Healing the wounds of 2016

When I was young, my Grandmother often talked about the Presidents of the country. It was never about politics, but rather grandmother-type things: How she thought perhaps President Roosevelt contracted polio because he had worn a wet bathing suit too long; how proud she was of our President & Mrs. Kennedy salt and pepper shakers; how she had the same bursitis as President Nixon. She never referred to these men by last name only.

I don’t think she was a bit naive about their politics, and though I’m sure she had her views (she never missed voting), she spoke about each as a human being. To this day, I have no idea what party she identified with. What I did learn was how beautiful it looks to approach others with respect and humanity. Perhaps it’s because she had, being born in 1900, lived through two world wars, the Great Depression, the rise of Nazi Germany, the explosion of atomic bombs, and so much more. Perhaps this gave her an idea of what is really important.

If you are going to adhere to the notion that good can come from any circumstance, then you pretty much must go all in. It would be insincere to ascribe to that philosophy in some situations and not others. (Of course, I also believe it is obnoxious at best and hurtful at worst to say that good can come from anything when there is suffering around you.)

I have been processing with all my might as to how to make something good out of the 2016 election and all of its fallout. While I am not happy with the outcome, my consternation goes way beyond that. I recently came upon the fact that I first registered to vote in October, 1979, so I have seen many elections and taken them all in stride; it’s not the results of the election that distresses me as much as the way it has seemed to shatter our country.

How, though, to deal with the ugly divisiveness in which we find ourselves. How can this be good?

What has become clear is that there will not be a political solution to the ills of our country or of the world, for that matter. It seems we face a problem of the heart.

There is a chapter in Catherine Marshall’s book Beyond Ourselves called “The Power of Helplessness”. In it, she recalls how, after doing everything in her power to alleviate a situation and falling short, she realized that she would need to rely on a Greater Power. In giving up on herself, she gained something much more powerful. Perhaps in giving up on the executive branch of the Federal government, we can find something better.

I thought recently about the words of President George H. W. Bush upon his nomination:

This is America: the Knights of Columbus, the Grange, Hadassah, the Disabled American Veterans, the Order of Ahepa, the Business and Professional Women of America, the union hall, the Bible study group, LULAC, “Holy Name” — a brilliant diversity spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky.
And I hope to stand for a new harmony, a greater tolerance. We’ve come far, but I think we need a new harmony among the races in our country. And we’re on a journey into a new century, and we’ve got to leave that tired old baggage of bigotry behind.
It means teaching troubled children through your presence that there’s such a thing as reliable love. Some would say it’s soft and insufficiently tough to care about these things. But where is it written that we must act as if we do not care, as if we are not moved? Well I am moved. I want a kinder, and gentler nation. (George H.W. Bush, August, 1988)

For those who are looking at the next four years as a bleak prospect, maybe we will find that the fulfillment of President Bush’s wishes will come as we lower our expectations of government and embrace those around us. I say this not as a libertarian, but rather as someone who wants to grant President Obama his last request as office holder: “I’m asking you to believe — not in my ability to create change, but in yours.”

To those who want healing: this is our time to shine. In your daily interactions, in your charitable giving, in your volunteer work, be a force for good. To use another of President Bush’s famous phrases: let us be a thousand points of light.

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