Remember that time the world changed?
In more than six decades on this planet, I’ve really only seen the world as I know it change a couple of times.
- July 20, 1969—As a teenager, I woke up that morning in the only world where human destinies had ever played out. In the afternoon, I sat in our family room with my brothers and sisters staring transfixed at our little (black and white) TV while Neil Armstrong took that small step for man and that giant leap for mankind. I knew the truth—our fathers had made the world safe by winning World War II, we had just won the Space Race, and America was the greatest country in the world. By the time I went to bed, instead of living on a planet, I now had a universe.
- September 11, 2001—As a working mother, I had just dropped my daughter at school and was heading to my office when I heard the first reports on the radio. The announcer didn’t know what had happened exactly, but it seemed that a plane had crashed into one of New York’s iconic Twin Towers. We turned on all the televisions in the conference rooms and nobody even pretended to work as we watched first one and then the other tower collapse, followed by attacks on the Pentagon, and then the passenger-deflected fourth crash. Our generation couldn’t make America safe, but by the time I went to bed, the rest of the world’s emotional support made us all Americans.
- November 8, 2016—As a grandmother, I woke up in a world where another grandmother was set to become President of the United States. By the time I went to bed, the day was long past over, and that dream was too. America had changed on some fundamental level where half of the voters discounted what I heard as racist, misogynistic, hate speech in favor of what they heard as a chance to make America (and more specifically their own lives) ‘great again’. And this time the changed world doesn’t even contain my America.
Get over it.
At first I just struggled to take it all in. I’d lived through elections before, and some of them were hotly contested. But they never felt like the world wasn’t safe here at home, like a wall had gone up overnight between winners and losers.
And then the messages started. People—some I knew personally, some in my various social media groups, some I heard about from friends—had a big problem. To a large degree, men had voted for Donald Trump. By similar margins, women voted for Hillary Clinton, in some demographics by huge margins. Those women were in relationships—lovers, spouses, parents, sisters, friends, daughters, relatives—with people who stood on the other side of that new wall. And those people wanted to celebrate their astonishingly unexpected victory instead of providing emotional support or solace.They wanted the losers to accept the new reality, to “Get over it.”
In emails and phone calls, on Facebook and Twitter and Messenger and Telegram I heard:
- Why doesn’t my family get that I feel like I’m in physical and emotional danger in this new world, and the people who should have my back are instead telling me to lighten up?
- How can I sit opposite them for Thanksgiving when I’m not at all thankful for what’s happened?
- How can I work with people who joke about all the ways things are going to be better for them now?
- How can I spend the holidays with people who are celebrating what terrifies me?
- How can I make love to a partner who voted for a candidate despite his attitudes toward women/minorities/gays/Muslims/immigrants—especially when at least one and probably several of those categories describes me?
On Full Frontal, the liberal late night television show my daughter writes for, Samantha Bee talked about one of her team being followed and harassed. Was it my daughter? Another daughter who writes a commentary column for the New York Times, said she receives regular threats. A sister says she and her fellow gay friends are afraid to leave their homes, and worried that their marriages will be invalidated. Children of immigrants who were born here report being followed by people telling them to “go home”. More than one say they don’t know a way to talk to their own family, their friends, their colleagues who actively supported and are celebrating the victory that they see as a terrifying threat—and they certainly aren’t going to spend the holidays with them.
The Grinch couldn’t stop Christmas. Will Donald Trump?
At the moment, I’m living on an island off the coast of Scotland. Actually, I’m camping out on the porch of the cottage we’re fixing up while we install a few little luxuries like floors, heat, and a kitchen. I’ve talked here about the surprises and gifts my new house has given me, but today might have been the best one of all as one of the painters pulled this out of the dust.
There has been a lot written about the safety pin movement. It has its detractors. Started after the Brexit vote in the UK as a symbol of solidarity with immigrants, wearing a safety pin has been adopted in the US as a simple, easy signal of support for any who feel threatened by this new post-election world. It says without words that there is hope, and caring, and love.
Last night I looked up at that beautiful moon that changed the world when Neil Armstrong stepped out on it so many years ago. But last night, that same moon was closer than it has ever been in my life. It’s the Supermoon and there are still worlds to change. So it may not ever matter to anyone but me, but I’m pinning on that safety pin. And I’m pinning my hopes on changing the world.