Had two conversations today that could not have been more different, yet both were somehow reassuring that, in the words of ee cummings,
–when skies are hanged and oceans drowned,
the single secret will still be man
Forgive ee. He wrote in an era when we used “man” for all humans, not just the male of the species.
But you get the point. As upsetting as this week and this year have been, as troubling as we may find how 60 million Americans voted (and that goes both ways), they haven’t all changed into a different species. As much as life in this country may change because of the results of the election, whether this troubles you or excites you, how people voted does not change the fact that I have to pee when I get up in the morning and then have to take my dog Toto out so she can do her business.
Having helped my Ukrainian literacy student get his citizenship and then register to vote, I suspect that he may have voted for Trump, ironic as that may sound. I met with my other student today. He is a Muslim from the Islamic Republic of Gambia in West Africa. He’s still working on getting his Green Card. If anyone should be anxious about the implications of the election, he should. Yet, his first words as I sat down across from him were, “God willed it.” By “it” he did not mean anything positive, just that sometimes God decides to give us a hard time. He knew what a Trump presidency might mean for him, but was not going to waste time and energy fretting over God’s will. That didn’t mean he was just going to roll over. The next thing he asked me to do was help address an envelope to Citizenship and Immigration Services to provide them with some original Gambian documents they wanted in order to process his application.
He also mentioned that the president of Gambia is up for election next year, and will almost certainly win a six year term … for the fifth time. After shaking his head, my student launched into one of the best arguments for American democracy I have ever heard. He said, “Obama wanted people to elect Clinton to succeed him, but he had to go around asking them to vote that way. In the end they didn’t vote the way Obama wanted, and he couldn’t do anything about it.” He never once lamented the implications of the election for him. He just really liked the idea that people could vote the way they wanted whatever the president told them.
At the end of class he held out the USCIS envelope and asked me to pray with him for the success of his application. I recited the Buddhist mantra Om mani padme hum to myself. It is an appeal to the spirit of compassion in this world.
Later in the afternoon I called a friend who is a lifelong, ardent Republican. He retired some years before I did. After I retired, we would go out to lunch about once a month. After a stroke, he had to move up to north Jersey to live near one of his daughters. Since I’m going up to Syracuse in December for Anne Mei’s end-of-semester recital, I called my friend to see if I could stop by to visit on the way back.
Between the two of us we probably have more than 50 years in municipal government. When I asked him if he was happy about the outcome of the election, he reminded me of our mutual experience of what happened when one political party got overwhelming control of the municipality. It was often a disaster, with in-fighting and bad decisions made out of arrogance. The experience of age seems to mellow political partisanship, and provides insight into the pitfalls beneath the glossy path beyond victory.