The Obama Family, courtesy of barackobama.com
Breathe in. Breathe out. Relax. It’s done.
These words have looped through my head in the days since the election. Even in the days just preceding one of the most historic votes in our nation’s history, I had to remind myself to remain calm.
This seems to happen on a smaller or larger scale every four years when our nation goes about the business of choosing a president: the candidates emerge and we choose sides. Debates ensue and the occasional piece of real or metaphorical rotten produce is tossed in the general direction of anyone whose affiliation does not match our own. Otherwise civil and respectable people bare their teeth and snap at friends and neighbors who are voting for that other guy.
I thought it would be easier for me to breathe post-election – that I wouldn’t harbor as much stress in my body as in the days before. But I was wrong. Initially, it got worse (and it’s no great secret that the candidate who got my vote won).
It started in the weeks and months preceding Tuesday’s historic decision: blog posts, articles, news reports, debates. While I was not shy about making my decision known, I didn’t actively participate in many of the discussion threads that I saw. Like many people, I recognized a propensity in myself to be swept up in the moment and to do or say anything that was less than loving. I made an intentional commitment to be gracious and I will admit that my resolve was imperfectly kept. For that, I apologize.
This is not the first presidential election in which the democratic candidate has gotten my vote, but I don’t think I have ever felt my defenses rise in response like I did in this election. None of my personal acquaintance were rude or ungracious in maintaining their differences. My defenses rose primarily when I, as part of a collective of voters who had chosen to support the democratic candidate, was asked to examine my decision more carefully.
Christian leaders urged us to vote our values, to choose life, to be thoughtful and deliberate in our decisions, and to pray long and hard about who we would vote for, and the implications of that plea were profound. In other circles, I found that my decision meant to some that I was endorsing socialism, that my vote would be sure to contribute to the decline of democracy and to create a welfare nation. I know I’m not the only one who felt the heat of this fever pitch and who, however indirectly, felt like their faith and values were in some measure on trial as a result.
I remained certain of my decision, listening to and taking in a variety of opinions. I respected that others held views different than my own and most were gracious enough to satisfy my curiosity when I asked for their reasons, even though they owed me no explanation. I was thankful to have the same courtesy extended toward me.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget sitting here in my living room, as I glued my eyes to CNN and watched states turn blue and red, as I watched predictions being made with such certainty. I wept with joy as they declared the winner, and I danced like a fool in my living room, shedding any pretenses at composure and letting my tears and happy incredulity have its way during the victory speech. History was happening, and I was a part of it. I was so thrilled, I couldn’t sleep that night. Relief flooded through my body.
It didn’t take long for it to start: defiant declarations of “he’s not my president”. I saw depictions of the president-elect cast in red with horns added to his temples. More than one racist epithet was passed my way and I heard more booing, more hateful and murderous shouts from people unhappy with the outcome. I read from various news sources of anti-Obama websites where people vowed to stand against the new president for the length of his term and make his job as difficult as possible. I only had to imagine the other possible outcome to understand their disappointment, but this was too much. Even more than my dismay that some hatefully disagreed with the decision made as the result of the democratic process, it also felt like a personal affront.
No matter how much I understood that these hateful, indignant accusations were from a (loud and vocal) minority, I felt the weight of it compounding and started to feel like I was splitting down the middle. For reasons I cannot fully understand, it felt deeply personal. Something inside me snarled and snapped in response and I looked for constructive ways to respond. I wrote different drafts that mounted a defense of my choice. I would wake up hours before my already-early alarm and found myself unable to go back to sleep. The stress took its toll on my body. I was unable to concentrate as different arguments and defenses looped endlessly in my head. I noticed with sadness that my post-election elation had dissipated as a result.
And then I had a conversation that changed it for me. It seemed so simple.
The beauty of America, she said, is that you have a choice when you vote. It’s always an imperfect choice made by imperfect people. But no matter what anyone else says or thinks, no matter who disagrees and no matter how they disagree, it’s still yours. Like everyone else, you have to take in the information, make the best imperfect decision you can, and let others do the same.
Relief flooded through me again. As soon as I let go of the idea that I somehow needed to offer my reasons for choosing one imperfect choice over another, to list why I believed my decision was a good one, I relaxed. The interior snapping stopped and the snarling was silenced. Tension melted out of my body. I didn’t need to be right, I only needed to make the best imperfect choice that I could. And I did, without regret. I even danced around my living room a little bit to celebrate.
I never knew oddly liberating imperfection could be.
I feel like there’s more of this journey waiting to be written, but it hasn’t yet made its way into words and I don't know yet if or when that will come. I hope that as a nation, we can all take a collective deep breath and get on with things. I hope you will not think me biased when I say that I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s going to be alright.