Photo credits, clockwise from upper left: Kristine Wook, Cristina Eisenberg, Nathen Domlo, wusa9.com
By Neina Gordon
On my Instagram feed I watched President Biden and the First Lady on Valentine’s day walk the North Lawn among oversized hearts bearing the message KINDNESS, UNITY, COMPASSION, HEALING. I’m not a big fan of Valentine’s Day, the commercialization of love, but I appreciated the message on the North Lawn. Such a dramatic shift in tone from the White House feels like exiting a nightmare and entering a Fellini film. My skin grew spikes during the Trump administration, an involuntary defensive armor that seemed to arise from anticipating violence, and the daily rhetoric aimed at degrading basic human decency. I was outraged; I was afraid it could get worse, and it always did. After the raucous noise of the last administration (which of course was more than just noise) so loud and violent it has yet to cease to reverberate through our capitol and our country, a gentle message of encouragement is welcome for those of us whom, although we felt deep relief when Biden won, grapple with the reality of 70 million votes for Trump and the gap so wide and deep between us and them that unity is an ideal we struggle to imagine.
My senses, those spikes, haven’t quite cooled. I’m hopeful. Kamala Harris is Vice President; Georgia has two Democrat senators. But then there’s Marjorie Taylor Greene. So, my hope runs alongside my fear. The gift of Trump and supporters like Greene (White Supremacists, The Proud Boys) who have been emboldened by him, has been to raise our consciousness; when we bear witness to the violence against Black lives, immigrants, our environment, and our democracy it can’t help but shake complacency out of our bones. I no longer feel like I’ve fulfilled my civic duty by voting on election day. For the first time I wrote letters to encourage others to vote; I donated money. These were small acts that stemmed from a significant shift in my sense of responsibility. The Republicans who spoke out against Trump at the DNC, and those who voted to impeach him a second time, although the numbers were small, is significant.
Change is inevitable. There is the quick sudden change that is marked by Biden and Harris taking office, the urgency to reverse all the reversed progress of the past four years. Then there is the deeper change that occurs on the individual level, the quiet change that follows from a period of tumult then reflection and results in the resolve to live differently than before, which the pandemic and Trump have made us ripe for. If that resolve is guided by the principles of KINDNESS, UNITY, COMPASSION, and HEALING then the future is going to be more inclusive than exclusive, more tempered by sensitivity than callousness, and the possibility of bridging the gap between us and them becomes less a stretch of the imagination and more a living reality we bring into being every day. A reality informed by our conscience, guiding us towards tolerance and civil discourse to become the norm rather than the exception. Sure, the extremists will always be there, and there will always be those who prefer to go backward instead of forward, but I’m going to lean on my vision of hope, not fear.
In the first 100 days of Biden’s presidency, my hope has me slowing down to consider my actions more carefully. How do I want to engage more deeply in my home life with my family? How do I build and meaningfully engage my community? How can I strengthen and extend compassion? These past four years it has been easy to feel anger and outrage, and while necessary to help wake me up, I can’t stay there; it costs my spirit too much. So now what? I’m starting with small consistent acts of hope as basic and enormous as practicing patience with my daughter, planting a garden in the backyard, calling my mom and my siblings more, cooking new recipes, taking our dog on a nightly walk and looking up at the glittering sky and letting its enormity and ancientness remind me of how brief our time is here. These acts nourish me, replacing anxiety and anger with the calm resolve of love. From here so much is possible.