The Brood: Detachment or Despair? A Meditation on Election Day

by Holly Mohr

“We are heading toward climate hell, even as we continue to keep our foot on the accelerator,” the NPR reporter flatly intoned, just as I headed into the Armstrong Tunnel, a space that heightens my anxiety even on a normal day.

I’d been taking a break from NPR for several weeks, maybe even a couple months (who’s counting?), tuning into the jazz stations instead. I’ve been working on reframing my time in the car from panic-induced horror show wherein I inadvertently contribute toward destroying the planet while perpetually running late, to “mini-vacation in a comfortable space.” When I can get into “mini-vacation” mode, I try to give myself permission to let the jazz melt the rigidity of my body a little. I remind myself that I’m doing what I need to do, working with what I have to work with, and taking deep, calming breaths all the while. I remind myself that while fossil fuels cannot go on forever, and are in fact wreaking havoc now, this mode of transportation is also a good on several levels. I try to affirm the good with gratitude and remind myself to be on the lookout for hope and making increasingly better choices as they become possible.

That’s a lot to remind myself as I wait at a light on the bridge, my body confused about whether to panic or relax—it’s around 80 degrees in November, and both my body and mind keep switching back and forth between “Yes! We love summer! Let’s chill out!” energy to “What in hell is happening! It isn’t summer! Freeze from panic!” vibes.

It’s a strange thing, looking into a bright blue sky, sun warming your face, yet knowing the beauty should really set off some alarms. Something about it reminds me of the baptismal promises we repeat at the Easter Vigil: “Do you reject the glamour of evil?” “I do.”

Sexual temptation, greed, speaking ill of my neighbor at a perfectly- timed moment: these were the glamorous evils with which I expected to do battle. An 80-degree day (or set of days) in November was not one of the evils I had expected to have to disavow. But here we are.

It’s Election Day today, and I’m trying to remember my spiritual practices. My heart has learned to stay calmer, more even, since that fateful Election Day six years ago, the one where our whole household cried and shook in fear. The one where I stood downtown talking to my husband on the phone the day after the results were in, both of us saying it felt as though we were in wartime, as though the world was much less safe than we had realized, both of us admitting it felt like we lived in a world we didn’t recognize. I remember starting at the cobblestone in front of me dumbstruck, wondering if it too meant something different than I thought it did. What about the window into Starbucks? What was really going on in there? Were the sidewalks about to swallow me up as I stood on them? I genuinely wasn’t sure. (Every time I wonder if something impossible is about to happen and someone reminds me, “No! This bending of the space-time continuum is impossible!,” I’m secretly thinking to myself, “Literally anything is possible—Trump was president”). We talked about the impulse to pick our kids up from school just to have them close to us; it felt scary and wrong to have all our family members in different places at such an uncertain and unthinkable time.

I was devastated six years ago. It didn’t feel as though someone whose policies I disagreed with had won the presidency. It felt as though the universe had literally betrayed its own principles of operation, as though the earth had become flat and the planets had stopped orbiting. It also felt like everyone had secretly gotten together and chosen fascism overnight, changing what it meant to be an American.

I don’t entirely disagree with those feelings today. I do think those feelings were naïve. It was both heartbreaking and instructive to discover that so many people of color were not at all surprised by Trump’s victory in 2016. For many of them, what Trump represented was what they experienced all the time, only now it was more public. I realized in a new way how blind, how comfortable, I had been allowed to be.

And there’s a big part of the rub, right? Whoever wins the multitudinous history-making elections across the U.S. today, we live in the world we live in; we live in the country we live in. Voting makes a (big!) difference, yes, and it matters who gets elected. If certain people win, many more people will have a lot more pain. That’s not nothing.

At the same time, if the people I think will do the least harm are the ones who win, that doesn’t change the fact that these are heated races. There are many, many people who will still be angry, still feel unrepresented, if “my” people win. We are still at a peak time of crisis, even if certain electoral realities come to fruition in a way I view as positive.

And while yes, I still feel so much frustration, so much sadness, wishing so many more people saw and acted upon so many significant realities, my heart is in a different place than it was six years ago. I feel both more heartbroken in general, but also more compassionate (and maybe those are kind of the same thing).

In 2016, learning that more than half of white Catholics had voted for Trump, I thought my work was totally in vain, absolutely ridiculous. I had such a hard time going to work that year, especially in helping people come into the Church. My work had been (and continues to be) so centered in forming people in loving and accountable community, so much about seeking justice. It’s about coming to know the Just and Merciful God who loves us and calls us to the work of co-creating a world. In 2016, it felt like my work was either useless or so vastly misinterpreted as to be a liability to the world, rather than a service.

But then, and in the years that followed, something kept calling me back. I can’t tell you why (except in the many little ways I’ve told you already), but the call has continued to come, much to my surprise, sometimes to my chagrin.

But in this space, now, the space of continuing to do this work with a diverse group of people, many of whom I know are casting a very different ballot than I am today, I’m not feeling a lot of anger. I’m trying to open myself up to detachment, to trust, to a space where my love for this work and these people is unconditional, and really not about me. For some reason, I keep being called to this little piece that I can do. I will continue to do it until I am called away. In the midst of that, I work on loving, not blindly, not with hope in my neighbors or myself, but in the God who allows destruction, but doesn’t let destruction have the final say.

Sitting on that bridge yesterday in the 80-degree heat, I wanted to weep, but I set my gaze ahead of me, calling on my God. I called on my God not to swoop in like a Deus ex Machina in a bad play, but as the God Who Makes All Things New, the God who shows a third way when we have truly exhausted all of our options. I don’t have the power to make everything right, even if I did somehow have the right answers. The people I want to win today can’t make everything right.

I do believe we will all see pain in the coming years. We will continue to see destruction and we will be called upon to make very difficult choices.

But giving up altogether, or even giving up on one another? That’s not an option. That is the highest form of entitlement, because it means thinking we don’t deserve to have to do hard things. It means thinking hard things, scary things, are for history, or for other countries.

No!  The time for courage in the face of challenge is now.

And so is the time for loving one another, not because we understand each other, not because we approve of each other. We can choose unconditional love, because that is the only thing that cannot be taken, and the only thing stronger than all the destruction coming our way. If we can choose love, really choose love . . . well, then I believe we can be stronger than hell. It’s worth a try.

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