Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance — where are you at?
Yes, my headline ended with a preposition and frankly, I just don’t give a shit. I’m bouncing back and forth between the five stages of grief, and have settled squarely into Depression, and grammar can just bite me. That’s where I’m at.
Last week, after revealing my grief over the most disastrous election in U.S. history, I discovered that I’m not alone in my despair. I received a lot of email from readers feeling the same… articulate, heartfelt outpourings of fear and sadness from others who are also horrified to their cores that our country is now in the hands of an unqualified egomaniacal misogynistic bigot, and terrified over the implications of that new reality.
I’d like to single out two of those emails in particular, not only because their poignancy touched my heart, but also because each email also held a tiny flicker of light.
First is Carol, who said the election results completely caught her by surprise: “I was working all day in the Bay Area and didn’t even bother to watch the election that evening, so sure I was of the outcome… I cannot express the shock I felt later when I did see what was unfolding — utter disbelief.
“Since then, I have been very wary, seeing news of aggression from slurs and threats (“get the eff out of this country”) to physical attacks, even in blue California. I well remember similar experiences in the ’60’s and early ’70s when I was a kid and mine was the sole non-white family in a Chicago suburb…
“This election reminds me that for many, many people, ‘American’ means WHITE. Additionally, women and girls are marginalized — half the population. LBGTQ people, Muslims, Latinos — so many people in American society are marginalized. But it’s not 1967.”
Yes. All that.
But then Carol went on to say, “Today, I had an experience which reassured and calmed me. I pedaled to the Davis Bike Collective to add a rack and basket to my bike… all of us spending a Saturday afternoon repairing and tuning up our rides or volunteering to help other riders. It was a perfectly ordinary day. People came and went. Everyone was kind and considerate to each other.
“Maybe that ordinary kindness is the point. After all the ranting, exaggerations, falsehoods and hyperbole of this election, my most optimistic thought is that we might all just treat each other with respectful kindness.”
Then there’s Cheryl, who is additionally battling cancer in the midst of her fear and woe over a Trump presidency:
“I went to mass this morning and couldn’t help silently crying for everything happening in my life. There truly are moments of despair when I don’t know what to do or when I must choose, or live with something that makes me feel as if there is no hope. How do I face all this beyond those depressing, despairing moments?”
Me, I can’t even wrap my brain around enduring chemotherapy in the midst of grieving the imminent disintegration of our country, and maybe our world. But some people, like Cheryl, don’t have a choice. Cancer marches on, and doesn’t care who’s president or what the consequences are. Rather than succumb to hopelessness, however, Cheryl is choosing to channel her suffering away from herself and into something positive:
“I can attend to the needful, so they won’t feel so frustrated and angry. Some of that is by increasing my donations to Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services. Most of that money goes to people rather than salaries. I have little immunity, so direct contact with children, sick people, or sitting in the middle of a crowd is not possible.
“I can write letters to people I know who are shut-ins temporarily or permanently. They need to know that they are not forgotten and still belong.
“I can pray more often. Prayers are powerful despite some people’s perception that they are useless mumbo-jumbo words to put off actually manually doing something to help. What else can one do if one can’t solve all the problems — including our recent national debacle? I lay it at God’s feet, or as one writer said, put it in the lap of Buddha.
“There are so many small things, like using a turn indicator, letting a person with fewer groceries go before me, seeing someone struggling with a heavy door and helping to open it, not responding to gossipers, sincerely encouraging those who do things for us so they know they’re appreciated, feeding the dog/cat/bird instead of waiting for someone else to do it, setting the table without being asked, or maybe just listening without giving advice — these and more are things that I reasonably can do for others around me, and the ripple effects go further than my puny actions…
“I’m focusing that anger into small actions that I can do to make a difference… I’m taking this approach because I think it will make a difference. If I have some success — even if it’s a momentary feeling — I’m betting that a compassionate approach will be more effective than consciously hefting anger and frustration every second of the day. It’s still there… the energy is not lost, just changed.”
Although despair incapacitates me at the moment, and I’d rather cocoon than interact, Carol and Cheryl — I hear you. I know that the tiny, distant light at the end of the sadness tunnel is illuminated by compassion and kindness. We who grieve must feel the feelings and get on with it anyway. We must channel our anguish into something positive: helping others, spending time with people who comfort and calm us, riding our bikes (or horses), volunteering, supporting charities, and refreshing our spirituality.
I can see the light flickering at the end of the tunnel. And I’ll walk toward it. I’ll get there, eventually. Just not today.
But I do see it.
Thank you, Carol and Cheryl, for pointing the way.