The lead-up to the 2016 presidential election in the United States has been particularly brutal. For many of us, November 8th can’t come quickly enough. In these flash non-fiction pieces, we reflect on how we’re coping with a toxic political environment.
Take One, by Betsy Johnson-Miller
Stepping into Walmart can make me feel as if I have walked into a contagion of zombies— I am surrounded by the undead who push their carts with the wonky wheels. Yet because Walmart has the best price on cat food, I leave the safety of my car and enter. I can never remember where the pet aisle is, so I have to wander around the store, and as I do, I am once again struck by how human-less everyone seems here.
The election has made me feel the same way. Facebook inundates me with disembodied rants and accusations. The headlines alert me to the new ways one candidate is mauling the other. Virtues like kindness, compassion, and real respect feel as if they have been eviscerated from our beings and left by the side of the road to rot.
As I look for the cat food, I decide I am going to fight. Not with a bat or a chain saw. I vow to look directly into the eyes of each person I meet—and the more different from me the better—and smile. I want them to know: I see you. I see you. When I start to do this, some people appear startled. What? Who me? Why?
But with others, I can see it—a softening. No, a re-animating. Somehow, being seen as a real and particular person has pulled their souls deeper down and in, and their eyes alight and their faces soften. These people return my smile.
And that is how I am trying to survive this toxic election—and help others do the same.
Take Two, by Shirley H. Showalter
Four things that give me respite in this season of political acrimony:
1. The beauty of Stumpf Lake on one side and more than 2,500 arboretum acres on the other.
I step outside my door and enter the woods in order, like Thoreau, to live deliberately, to experience what he called the “tonic of wildness.”
“We can never have enough of nature.” –from Walden: or, Life in the Woods.
“God’s Grandeur” by Gerard Manley Hopkins
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
3. New Friends
Pictured right: resident scholars toast each other at the local brew pub Bad Habit.
4. Father Kilian McDonnell, founder of the Collegeville Institute
His 95 years. His poetry begun at age 75.
His beautiful, unblemished hands, reminding me of this poem:
“Autumn” by Rainer Maria Rilke
The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up,
as if orchards were dying high in space.
Each leaf falls as if it were motioning “no.”
And tonight the heavy earth is falling
away from all other stars in the loneliness.
We’re all falling. This hand here is falling.
And look at the other one. It’s in them all.
And yet there is Someone, whose hands
infinitely calm, holding up all this falling.
Take Three, by Stina Kielsmeier-Cook
I was in my church basement last Sunday, crouched down at the kids’ table as I monitored my one-year-old son’s careful sips of apple juice from an open cup, when I spoke with John about the election. As John’s two kids crowded around the table with mine, I asked him how he was coping.
His response surprised me. Instead of decrying the anti-immigrant rhetoric or moaning over the attacks on women, he gave me a little smile and shrugged his shoulders. “Oh, I am not worried,” he said. “The elections in America are nothing compared to back home in Congo.” I watched John rub the shoulder of his son sitting beside him, a son he didn’t see for years while his asylum case stalled in the painfully slow immigration process. John and his family have paid an incredible price for his country’s political instability.
I thought about John’s words during the third presidential debate, the one where Trump told the audience he would “keep us in suspense” over whether he would accept the outcome of the election. Will our country’s strong tradition of peaceful transfer of power continue?
Last night I watched Hamilton’s America, a PBS documentary on the hit Broadway show and its creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda. In it, the founding fathers are exposed as deeply flawed humans, always flying by the seat of their pants, making it up as they went along — and yet the American experiment somehow worked anyway. I know better than to assume American democracy is infallible, but I will be streaming the Hamilton soundtrack as I wait out the 2016 election.
It gives me a shred of hope that we can “rise up,” as the lyrics go, no matter what happens on November 8th.