Look around

“Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now.”

This past election day I was up past 1am. Normally, if I’m up that late it’s for one of two reasons: I’m having way too much fun, or I’ve got way too much homework. This time, it was because I had too many emotions, and none of them were positive. The emotion and the tears have only continued since then.

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Ukraine, November 7, 2012. Waking up at 6am local time to watch Obama’s acceptance speech, as we phoned an internet-less friend and put him on speaker so he could hear the speech, too.

Eight years ago, I was awake even later. I stumbled sleepily home on the Paris metro around 5:30am. The United States had elected a young, eloquent, black man to be president, and I couldn’t have been more proud to call myself an American. I was exhilarated that early morning, drunk on sleeplessness and the giddy pride that came with watching Barack, Michelle, and their two sweet, little girls claim their place as America’s first family. I cried that day, too.

The emotions I felt on those two election days couldn’t have been more different.

How did we get here? How did we become so terribly divided that, for me, the results of this election inspire nausea, fear, and a disappointment so deep it seems unending; while a near half of the country feels vindicated and finally heard?

Did you know that it was not until the 2000 election that red became consistently associated with Republicans, and blue with Democrats? Before that, the colors would switch back and forth between elections. But look at us now: so divided we can’t even share colors.

We are so divided, we no longer see. We are so divided, we no longer listen. We are so divided, we no longer show respect. We are so divided. We lay blame, instead of trying to understand. We shout, instead of discussing our differences. We pretend the opposition doesn’t exist, instead working together. We choose to hate, instead of choosing to love.

On Wednesday, the CEO of my organization gathered us for an all staff meeting. This former career diplomat began his address with, “The last time I gathered my staff for an all-hands meeting was on September 11, 2001.”  While he began our gathering with that emotionally-charged statement, his subsequent tone was even and reasoned. It grounded us. This was not a coup, he reminded us. A president was fairly elected, and while that man will act as the leader of our country for the next four years, his personal ideals need not be a reason to loose pride or faith in America. Even if the country is run by small men, the ideals upon which the United States were built are truly great. Diversity, inclusion, equality, liberty. That is my America. That is what makes me proud. Those are the ideals I voted for on Tuesday. The world may feel a little different for me today, but those ideals are what I will continue to champion ever more loudly in the weeks and years to come.

Over the last few days, these lyrics from “Hamilton” keep running through my head: Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now. Yes, the last few days have totally sucked (for me at least). But you know what? Look around, and see that we live in a democratic republic. Look around, and see how many people champion the voiceless. Look around, and see that life is hard, but friends and companions still stand beside us, ever struggling toward the same goals. Look around, and see that we’re still living in the same beautiful, wonderful, diverse, colorful nation that we were living in on Monday. Does the US have a lot of problems? Yes. Are there a lot of fucked-up, unfair things going on here? Absolutely.  But you know what, there are also strong voices fighting oppression, fighting sexism, fighting racism. There are everyday heroes showing love, teaching empathy, empowering kids, working with minorities.

Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now. But don’t rest easy either. Work, fight, challenge, understand, listen, and love. Do all of these things. Do them now, more than ever.

* * *

Want more posts to read?

Reflections from December 2014: remembering my Peace Corps experience in Ukraine.

Strawberry Fields Aren’t Forever from November 2013: thoughts on JFK on the 60th anniversary of his assassination, and the lessons I took from re-reading his inaugural address.

Sugar Beets and Bob Dylan from November 2010: some of my initial impressions of Ukraine after first moving there.

 

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