The Day After

Memories of Sakura Park Global Festival

November 9, 2016

Pamela Cooper-WhiteProfessor of Psychology and Religion at Union Theological Seminary in New York, NY

– The day after the election and the 78th anniversary of Kristallnacht

So here we are. The Day After has arrived. And it doesn’t look like we’d hoped. As things began to unravel last night, I realized how even in my most cynical moments – even after making studied comparisons to the rise of fascism in the 20th century – I truly hadn’t expected this. I expected a tougher race than predicted, but I now recognize that I was doing a bit of anticipatory grieving while fully expecting an evening and a morning of relief and celebration. Trump-ism would not be gone, and the hate speech Trump had unleashed would not easily be put back in Pandora’s box if at all. But we would have Hillary Clinton as our President-elect, and all those “I voted” stickers lovingly stuck on Susan B. Anthony’s grave would be symbols of triumph. I went to bed still retaining a shred of hope that somehow Hillary would find that “narrow pathway” to 270. Weary of the pundits and arithmetic prognosticators, I prayed hard and slept fitfully.

I refused to look at the TV or facebook when I awoke this morning, dreading what the news might be. I wanted a few more moments of innocence. But a friend’s text snuck through my defenses. She wrote: “So glad you’re coming for Thanksgiving. As for everything else, F—K!” And I knew. And went into shock. Looking out my window at the beautiful yellow ginko trees and the park beyond, I had the same feeling of disconnect and surrealism that I remember feeling after my grandmother died and we were driving to the cemetery. That day decades ago, I remember looking out the car window and thinking, “How can all those people be just walking and talking and laughing and going on as if everything were normal? Don’t they know the world just ended?” This morning, too, I thought, “how can everything look the same as it did yesterday? A tornado just went through here, so why aren’t the trees all blown down, and the streets torn up?” And it’s that much harder knowing that it’s not an outside “enemy,” or an impersonal act of nature, but this trauma is personal. This happened because of the votes of people we know, people who sit next to us in the pew on Sundays, people in our own families. The deep divisions and the hurt will not easily heal.

As the day went on, my seminar (on psychoanalytic theory) met but it wasn’t business as usual. No one made a presentation. We came together like sailors on a raft. The talk was good. We are a small group who have built a lot of trust and care. We shared our feelings, we talked about how this has impacted our faith(s) and our sense of God’s presence and absence, solidarity and “for once couldn’t you just break the rules and intervene here!?” The whole seminary felt like a mortuary. At noon we came together for chapel and a community conversation, which was rich and honest. As divided as we can sometimes be over issues, today we were in care and solidarity with one another at a deeper level. We grieved, and some who were ready sooner than others – sooner than I – were able to express words of hope, and words of commitment to keep on keeping on. To take this day as a challenge to dig deeper in the work for justice, and to move forward with a renewed determination. We laid down our harps and wept, and then by the waters of Babylon we started, a few at a time, to get ready to rise up again and get back to the work of “revolUtionary love” (Union Seminary’s motto). So by mid-afternoon I began to feel myself getting stirred up again, re-radicalized for the work of the Gospel, and so strengthened by knowing that there is a community still here, and still out there, that will seek to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8)

I’m back at my desk and it’s night now. By a trick of the street lights, the wet streets and the park looks covered with ice and snow. In my psyche, it is winter now. But we have known winters before. The wisdom of pastoral theology and psychology about the stages of grief is important to hold onto. When winter comes sharply, suddenly, and blows us off our feet – with acute grief, with trauma – we know we need to take our time. We will move from shock and numbness, then to searching and yearning for the lost beloved, then (just as the rest of the world thinks we should be “getting over it,”) we hit the skids with disorganization and depression, but finally we are able to move forward again and embrace life in all its ambiguity. My prayer tonight is that as we all move through these stages at different rates, sequentially or not, skipping some, getting stuck at times, that we be gentle with one another and with ourselves. Try not to judge others’ reactions (because no one is wholly rational right now), and try not to judge our own. There is, yes, much work to be done. And we will do it. But take time to grieve, to hold one another, to love, and then to strategize, to come together, to build and rebuild and rebuild again the Realm of God’s justice and peace that we so long to see. ~