given me a new understanding of stress, for sure. I’m certainly not alone. It may even be a significant shared experience across all these divisions. I am trying to remember that those whose political preferences differ the most from mine are also likely to be wading through tidal waves of fear, grief, anger, and confusion. Perhaps that is a small place to begin.
I would like to persuade you to drop your story of loss and danger and even catastrophe, at least for a moment, and consider that this might also be a stunning opportunity for all of us, of all views and convictions, to stop for a moment, breathe, slow down our heart rates, and pause. What can I learn from this moment in American life? Is there a belief that now seems false? Is there a fear that I could address more gently and even creatively? Are there other views and other voices that might be of help to me now, to understand and recognize my country?
When I give myself this spaciousness, these days, I find tears. Tears of grief, of fear for others – people I love, people less privileged than I am, people much more endangered than I am – and I feel some small wisps of tenderness flicker in my heart. Tenderness for all of us simmering together in this awful stew we have created and preserved.
I ask myself, is this the kind of society I want my young ones, our children and grandchildren, to grow up in? Is this a blueprint for helping lives to flourish, for people to know some bottom line of safety and well-being? Is this what the hard-headed visionaries designing the Bill of Rights and the US Constitution were hoping for?
We have come to the end of some road, it seems to me. For centuries we have allowed ourselves to believe strange stories about who we were and who we were allowed to be. We called ourselves “the shining city on the hill.” But that is only a partial truth. For we are also the oldest experiment in self-governance, and yet, it was founded on the twin evils of genocide and slavery.
Let me say that again: We were founded on the twin evils of genocide and slavery. And we have so far been unwilling to reckon with that fact and that history. I am convinced our current troubles of race and class and gender, of region and background, of political participation and the rule of law, all are rooted in that history, that unacknowledged history. And now, perhaps for the very first time, those ancient fissures and compromises are up on the surface, visible for all to see. No problem can be addressed, until we can see it and identify it. This is what we have been doing.
The mind-boggling opportunity this moment of crisis brings us is this loud wake-up call, to stop the denial, stop the blame game, stop the stories of victimization, virtue and entitlement, and face our history. Other nations have done this – Germany, South Africa, and Rwanda – to name a few. Can we not be as brave as they have been?
The first step is to feel our grief. Then, perhaps we can begin to recognize some common ground, even if we no longer know how to speak with each other. The next steps will appear, one by one. But turn toward your long-buried sadness and grief about our country and its many disappointments. Turn to the deep hurt in your own heart, about America’s failed promises.
I, for one, am profoundly grateful to be alive right now. I wouldn’t miss this moment for the world! Please join me. Please join me.