About ten years ago (before social media reconnected me with people who I never thought I’d hear from again), I received an unexpected email at work.
It was from a guy I’d known more than a decade earlier and who had faded into my memory like the vague shadows of a rear view mirror. He and I had once run in similar circles, but I’m fairly certain we never had a conversation that endured more than five-sentences. He’d certainly never occupied much, if any space, in my conscious or subconscious mind.
Which is why, when I’d received a chatty and rather lengthy email from him, I was more than just a little surprised.
He’d contacted me after reading a newspaper article in which I was quoted. He hadn’t known that I lived in the same town where his daughter and ex-wife resided, and seemed genuinely excited to re-connect.
I responded, and we exchanged a few more emails.
And then he died.
I learned about his death in the same way he’d found me – by reading about it in a newspaper article in the local paper. He had been in a head-on collision after apparently falling asleep at the wheel.
At a glance, there’s nothing particularly meaningful about this guy who was a small part of life, then wasn’t, then was again, then exited it completely.
We hadn’t been close nor do I imagine we ever would have been.
And yet, his random appearance after so many years then his abrupt disappearance after only a few days have stayed with me. Perhaps that’s partly because they serve as a reminder of how random and fragile life is. But they also suggest something more essential about how we live our lives.
We never know what the implications of our simplest interactions with others may lead. Acknowledging the presence of the quiet person in a group or sharing a smile don’t seem like grandiose gestures in a world overwhelmed by people who scream for, and often get, attention.
But then again, maybe they are actually bigger and more relevant than any action on a stage, or screen, or political platform can ever be.
Mark’s email all those years ago was a surprise because I never thought there was much worth remembering about me in those early days of my adult life. I certainly didn’t think someone I barely knew would reach out to me more than a decade later.
Yet he did. And even though our interactions were brief, he gave me something in return: a new-found understanding of my relevance in the past, in the present, and in the future.
As the Year 2016 ends and the Year 2017 arrives, the majority of my friends and acquaintances are glad to say goodbye to a year in which so many people died and the future of our democracy began to crack. Because of that, they are fearful of what 2017 may bring.
And yet, in truth, we can’t really live if we spend our energy in a soup of regrets, resentment and concerns about the behavior and actions of others.
All we can do is follow the Golden Rule and treat others in a manner that no one can criticize. And sometimes, when we do that, our actions may stay with others long after our own memories of them have faded.
A guy I once barely knew taught me that.
Rest in peace, Mark.
And rest in peace 2016.
I admit my emotions are still raw after Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States on Tuesday night. And yes, I’ve cycled through the stages of grief: disbelief to sadness to anger to acceptance then back to anger.
And then more anger.
I’m not angry with people who voted for Trump. Even though they voted for a man who used hate to garner much of his support, I understand they had various reasons for voting for him.
I’m angry because I am forced to accept their vote while most Trump supporters have shown absolutely no interest in understanding why I’m completely heartbroken for an America I thought existed. I truly believed that Americans could value the common good over money, dogma, single issues, self-interest and even the truth. And I was wrong.
I’m even more angry that I’ve been told to “just get over it,” “find something else to occupy your thoughts,” “accept God’s will,” and “stop being a tool of the liberal media,”
During my entire life, I have never, ever told anyone who was grieving to “suck it up and just get over it.”
Grief isn’t just about losing someone you love. It’s about losing something that you value and hold close to your heart. It’s about trying to get through a day in a fog when other people are acting as if nothing has changed. It’s about having to re-wire your brain to live in a different reality. Worst of all, grief harshly rips open old wounds and scars that some of us have spent decades trying to forget.
Which is why I was in tears this week when a friend asked the six women in the room “How many of us have been groped by a man we didn’t want?” Five of the six of us raised our hands. I was not the fortunate woman who didn’t raise her hand. I was the adolescent girl who had never even kissed a boy but was groped by a middle-aged man at church. I was wearing my favorite sweater on the Sunday when he grabbed my breast and told me I was developing nicely. I shoved that sweater to the back of closet and never wore it again.
That old scar tore open the day I heard the now infamous recording of Trump talking about “grabbing pussy.”
But grief isn’t just about the past, it’s also about losing hopes and dreams for the future. On Tuesday night, my hope for the future dimmed the second I received a text that my son, a college freshman, sent to his dad and me.
“Guys,” it read, “I’m terrified.”
And I knew exactly what he meant.
My son is a journalism major following in the footsteps of journalists on both sides of his family tree. His dad is a journalist. My mom was a journalist. His great-grandfather published a newspaper. And yet, my son’s professional aspirations were belittled and threatened by the future president of the United States. My son recognized this threat when, on the day his father and I visited the National Press Club, Donald Trump banned the Washington Post from covering his campaign.
Like me, my son completely understands that some media sources, both liberal and conservative, are truly biased. But he also knows that many journalists have dedicated their lives to uncovering and reporting the truth – whether or not they like or agree with it. All of their hard work is being completely disregarded and even threatened by a significant percentage of the American population. And he is scared.
I completely understand his fear.
A week before the election, I finished reading two books. The first, Lilac Girls, a historical novel by Martha Hall Kelly. Although it’s a work of fiction, the book follows real events, real people and the real tragedy of World War II when too many people were willing to blame, ridicule, persecute and ultimately kill people of a different faith because they believed in a leader who told them to hate.
In the second book, Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay, a French Catholic girl is sent to a concentration camp because she has Jewish blood. Despite her prayers, her entire family is killed, and she begins to doubt the power of prayer.
That story is so fresh and so painful that I can’t believe this election is “God’s will” any more than I can believe the rise of Hitler was “God’s will.”
I will never believe that God favors one group of people or one set of beliefs over another. The God I know encourages love and acceptance.
And if you tell me I’m wrong, I’m going to get angry. Just like I’m going to get angry when you tell me that I simply need to “get over” this election.
I won’t hate. I won’t belittle. I won’t even tell people they are misguided or wrong.
But I won’t get over my anger.
And don’t you dare tell me I should.