The evening of election day was spent with Sharon celebrating her birthday with a long walk and dinner out. For the most part, we ignored the reportage.
The next morning we awoke to an unexpected reality, to text conversations with a daughter, then to the call of a day's work. We were both glad to have things to do.
On the way to work I stopped for coffee and oatmeal and crossed paths with a parishioner who needed to share with me her sense of deep distress. This parishioner has children - small daughters. We spoke briefly of a way forward in reassuring the daughters about the rule of law in this country, about the checks and balances of our government and about our commitment as adults to hold public officials accountable to the rule of law and our commitment as parents to uphold the dignity of women. I prayed for her and the daughters, right there in front of the coffee station.
Then it was off to work and a planned conversation with a parishioner about poetry. That was a tonic. We talked of the present moment. She recommended a poem for me; a work by W. H. Auden written as another World War was beginning.i In this we read:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone...
...no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.
A planned lunch with another parishioner was the occasion for some serious conversation. Then in the afternoon I sat with a daughter and son of Marcia Averre for conversation about their late mother in anticipation of her Burial Eucharist. This, too, was a welcome respite from the day's news.
In the evening Josh preached at the Eucharist, relating some stories about bullying incidents from real life reports to him. He spoke of the church's call to be a safe place for us; especially for those feeling most vulnerable. And after the Eucharist I spent an hour in impromptu conversation with another parishioner who had thoughts to share and questions to raise.
Being a safe space doesn't just happen. It's created intentionally. In the wake of such a divisive and vitriolic campaign the feelings of people on both sides are raw. Let no one ever convince us that language doesn't matter. It does. We know it, when we're the ones affected. And after the language of this campaign, there are hurting people, frightened people.
In order for there to be safe space, there has to be the discipline of listening to each other. Listening is just plain hard work, because when we listen we hear things we may not want to hear; things that make us uncomfortable. But here's a hopeful example of the fruit of relationship from Bishop Rickel's blog today:
“A person conveyed to me that a man at her church was a huge Trump supporter, and the two of them had, for the most part, jokingly pushed and prodded one another these last months. This morning, he called her, genuinely asking, “how are you doing this morning, I care about you far more than I do the outcome of this election.”
We need more of that kind of thing.
I'll let Auden have the final word:
Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.
iW. H. Auden, September 1, 1939. https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/september-1-1939