I need to shed the entire year of 2016 like old skin. I’d like to gather the withered and crackling husk in my hands, take it outside, and burn it in the driveway. The year is almost over, and what is done is done, whatever the reasons and at whatever cost. I want to emerge in the new year as a man who can move past it without giving up on the present and the future.
I will stipulate that I do not like what happened in 2016, and I have grave concerns about a country that can elect Donald Trump as its president. I believe he is the most skilled con man of our time, and that history will eventually bear that out. But that is not really the point of this column. My point is not what the election says or doesn’t say about our country — it’s what my reaction to it might say about me that really bothers me. For over a month now, I have been resentful, fearful, confused, and especially angry, and I do not know what to do with my fury.
You see, I want to be a genuinely radical man, one who can truly and deeply love his neighbor, a man who believes that justice and mercy and equality are still worth fighting for, and that the fight goes on, even when a round or two is lost, and that the fight is better fueled with love and faith than with anger and fear. I want to be that kind of person, but right now, I’m mostly an angry one, and I am wrestling with doubts about some of my neighbors.
I know that there are millions of people who are experiencing similar feelings, and millions who are afraid of what the future will hold for them now that we are going to have a president who has campaigned on a promise of kicking them out of the country, a president who has demonized entire races and faiths at his rallies, a president who has disparaged women and boasted of sexually assaulting them, a president who has openly mocked a disabled person.
What kind of ugliness does such behavior portend, and what kind of people does it embolden? These are horrifying questions, and even as I commit them to paper, I can feel that familiar stirring inside, the increase in pressure underneath my sternum, one leg pumping as I rock back and forth in my seat, leaning forward. Yes, I am getting angry again.
I do not have any good answers for those questions, but there is another, more urgent, question facing me at the moment, one that all of those who feel this way are facing, and that is — what are we supposed to do with this fury?
It is obviously not an easy question to answer, but surely some part of it is to find, unify, and strengthen our community, and then to work shoulder-to-shoulder with all of those committed to fighting oppression, bigotry, and injustice at every level and in every instance where we find it. We cannot allow ourselves to become discouraged or derailed by those who sneer at compassion and empathy with their derisive comments about “social justice warriors” or “political correctness.” Standing up for just causes, and for people who cannot always stand up for themselves or by themselves is among the most human thing we can ever do. We must work toward reclaiming those phrases — which in the current political climate have become absurdly pejorative — and reassert that the qualities they embody — sensitivity, compassion, and empathy — are important and should be valued and cultivated, rather than mocked.
The other night, I was looking through a few photographs that my wife took this year of our family, a seasonal retrospective, I guess. In one shot, there we were sledding down a snowy hill on enormous inner tubes. In another, the kids were standing at attention in their snappy Easter outfits. In the third shot, we were at the beach, coated in wet sand, watching pelicans dive bombing the ocean under a brilliant and abiding July sky. And in the last one, we sported Halloween costumes, not yet too old for trick or treat.
I guess it was a pretty great year after all, give or take. By all means, let us work to change the world. And when we can’t, let us make damn sure that it doesn’t change us.
Silver bells, silver bells, it’s Christmas time in the city.