October 20, 2020

What to do with a Family Member who Votes Against Your Beliefs.

The November after the 2016 election, my mom traveled from Detroit to see me and my family in Washington D.C.

I took more photos than usual while she was here, documenting each meal, each outing, each moment with her grandchildren. It seems that as the frequency of her visits slow with age, my visual documentation increases—which is how I came to have a photo of her in front of Comet Ping Pong.

For the uninitiated, Comet Ping Pong is home to the categorically false 2016 Pizzagate conspiracy theory in which Hillary Clinton and her campaign manager John Podesta were accused of running a child trafficking ring in the basement of the restaurant.

But to my mom and I that weekend, Comet Ping Pong simply represented the closest restaurant to Politics and Prose, my favorite D.C.-based independent bookstore.

Because while my mom and I don’t share politics—she, a loyal rust belt Republican, and me, a socially-liberal Independent—we do share a passionate love for prose.

My suggestion to eat at Comet Ping Pong that day in November was sincere. They have good pizza, and ping pong is as nostalgic of my childhood as Ms. Pac-Man. What may have been less sincere was the composition of the photo I took outside the restaurant, the one that includes the neon, retro-styled Comet Ping Pong sign in the background. I don’t think she made the connection—between the restaurant and Pizzagate—but I knew my siblings would. I knew my siblings would appreciate the subversive humor of her standing in front of Comet Ping Pong.

Three years later, as Pizzagate evolved into QAnon and my mom’s blind spots grow thanks to her preferred conservative media outlet, our relationship continues to bend toward breaking. On this precipice, I realize that I no longer find the photo funny. I find it arrogant and short-sighted of me. I also consider it a lost opportunity.

What if, instead, I had opened a dialogue with my mom about our different perspectives? Could we have, over the course of three years, come to understand our respective frames of reference?

If I had given her a chance to talk, could I reconcile her probable vote on November 3rd for someone whose behavior consistently fails to uphold the Catholic values she herself embodies? Would she, in return, have been willing to listen to my unique perspective as someone in D.C.?

Because living in D.C. can sometimes feel as though I am backstage at a big Broadway play. I personally know some of the people in the rafters, have watched the actors go in and out of character, and hear stories from friends and neighbors about those in charge behind the scenes as they coordinate the narrative of the story.

It’s time I edit the photo.

As YouTube and other social media sites try to limit QAnon and others from spreading misinformation, I can stop giving them daylight too. A straightforward crop and the photo becomes about my mom and her grandchildren.

In the end, my access to D.C. doesn’t make me better or smarter than my mom. Nor should her vote outweigh the loving and kind person I know her to be in my heart.

With what she might call an answer to her prayers and I call maitri, I am working to forgive myself for my own actions and words toward and against her as I seek some equanimity in our relationship.

And I offer her equal maitri. Because she and I both need love and compassion as we navigate these confusing, tumultuous times on our own, and together.

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