Journey of Sorrows

It was very early Wednesday, the morning after the presidential election, when I journeyed to California. I awoke to news of the surprising and, to me, extremely upsetting election results. Joining that news was an email from someone close to us saying that his health had suddenly declined and he will not be with us much longer. My trip to California was to attend a family wedding, now it was also to be a journey to say goodbye to someone who is dear. I was shocked by an overwhelming sadness, and in the 90 minute drive to the airport tuned out the news and inattentively listened to an audiobook for distraction.

Checking in at the Midwestern regional airport seemed surreal, TSA-Pre was not operating so I had to unexpectedly submit to the unpack-the-bags-and-strip-down process while feeling the numbness of grief. The row of televisions in the terminal were all tuned to Fox News. I huddled by myself in a quiet corner, not knowing who about me was celebrating and who was mourning the results. The awaiting passengers were unusually quiet; I thought this must be how it was to be in an occupied territory, everyone trying to remain unobtrusive and saying nothing, not knowing who is with you and who is against you.

As we were called to board, Hillary Clinton was about to appear and make an address. img_7057All the televisions went black. Coincidence? As I settled into my seat, I overheard the woman behind me say, “It has started. I am over 60 and never been patted down before, they pulled me out of line and frisked me. It’s already started.” The woman was Hispanic. Who knows why someone is targeted for extra screening, I have been targeted more than once, but on this day her suspicion was not that she was randomly selected but that it was racial profiling. At the airport in Chicago it was quite the opposite, people were chattering everywhere, and everywhere people were expressing shock and surprise at the election results. When I took my seat on my connecting flight, the woman next to me was speaking Spanish on her cell phone. She hung up and said to me, “Guess I will have to stop speaking that language now.”

By the time I had landed, my phone was filled with text messages and my in-box with emails from friends and relatives expressing anguish with the results. People I met with on my trip all expressed shock, grief, and yes, even fear. In the days following I passed through what might be described as the stages of grief. I still cannot quite bring myself to resignation and certainly have not reached an understanding. I have to believe that most people share common values and hopes–that except for the extreme fringe–this electoral college win was brought about by a frustration with middle- and working-class stagnation and the notion that the peoples’ voices were not being heard. It is too much for me to believe that the bulk of these voters condone–let alone believe–the divisive and angry rhetoric that dominated this campaign. The only resolution I have reached is to do what I can do: support organizations that share my values, show kindness to those in my community, write letters to my elected representatives to express my views, and VOTE.

Joined by my friend Jamie, one of the first stops on my trip was to visit with my dear friend’s surviving sister. She had set aside yarn for me to pick up, she also had boxes full of crafts supplies and was looking for an organization to take it. We volunteered to take all of it, loading up Jamie’s car with boxes and bags to be donated. Before traveling to California I had identified 3 local groups that could use yarn, thanks to people who responded to inquiries on social media knitting boards. That evening, two days after the election, we found comfort in sorting the boxes and bags into appropriate piles for the donations. We sorted basic natural fiber yarns in heavier weights along with knitting supplies for students learning to knit in a local school district. We separated out the finest natural fibers for a senior center, thinking perhaps that seniors on fixed incomes would appreciate fine yarns–yarns they might not usually be able to afford–for their knitting project: knitting gifts to accompany Meals on Wheels holiday dinners. Finally, we sorted out all the textural and interesting yarns for an arts center for people with disabilities, thinking they would be perfect for weaving and crafting. The following day we made two deliveries and worked on arranging the third. It was healing to be able to do something for others, this was something positive that we could do and something that honored my generous friend’s memory.

The wedding was beautiful. It was also bittersweet given that my brother was no longer here to see his lovely daughter happily wed but, with the void filled by so many other family members, it was impossible to remain sad. I have never before seen a mother-of-the-bride and bride dance, but it was touching and seemed so very appropriate. There is nothing like family coming together to celebrate and share a happy event, no matter what else is happening outside the circle of loving joy.

Before returning home, I visited my friend with the declining health for what may be my last visit. We parted with a hug and an, “I will see you on your next visit.” I can only hope. As if there was not enough loss in the world, on the final day of the trip a friend received news that her brother had passed away. It was all and all, a journey filled with the sense of recent loss, old loss, new loss, and loss to come.

Awaiting my final connecting flight, I felt the full weight of sadness and sat silently in the waiting area unsuccessfully fighting off the cold virus that was overtaking me. After boarding, I dropped into my seat on the tiny commuter jet in the exit row across from a late middle-aged man. The flight attendant came by and, anticipating she would ask if we were ready and able to help in case of emergency, I looked up and said, “Hi, how are you doing?” She replied, “Not good, but do you know what makes me feel better?” I responded, “Visiting the exit row?” The man pointed to the empty seat next to him and said, “Have a seat.” She laughed and sat down, saying she would only feel better if we joined her in a song. And we did. The worst rendition of Let it Be ever sung, but the mood of the passengers shifted from sullen fatigue to relieved cheer. Waiting for our bags on the other end, I asked a young woman about the cute dog she was carrying and soon a large group of people were talking about dogs and this and that.

Perhaps it was a vivacious flight attendant, perhaps it was a cute little dog, but the journey that began at this airport days earlier in stunned silence ended in convivial conversation. In kindness given and in kindness shown, perhaps there can be something found amidst loss, a growing flicker of flame in the darkness.

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