The Morning Of. Waking Up Red.
I tossed and turned throughout the night following the election, the bright streetlights of the Holiday Inn Express, where I was staying in Kansas City, shifting shadows on the walls like an eminent calling.
“Knock, knock. Knock, knock,” said the glimmer on the window of my hotel, lightening up my fear and trepidation about crawling out of bed the morning to once again have the nightmare of the election set in as reality. It was 1:00 a.m. I could hear the men in the hotel celebrating—drinking beers in their rooms as they slammed doors going from room to room. I wanted to ask them to be quiet so I could try to sleep.
But I felt afraid.
I was a Clinton supporter and the only female in the hotel last night, in the middle of a red state where jubilee and celebration drunk with power roamed my hotel halls. I locked the door.
At 7:00 a.m., I awoke. The density of the morning set in. I was about to go and present to a company and a meeting of 20 white male Trump supporters. I imagined I would also be the only woman in the room. I dropped into my body and didn’t think I could do it. I thought of ways to get out of it. But I had traveled to Kansas City from San Francisco for this meeting. And to make the situation even more complicated, this was my brother’s company.
My brother is one of my best friends. He has been the single most important person in my life since we were children. As his big sister, plus our mother having a mental illness, I’d cared for him in many ways.
As a grownup, he married, had three children, bought a house near our hometown and became, largely right of center. I, on the other hand, had trouble growing up. While I’d held down a successful career, I was artsy, free and “fringe,” choosing years of music festivals, a robust, transient revolving door of men and a continuously evolving spiritual path from yoga to meditation to naked hot springs.
In short, while my brother loves me, we have been at times, a house-divided. I value him as a smart, dedicated and fun father, husband, businessman although he lacks an understanding of my views on humanity. He respects me as a well-intended, good-hearted, at times flakey and uninformed liberal.
In short, I could not mess this meeting up. My relationship with my brother rested on it. I had to find grace, and find it fast.
I pulled my heavy body up and dragged myself out of bed. I opened the curtains expecting to see clouds reflecting the heaviness in my room. The sun broke through and the frost glistened on the ground. I held myself together as I looked at my reflection.
I stared at my 50-year old self, the dark circles under my eyes more swollen than normal from no sleep. I looked into my own eyes for courage and searched my soul for a way to comprehend what I was feeling and what I was about to walk into. I imagined what the men in the meeting might see. A liberal West Coaster, middle-aged business person. A woman. Would they feel bad? Would the heaviness of my femaleness set into the room like an anchor to ground down their jubilant high fives and hugs?
I felt sadness arise, but was afraid to weep. The hotel walls were thin, and I could not risk the men in the hall hearing my grieving sobs. I locked the door and climbed into the shower. The hot water ran down my head and across my back. Then the tears came. For a moment, it felt safe to cry. The woosh of the water made a passive wall of sound between me and those on the other side. I gathered myself and got ready.
The mood was light, but tentative in the conference room. I worked like hell to smile, to find lightness in my being, to shake hands, hug those I’d met before and offer my colleague some coffee. My brother was not going to be here. But my commitment to make him proud—to show him I was worthy of his respect—resonated in my ears.
“Find grace,” it pleaded.
As the room filled in, the men talked about their purple shirts, proud that they could come to the middle. While I went to the restroom, the CEO entered in a bright red sweater with a U.S. flag pinned to his chest. I returned to find the men hooting, hollering and celebrating their win. They immediately quieted when I re-entered the room.
We opened the meeting and he led a prayer.
“May God guide us on our decision here today, may he help us to find wisdom to do the right thing.”
As I bowed my head, it occurred to me that the feeling was similar to my approach when opening meetings with meditation. They then welcomed me, warmly and with sincere respect and appreciation. There was no sensation of discomfort or judgment, and being the only woman in the room did not resonate as loudly as I’d imagined.
I’d been working with these men for about four months. I found them to be kind, smart and unusually caring people. The CEO guided with a balanced view and a people-first approach. I understood what my brother saw in the company and why he was a loyal employee. They were truly kind. Kind eyes, kind hearts. In a red state. Trump supporters.
I did my presentation with the grace I’d hoped, and with only one reminder that I was from San Francisco. We wrapped up with hugs and genuine gratitude from all sides. I exhaled and headed out of the building to board my plane home and call my brother, noticing the frost glistening on the sharp curly kale planted outside their office.
On The Plane.
While at the airport, I searched Facebook and called my dearest friends for perspective. Tales of a dark future, dim with the apocalypse played like a song into my head, into my heart. Racism, Gaia ruin, Hilter, Russia—as if it was already in motion. I was truly afraid, beginning to freeze in my own skin.
I pondered: could the kind and authentic men I had just met with really be among those who support misogyny, racism and xenophobia?
Will Trump strip our planet of all its resources to support a working lower class?
How do I organize all of my feelings?
How do I make sense of what has happened and is happening here?
How can I listen more, understand more?
Were the men I just spend the morning with inherently hiding evil?
My heart hurt.
And then I looked outside, the sun piercing through the airport window, planes coming and going, luggage being loaded and unloaded. And I knew. America will not let doom and darkness prevail. I do not know how we will get there or what we may need to go through—but I do know that most people are inherently good and many are afraid and suffering. And I also know one thing for certain.
We must—must—stop taking sides of extremity.
Start working to understand.
To walk in the other’s shoes and see with their eyes.
We must be courageous and compassionate.
We must show deep empathy, and did I say listen?
Listen. Listen. Listen.
There is strife and pain and suffering on both sides.
Lower white working class, blacks, Muslims, women and Hispanics to name a few. And until we can commit—as I commit now—to hearing one another’s pain, overriding fear and anger, and having productive communication—the extreme of both sides will perpetuate and nothing will change.
And fight. Yes, fight. But fight like Mandela. Fight like Ghandi. Fight like a Tai Chi master who seeks to understand all of the moves of the opponent to then fight with ease and grace.
We can do this. So step out in the sun today and commit with me.
Author: Cari Jacobs
Image: Instagram @nytimes
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock