a survivor’s note on the unthinkable

Twelve years ago, the morning after the 2004 election, I sat at my desk at my old job, crying as I sent a long-winded email to all of my like-minded friends and family, telling them to keep heart after John Kerry lost to George W. Bush.  In that moment, the anger and sadness felt so enormous.  How, HOW, I wondered, was our county going to endure another four years of Bush?

Oh, George.  How I miss you now.

This morning feels cataclysmic.  It feels like 9/11. Yesterday’s brilliant warm sun has given way to thick, low clouds and a steady rain.  It may just have been my own state of mind, but every person I passed on my commute to work seemed lost and sad, or at least hollowed out.  This election has suck the collective life out of all of us.  It is hard to imagine that there are people experiencing joy anywhere on earth right now.

I should walk back my 9/11 comparison.  That event came literally out of the clear blue sky.  This atrocity has been brewing since the day our first African-American President was elected.  We had eight years to stop this from happening.  And we failed.  We are not innocent victims; we have no one to blame but ourselves.

In 2000, I worked for an old hippie lawyer.  I was devastated after the hanging chads and Bush v. Gore.  I was a kid, and didn’t have much perspective.

“Don’t worry,” he told me.  “There is a pendulum, and it always swings back.  Our democracy is built to be self-correcting.  Things will swing back.  Just wait.”

That sentiment has given me comfort over the years.  But this morning, the words ring hollow.

This morning, I am at another desk, at another job, writing furiously again, because this is the only way I know how to soothe myself.

But I am typing in 36 point font, because I am partially blind from the cataract in my right eye, which apparently developed as a result of the steroids I took during cancer treatment eight years ago.  Eight years ago, when Barack Obama was elected President.

So there is cancer, once again, still taking its toll on me, after all this time.  But I’m here, right?  Being here and half blind is better than the alternative, isn’t it?  In times of excruciating   challenge, I always check myself, and think of what I have endured to able to enjoy the gift of Still Being Here.


My friends and colleagues are reeling this morning; each time a new face peered in my doorway, my eyes would well anew.  But as gutted as I feel, listening to their heartbreak, I found this faint, tickling hope stirring inside of me.  I listened to the fear in their voices, then tried to dig deep for some kind of light.  Maybe it is the survivor in me.  But in the face of seemingly insurmountable adversity, my instinct is to fight.

The stakes here are global, universal.  This isn’t about one lone warrior fighting for her life. But the lessons from that lonely struggle reverberate here.

A survivor friend texted me, “This isn’t cancer.  It’s a test, though.”

The test for me, in this sleep-deprived stupor, is trying to unpack and manage the raw hatred that so many people in this country harbor, and how to explain its prevalence to my brown-skinned son.

When I find some perspective on this national tragedy, I know this test will become not only manageable, but valuable.  Our job as adults, as parents, as caregivers, has always, ALWAYS been to show children how to love, be open, to show all other human beings kindness and respect.  What we will be charged with for the next four years is re-enforcing that essential truth ALL THE TIME, at every turn, in response to every hateful, destructive act that President Trump and his cowardly Congressional allies attempt.  We will wrap the truth of love in a powerful,  simplified civics lesson.  And our children will be so much stronger, smarter and more compassionate because of it.  The pendulum will swing back. It must.  Our collective humanity depends on it.

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2 Responses to a survivor’s note on the unthinkable

  1. Laura P says:

    Thank you. I can’t even write today. I just look at my kids and feel like I’ve been punched. God, I hope that pendulum swings quickly this time.

  2. Tracy says:

    Beautiful Emily. These words so touched my heart today.

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