Poetry and Politics

Two Sundays ago, I took my anxious self for a hike. It was two days before the election, and although I felt confident that Hillary Clinton would win, my nerves were on high alert. I took Kenai into the foothills behind our home, climbing higher and higher and trying to convince myself that I was hiking out my stress. In truth, I was just feeling stressed in a different place, but hey, it was something. Then, when I reached the top, I looked out over Boulder and a few of the lines from one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems, "Wild Geese," came to mind. "You do not have to be good...you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves...meanwhile, the world goes on..." I could only remember pieces of the poem, but I repeated them to myself over and over again, like a mantra, as I made my way back down. When I got to my car, I pulled up the poem and read it in its entirety. Teary, I had the sense that everything was going to be okay.

I was so hopeful, even joyful, the following Tuesday morning. Scott dropped off his ballot on his way to work (mine was in the mail a few weeks before). The girls wore their Hillary t-shirts, and I donned my finest stay-at-home-mom pantsuit: black yoga pants and a black hoodie, with pearls to class things up. On the way home from picking Julia up at school, we stopped for treats: champagne for Scott and me, ice cream for Julia and Margaret. We were planning to let Julia stay up late; we were having a party. 

About an hour before the polls closed on the east coast, I texted with a good friend in New York, and with my mom. We confirmed that we would start drinking champagne once Hillary won Ohio, North Carolina, or Florida. We decided we did not have to be nervous. A little later, with Margaret in bed, we sat down on the couch, excited to watch as history was made. 

And then, history was made. The map of our country became more and more red as each state was called, and it was clear that it was going to be a long night. Julia went to bed, saying that she hoped she would wake up to find out that Hillary was going to be president. I had a sinking feeling already-- with no clear victories in any battleground states, and results that were so contrary to all predictions and polls, it was apparent that we were not having a victory party. At 10, I went to bed, despondent, and at 1, I woke up in a panic. And, like half of the country, I began to grieve.

Over the past ten days, I have struggled to find compassion for Trump voters, struggled to understand how, even if not overtly racist, sexist, homophobic themselves, so many Americans could look past these defining character traits and elect Trump. I have been horrified by his choices in cabinet members, and by the racist acts that have increased since his election. I have been mourning the loss of a Clinton presidency, which I genuinely believe would have been good for America. I've been distracted and listless, and so, so weary. I have been sad that my ninety-one year-old grandmother will not see a female president in her lifetime, and that the first president my girls will remember will be one who puts up walls instead of breaking glass ceilings. 

This morning, Julia, Margaret and I went to Family Yoga for the first time since the election. It was evident immediately that all of the moms and nannies in class, including the teacher, were still grappling with what is happening to and in our country. As we processed together, we shared that what has helped us most has been to connect with friends and family, and to experience kindness from strangers and from our loved ones. We talked about paths forward with conservative relatives, about fear for our minority friends and family members. About our profound, profound sadness.

As we moved our bodies while our children played around us, I thought again about the Mary Oliver poem. The poem concludes, "Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --over and over announcing your place in the family of things." I'm encouraged by organizations that are taking a stand against hatred, and by the politicians who are dedicating themselves to fighting Trump's agenda. While I am heartbroken about the results of the election, I'm inspired by the ways in which people are coming together as we figure out how to move forward. On my hike a couple of weeks ago, I believed, and so desperately hoped, that my premonition that "everything would be okay" meant that Hillary would win. Right now, I am hoping it can mean that everything will be okay, somehow, in spite of her loss.

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.