Friday, November 11, 2016


When I taught World History to 9th graders several years ago, I had a student whose parents were racist. They were captains in the Salvation Army and after I taught a unit on South Africa, the father summoned me and my department head to a meeting. His message was clear and firm -- he was extremely upset that I was teaching about tolerance yet I was not tolerant of his daughter's opinions. True, his daughter had expressed racist opinions in class and I swiftly had shut them down. He told me that if I was truly tolerant, I would tolerate the intolerant. I laughed it off as one of the most ridiculous things I had ever heard. I haven't given to the Salvation Army ever since.

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On Tuesday night, or better yet, early Wednesday morning, I lie awake in my bed after having realized that Donald Trump would become our nation's next president. I was crushed, and still am. Just the day prior I had introduced a feminist novel to my English classes and we had analyzed some of Donald Trump's words from a feminist perspective. One of my amazing students raised his hand and said that he didn't need to take on a feminist perspective to condemn Trump's words. My heart was full of hope for humanity when he said that.

But later that night, the map turned red. I thought I was going to throw up. I cried. I prayed. I wondered, How? 

The next day was not an easy one, particularly because many of my students were extremely upset. All but a few are black or Hispanic, many of them are children of immigrants, and many of their families rely on government programs to survive. They were scared, and from my privileged white perspective, I did the best I could to help.

That day, I gave my students time to write about and discuss their feelings. (I love that I work in a school that trusts and encourages its teachers to do so.) I listened to my students. I asked them to remember all the good people in the world. We talked about how it feels to realize that so many other communities in our nation are not as accepting as ours. We talked about how some of them were surprised by this seeming injustice, and how others are surrounded by so much injustice that they expected this, too. Several of them cried. I tried to give them some historical perspective. I gave them the Louis L'Amour quote that I opened my book with -- that what seems like the end may actually be the beginning. I held it together in front of them, but on the way home, I wept, too.

Since then, I've mostly gone into a cocoon, much like I did after I was diagnosed with cancer. I can't watch the news and I don't want to talk to anyone about it, save a few select conversations. I want to recede and gain back some strength and then face the world again.

It's crazy to me how similar Tuesday night felt to the first night I experienced after I knew I had cancer. The fear, the uncertainty, the anger and confusion at something that seemed so wrong. So unfair. Amazingly, just like President Obama said it would, the sun rose again the next day.

Yesterday, I thought a lot about what I should try to learn from all of this. For one, I have realized how entitled I have felt for most of my life. Entitled to living in a place where war is not at my doorstep. Entitled to a job. Entitled to peaceful transfers of power. Entitled to a community where my children would be safe. But on Tuesday night, all of that seemed to have been invaded by principles and ideologies that I consider deeply dangerous. Racism. Xenophobia. Sexism. Homophobia. Dishonesty. Stupidity. I know I'm prone to overreactions, but truthfully, my entire universe feels -- once again -- shaken to its core.

For some perspective, I admit that I was in a dark place after George W. Bush won the 2000 and 2004 elections. At first, these reminders brought me peace because we did come out of those years alive. But then I remember that some people didn't. Life-saving research halted. The environment was neglected. And thousands of American and foreign soldiers and civilians lost their lives as an indirect or direct result of lies about weapons of mass destruction. George W. taught me that lies kill.

So today, I wonder about what I can do. When I'm ready, I will write to our President-elect to tell him some of my thoughts. I will write to Hillary Clinton to thank her for her astonishing efforts. Those letters will make me feel the tiniest bit better. But then what?

Then, I suppose, I will go to work and go to my kids' hockey games and gymnastics practices. I will have Sunday dinners surrounded by family. I will celebrate Christmas and my kids' birthdays. I will be grateful for every single day, just as I have been for years now.

Somehow in the midst of all of that, I will remember that I am not entitled to anything. None of us are. So we better be willing to work to protect the things we hold dear. Our health, perhaps...and now, our freedom. All this time, I've assumed it was the job of our military to protect our nation and I've put my feet up in my "free country" while our brave servicemen and women sacrificed themselves. I don't mean that I'm joining the army, and I still thank God that the military will take up the dangerous posts. But I think it's time I consider myself a small part of the effort.

As a first step, what I think I need to do is remember back to that conversation over 12 years ago when I laughed in the face of a man who told me I should be tolerant of the intolerant. I did not listen to him, and after I heard his daughter's racist comments, I dismissed her as someone less than me. I felt entitled to the freedom to react that way. To ignore it because the rest of the class was with me. But Tuesday night showed me that a sizable population in the United States is not with me. Clearly they don't want to be ignored.

Maybe that's what I'm most sad about right now -- that I somehow have to find a way to tolerate the intolerant. I have no idea how to do that. And I really really don't want to.