I don’t have nightmares often, but I can remember three dreams I had as a teenager (all involving celebrities, for some reason), which left me with feelings of anger or panic or fear. The least serious was a dream where a girl at my school stole my boyfriend Bobcat Goldthwait from me. (That’s right, Bobcat Goldthwait. Don’t know where that came from.)
In the second dream, I found out I had murdered Nell Carter from Gimme a Break. It sounds silly, and the dream did not start until after the fact so I don’t know how or why I did it, but I can still distinctly remember the feeling I had during the dream as I came to understand what I had done. I can remember that I woke up so upset, feeling like my skin was separated from my body, that I had to crawl in bed next to my mom just to calm down. It was a very real feeling of guilt and dread which, although I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t anyway, convinced me that killing someone is just not worth it.
It’s the third dream I’ve been thinking about a lot this week. I remember I was at some sleepover with friends when I had a nightmare about being chased by the KKK. Sally Field was in my dream, so it must have been triggered by watching Places in the Heart.) I woke up in a strange place, filled with fear, and when I told my friends about the dream, they all laughed at me. “Why would you be worried about the KKK? You’re blonde, blue-eyed and pasty white!” Then I felt sheepish about telling them and for having the dream in the first place. How silly of me to worry about the wrongs in the world that don’t affect me personally.
This week, as I’ve gone through several stages of grief about the election, I’ve had to think through what’s really making me upset. It’s not that my “team” lost. We’ve lost before and I’ve never felt this way. I don’t think of politics as sport anyway. It’s not that I’m a woman and really wanted a woman to be president. I’m willing to hold out for Elizabeth Warren in four years. It’s not even that I’m completely confused by half the country’s ability to look past the documented, recorded, tweeted evidence that this man should not represent us.
I realized that what makes me so sick is that the message spread throughout the election, the one that seemed to be such a hot button issue, is “We don’t want you here.” (Listen to this recent story from This American Life.) Whether to refugees, immigrants, people of color, or a whole list of other “others”, the vilifying and hatred and mocking and threats by our president-elect are not thrown at me directly (other than his comments about women or Mormons, of course), but I can’t let them go. I can’t shake them off just because I’m not the one being harassed or intimidated. And I can’t fool myself that it’s “not in my neighborhood,” because my sons come home from school with stories of kids who spout racial slurs, who speak up in class to say black people had less opportunity for education because they’re just stupid, and who think it’s funny to give each other the Nazi salute when they pass each other in the hall. It’s very much in my neighborhood, and this week I have had a constant stomach ache.
Meanwhile, I’ve appreciated the subtle or less subtle ways the LDS Church has tried to counteract this rhetoric. Immediately after Trump spoke of banning Muslims, the church issued a statement pushing back. As Trump supporters were chanting their hate, Elder Kearon gave a moving plea in General Conference for kindness and support of those seeking refuge,
the church launched its I Was a Stranger Initiative,
and most recently, a series of videos on diversity and inclusion.
And I realize that many of my fellow church members (61% of them) probably voted for Trump for other reasons, and that many did it while holding their noses. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they’re not on board with his blatant racism and sexism, not to mention this garbage:
I tend to avoid political conversations because I don’t like to bring conflict into friendships. My husband is much more vocal about it because he would probably go crazy if he had to keep quiet. But this week, I’ve been frustrated with a feeling of powerlessness. Other than speaking out occasionally and voting against this hate, what more could I do? And now, faced with the results of the election, and with a week of random people of color being harassed by those who feel emboldened by the results, I’ve really struggled.
My first reaction was to retreat from people, to separate myself from those around me. I try so hard, I thought, I know we’re surrounded by people who think differently than we do about many issues, but I’ve always tried to look past that to find common ground anyway. But now I’m tired of trying. I don’t have to be friendly. I don’t have to volunteer at the school or go to book club. I can detach. I tried my hardest for one whole day to follow through, but then I realized it just isn’t who I am, and I couldn’t do it.
Then I made the mistake of going on Facebook and reading about hate and intimidation going on in my own state followed by explanations and rationalizations of those acts and it was like a switch went off in my brain. I lost all restraint and let my anger flow freely in comment after comment. I felt bitey and I was giving in to those feelings, and it didn’t feel good. As much as I liked crafting the perfect comeback to someone I felt deserved it, it left me feeling crummy the rest of the day.
By Friday, I realized that I can’t do anything about the election results and I can’t go fight every ignorant bigot, but I can fight back by heaping more love on those being targeted. I looked at the giant pile of baby quilts I made in the last two weeks (originally just to get all that fabric out of my house, then to give me something more productive to do than fret about polls and electoral votes) and decided that instead of finding the most convenient place to donate them, I would do my homework and find a charity that assists those who are being targeted right now. I downloaded the Serve Refugees app, which lists immediate needs for local refugee organizations (it’s really cool – check it out). And I plan to fight back the only way I can. It’s probably only a tiny drop in a bucket, but I need as many drops as I can get right now. It’s the only way I can stay sane.
This post is not an “everybody be nice” plea. Short of violence, I think people have the right to work through their feelings about this in their own time. I’m reminded of a time my toddler was angry and frustrated about something beyond his control. I figured he probably just needed a nap, so I took him through our ritual of saying goodnight to each of the pictures on the wall: “Goodnight, flowers. Goodnight, lute player, Goodnight, Oxford. Goodnight nuns.”
My poor kid was so tired and angry that he shouted, “I want to PUNCH a NUN!” Since then, this phrase has become a part of our family lexicon, often confusing outsiders. I understand the feeling, and this week I have felt it. I have even thought “I want to punch a nun,” several times this week. So if you’re mad, as long as you’re not hurting anyone or destroying any property, go ahead and be mad. If you can’t understand why people might be mad, maybe take some time to try to understand. Just because I’ve found some way to channel my frustration, I’m not all the way there yet. In the mean time, I’m going work really hard to try to understand and love my neighbors, I’m going to do what I can to make my corner of the world more tolerant and inclusive, and I’m not going to stop speaking out just to avoid conflict, even if it makes people uncomfortable. I’ve decided I’m past caring about the sensitivities of safe people over the safety of threatened people.