When my closest friends struggle because they watch news clips of the hatred unleashed on kids of color, they can’t bear our sacred trees being logged again, I grieve. In this “post-fact” environment, I don’t know how to walk. So, I’m trying to walk slowly, breathe, take in the leaves still falling in Portland.
A block away gingko leaves are still clinging to their branches. I’m feeling clingy that way. Gingkos are living fossils, a plant that hasn’t changed much in millions of years. They’re also genetically one of a kind, meaning they’re not related to other plants. And they’re incredibly resilient, surviving in urban settings because their leaves don’t seem to be affected by car exhaust and their roots don’t need a whole lot of water. They’re tough, old trees.
What I’ve seen in the last few days is tenderness. Friends are texting and emailing from all over the world, and we’re trying to tend each other’s grief that changes hour by hour.
The night after the election, I was walking a friend with her bicycle back to my car from a writing salon on N. Mississippi, so she wouldn’t ride back in the dark, and we walked through a crowd that had spilled across the sidewalk from a bar. As we passed, I noticed a young man, skinny, red baseball cap, smoking, standing detached from others. I noticed him. That’s all. And my friend and I kept walking around the block. We wrestled her bike into my car, and when I closed the back hatch, there was that young African-American skinny guy from the bar, stepping out of the middle of the street toward us, his lit cigarette a red dot in the night.
He said in a very quiet voice, “What do you think of Trump?”
My friend stepped toward him, “I feel sick.”
He hung his head, “Yeah.”
Then, she asked, “What’s your name?”
And she crossed over to the passenger door, and he was still standing partly in the street. I held out my hand to him and introduced myself. He took my hand and drew me into the hug I call a “man-hug,” the one-shoulder-leaning-into-the-other-person’s-shoulder hug. He turned away then, and I put my hand on his back, wished him well as he walked back into the night.
When I got in the car next to my friend, we sat there a minute, and she said, “James.” His name because prayer, a name for the fact of how we are now.
James is one of the many people I’ve talked to since Tuesday who are dazed, reaching out. I’m dazed and reaching out to find answers and actions I want to take. Memories of the divisive Vietnam War, the shock of Watergate when it blew open my young faith in government, are trembling the ground I’m walking.
It would be easy to say that we should all be gingko trees. That’s not my point. I have to reach down and find what feeds me, toughen up my leaves, and grow, damn it, and act despite feeling sick and afraid. I’m going to have to talk to my family members who voted for Trump and find ways to care enough for them that I overcome my fear of them and my feelings. I’m going to have to march. I don’t know if there’s a future ahead for us or for our daughter, and I have to make sure we have one for us and for people I don’t know or understand.
What I do know is that I want to cling to my branches, and I can’t. I want to bury my head in the sand. And I want to break things. And I want to hold strangers close and friends closer. The gorgeous gingko leaf is not enough to soothe my grief, but it helps.