We’re Still Here

“We’re still here,” I said to my best friend. We had been silent skyping. Video and audio were on, but there was nothing to say. The night was over. The race was called. We lost. My mind was everywhere at once. On my college roommate’s infant daughter, the one I met right before flying to Jerusalem, the one who I thought, with such joy, wouldn’t remember a time when a woman had never been president. On my mother, staying with her mother, who was born when women had only had the vote for 12 years. On my grandfather– a wonderful, liberal, social justice-seeking lawyer– who passed away last Saturday and whom I have been holding so close and missing so much and whom I knew would have been so happy to see Hillary elected. On a group of friends, camping together every memorial day weekend, and among them a neighbor whom I look to as a sign that, yes, there is such a thing as a politician in politics for the right reasons. On a group of rabbinical students, gathered in the wee hours of the morning, expecting a party and tears of joy, finding tears for different reasons as an unmarked map began to bleed. On an exquisite dawn with a crystal blue sky as the same rabbinical students stood in a golden courtyard and prayed, as I tried to work up the nerve to sing God’s praises at a time when I couldn’t imagine singing anything, as I said kaddish for my grandfather and for the sort of American progress he fought to forge. On what it meant to be so far away. On what was left. On where the fight was headed.

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“We’re still here.” My Grandpa Ken was born in 1927. He was white and privileged and brilliant. His father was a politician. His lineage in this land went back to the 1630s in New Hampshire, making my sisters and me 13th generation Americans. He could have fallen right into the false nostalgia that Trump champions. The “Good Ol’ Days” when people like my grandfather were openly afforded more respect and more opportunity and more allowance than anybody else. (Of course they still are today, but many people try to hide it now.) At age 17, my Grandpa Ken learned Japanese in less than a year and was sent to Gifu to listen for insurrection right after World War II ended. My Grandpa Ken went to Yale and to Harvard Law. The CIA wanted him, but he didn’t want them. He could have looked at Trump and thought back to his youth and said “It was easier then.” He didn’t. He could have taken the $10,000 dollars my great grandfather offered him not to marry my Portuguese (Azorian) grandmother. He didn’t. He could have been skittish around people of color in San Francisco after a childhood largely lived apart from them in New England. He wasn’t. He was a Democrat. He pursued justice. He wanted everybody in this country and in this world to have opportunity.

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My Grandpa Ken was diagnosed with terminal cancer less than two weeks ago. We expected him to have months to live. Instead he went in a matter of days, passing in his sleep in his own bed in his own home. It has been terribly difficult to be here, away from family as I cope with the shock and grief that I would have in any circumstance but that are amplified by being apart from my loved ones. I am so sad that he is gone. I am so grateful that he didn’t have to experience a long decline that he would have hated. I am so glad that he didn’t have to see what happened this morning. He would have been so excited for Hillary. I don’t know what he would have managed to say about Trump.

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“We’re still here.” I kept thinking it to myself as the map turned red, saying it to myself as I walked Jerusalem’s stone sidewalks, feeling the words cut through the pain and the rage and the pulsing fear for myself and for my communities and for the people who carry less privilege than I do and who have so much more to lose. And it is so hard to be here, away from family as I cope with the shock and grief that I would have in any circumstance but that are amplified by being apart from loved ones. And I am glad to be far from home, because here at least there is no celebration. Here there are not the questions with each set of eyes that I meet of “Did you vote for her? Did you vote for him? Did you sit this out?”

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Last Wednesday I woke early to fight for women to be treated as full people at the Western Wall. This Wednesday I woke early to witness a woman earn full equality in the White House. Last Wednesday my body was shoved about. My breath quickened with anxiety and purpose. This Wednesday my body was untouched but my heart tugged itself inward, crafting a shell from which to peer out into the world. How could the world be as it was? How could the hope and joy and excitement that had been building for months be turned to nothing? I wanted to close my eyes and open them to a new start. But there was no going back.

“We’re still here.” What do we do when it seems hopeless? We remember that our hearts can be safe in their shells but they will never be able to grow there. A heart can only grow if it is free, and anything that is free can be broken, and so we must place our hearts into one another’s care to risk and to thrive. And together, we must offer our hearts to our enemies until our eyes acknowledge mutual sparks of divinity. There is work to be done, and we need to fight, and our fights must be fed with love.

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“We’re still here.” On Tuesday morning, I put two notes inside the Kotel. One was for my Grandpa Ken, who wasn’t a fan of religion but was a fan of me. The other was for all of us:

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I don’t believe in a God that sways elections, but I believe in us. It is easy to feel that our votes did not count, that our voices were not heard, that our work was for nothing. But there is still work to do. This isn’t a time to bolt. It’s a time to buckle down to help those who can’t bolt. We have to hold each other up and we have to be there for those who will be hit hardest. This is not the time to give up. It’s the time to rise up.

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“We’re still here.” We can’t always have our sages with us. My grandfather is gone. His legacy is not. The election is over. The work is not. The sun rose this morning and it was beautiful. It will rise tomorrow. We are headed into the unknown wilderness with the wisdom of what has come before and the hope of what comes after. The Israelites wandered there for 40 years. Luckily for us, we only have 4. May we be the pillars of cloud and fire that show one another the way.

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One thought on “We’re Still Here

  1. Yes, now that Hillary has lost, there is more for us to do. Hope is a hard horse to ride, it’s unsteady and needs lots of nourishment and care, but it can get to where we need to be. The election was a wake-up call to the complacent and comfortable among us, and our responses will shape our future.
    Let your beloved Grandpa Ken be a beacon guiding us to a life full of accepting and understanding others, acting with open hearts and forgiveness for those who have acted against us or are different. He was what the British call “a darling man” and my heart goes out to all his family and friends; he will be much missed.

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