Thursday, November 10, 2016

That Happened.

So, remember how in my last post I talked about my fear that Donald Trump would get elected and I would have to explain that to my students? I didn't really think it would happen. It was just a "what if" scenario--a scary one, but not one that I thought would actually come to pass.

Well, it happened. And I had to have that conversation. Here was one of their questions:

"Is Donald Trump really going to do all those things he said he'd do to Black people and Mexicans and everyone?"

Dear G-d, I thought, help me.

So I answered that student with some ideas I'd gleaned from my early morning reading of an article in the Huffington Post about how to talk to children about the results of this election. I told my students something about the Democratic process and how no one person truly dictates how the country actually runs; I said something about how our country as a whole doesn't share those values and wouldn't allow such things to happen. But even as I was saying those things in my most convincing, reassuring teacher voice, there was a voice inside me saying, "Well, really? Because what we thought would never happen, JUST HAPPENED. So how do I know we would never let his threats become reality?" I wanted my students to feel safe, protected from the sense that their country was sliding out from underneath them. But I was also keenly aware that I couldn't say, with certainty, that their fears were unfounded.

On my Instagram feed yesterday, Elizabeth Gilbert posted the following photo:
She also wrote a corresponding post on her Facebook page in which she outlined the qualities she wanted to possess during this crisis: Calm. Strong. Open-hearted. Curious. Generous. Wise. Brave. Humorous. Patient.

If she can do that, I thought, she is far more highly evolved than I. I do not know how anyone is living any of those attributes right now. I do know that yesterday I was exactly zero of those things. No one has ever accused me of handling crises gracefully, and I certainly did not see fit to start now. Yesterday morning, when I checked Instagram, I found my feed full of photos saying versions of the theme, "Love always wins." THAT IS TOTAL BULLSHIT, I thought. LOVE DOES NOT ALWAYS WIN. SOMETIMES HATE WINS. HATE WON THIS ELECTION. My anger was palpable and near to boiling. I was furious at the people who had voted Trump into office, and I was also mad at the people who were telling me to think positively. There might be a place for that in the future, I reasoned, but not now. Now I get to be angry. And I was, all day. 

The only feeling that overpowered my fury was despair. Complete and overwhelming despair. I didn't know my country anymore. It was not a place I recognized and I feared it would not be again. As a nation, we had brought upon ourselves the most devastating self-inflicted wound in at least fifty years. Trump was a disaster. Congress was a disaster. The Supreme Court would become a disaster. I couldn't even begin to contemplate the impending doom on a global scale. All day, I had one thought: I do not even want to exist in the world right now. It seemed broken beyond repair. 

Today I woke up feeling the same way. Trump was still President elect, and the world was still broken in more places than I could even begin to count. But at some point during the morning, I realized that my 100% Doom perspective was not a sustainable operating principle. I would not be able to function if I didn't shift my mentality at least a little bit out of the anger-and-depression zone. 

The thing that has helped the most so far has been finding out that Hillary did win the popular vote, so at least a little more than half the country truly doesn't agree with Trump's misogynist, racist, and xenophobic views. Of course, we have our antiquated and eternally puzzling Electoral College to thank for Trump still getting elected, but at least it's comforting to know that the country hasn't gone entirely off the rails. Maybe love did win a little bit, even if it didn't actually win win.

Also right up there is venting. I spent from 6:30-6:40 this morning commiserating with another teacher at my school, and there was something so validating about hearing him say, "Yesterday was the hardest day I've ever had as a teacher." We talked about our continued shock and our sense of not knowing what to do. I left that conversation not feeling as though anything had been resolved, but still feeling a bit lighter because I had shared my heavy feelings with another person who understood. We all need to do that. Air that sh*t out. 

And finally, finally, I am starting to think about action. One thing I noticed about myself this election cycle is that while I had strong views on the candidates and the issues, I did not voice them loudly or often because I was afraid of offending or alienating people. In retrospect, I appreciate my sensitivity but also wish that I had been brave enough to be more authentic about my views. Now, I am never going to be an activist and I am probably never going to go to rallies. I am not a campaigner, or a canvasser, or even a phone-banker. I'm not putting bumper stickers on my car, and I will probably continue to avoid engaging in political debates on social media. But. There are social causes I believe in, and groups I want to defend, that might be threatened over the next four years. If I can find ways to lend my support that do not fly in the face of my confrontation-averse nature, I want to lend my time and energy to those causes. I'm ready to think about this now. And while I don't know that I'm ready to completely buy into the idea that "love always wins" on a large scale, I do think it can win on a small one...and in the end, that's all I can control. The world is too complicated and its problems are too overwhelming for me to solve. The outcome of this election and the damage that might follow are out of my hands. All I can do is what I can do in my own little corner of life. Guide and nurture my students. Empathize with my friends and family. Actively support causes that connect with my passions. Write. It's all I can do. It's enough and not enough at the same time. But that's where we're at.

I don't know how I'll feel when I wake up tomorrow, or how the country will feel. I think we just have to take it day by day. Or hour by hour. Most importantly, we need to be there for each other. This was a viciously ugly election cycle with a traumatic outcome and aftermath. We're all going to need some comfort, no matter whom we voted for. I know I'm sending love out to you all.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Getting Political

Unless you have been blissfully living under a rock, you know that there is a national election coming up (this week!) in the U.S. Personally, I have had a stomach ache for about 72 hours straight just thinking about it, and that's just the Presidential election. There's also the matter of Congress, and there is no collective body in the United States for which I currently have more disdain than Congress. But the Presidential election clearly steals the show in the absurdity department. I feel like where we are today as Americans is kind of like the experience of waking up one morning, taking a look at your life, and thinking, "How did I get here?" If you do a careful and, honestly, not-so-difficult analysis, you can easily see how you did get to where you are. But it still seems so impossible. That is the United States right now. This situation was an impossible joke until we realized we made it happen, and now here we are.

As a teacher, I often worry about how I will explain disturbing current events to my young students. Thankfully, most of the time my kids exist in a state of age-appropriate unawareness. Every year, 9/11 comes and goes without more than a peep of recognition. After the Sandy Hook massacre, only one student seemed to know what had happened. The Boston Marathon bombing also seemed to pass in and out of my students' consciousness with minimal disturbance. So I was hoping, perhaps irrationally, that maybe my kids would also be unaware of the complete mess that is this Presidential race. But then two weeks ago we were on a school bus, coming home from a field trip, and I heard one of my boys in the back of the bus yell, clear as day, "TRUMP TOUCHED UP HER SKIRT!" And then I knew, there was going to be no avoiding it.

I told this story to my best friend in Israel last week, and I asked her, "G-d forbid he gets elected--how am I going to explain to my third graders that the man who brags about basically committing sexual assault is now our President?!" She paused, and then replied, "Yeah...I wish I could say that was my biggest problem with him."

I think that about sums it up.

And so, I have been a puddle of anxiety for the past few days. Right before Shabbat I had to take a Xanax, because OH MY G-D. Then I thought, how am I actually going to survive Tuesday? Or Wednesday, for that matter? I can't just keep taking Xanax. I mean, I can, but I'm going to need an actual strategy. So (and here's the Jewish connection I know you've been waiting for), I decided to see what Jewish tradition has to say about managing acute anxiety. Here's what I found.

There is a verse in Proverbs (12:25) which says:

דאגה בלב איש ישחנה ודבר טוב ישמחנה
Anxiety in the heart of man bows it down, but a good word makes it glad.

As is so often the case in Hebrew, the word for, "bows it down," ישחנה, can have other meanings, depending on how one reads the word in context: 1)  to suppress; 2) to ignore; 3) to articulate. These meanings also correspond to three strategies (or stages) for managing anxiety.

STAGE ONE: Suppress/Minimize

In this stage, we can make our anxiety bearable by making it smaller, often by telling ourselves that the problem isn't really as big as it seems. Regarding this election, I definitely did this for quite a while when I told myself, "Americans would never let Trump get elected." Since the possibility seemed too awful to even begin to deal with, I just told myself it wouldn't happen. But that only worked for so long. Which brings me to...


This is when we separate ourselves from the source of our anxiety. Personally, I have spent a lot of time in this stage lately. I stopped watching the news, I didn't read any articles on politics, and pretty much just stuck my head in the sand without apology. I figured this was the only viable option because whenever I came across any non-comedic election coverage, I felt my anxiety shoot up almost instantly. I'll be the first to say, avoidance is one of my favorite strategies. But now the election is two days away and I'm finding myself checking in with Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight several times a day, so it's time to move on to the next phase of the plan:

STAGE THREE: Articulate

This stage, my lovelies, is where we talk about it. 

I did this at shul yesterday with a friend of mine during Kiddush--we spent the entire time processing the current political situation, and every ten minutes or so we would say, "I can't even talk about this anymore"--at which point we would continue to talk about it. While it didn't solve anything, it was so helpful to just talk about it with someone who could commiserate. And while this was shared anxiety that we both were feeling, I think this strategy works even when the anxiety is all yours--talking about it takes some of the power away. 

I don't know about you, but I am going to need all of these stages over the next few days. I suspect 
that, regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, you are going to need them, as well. So use them as often as necessary to combat the stress of the current situation and its aftermath. And if it all works out well, I, for one, will be bentching gomel. Feel free to join me!