Last Friday as I was leaving the nursing home, the parking lot was full of residents holding American flags as they hobbled and rolled to the curb. They were waiting for the Blue Angels to fly over in honor of Veterans Day.
I drove past the group and waved. With minds held captive by dementia, many stared blankly back at me and waved their red, white and blue on the cue of their caretakers. To keep from driving off the road in despair, I had to focus on positives: 1. These residents were once vital contributors to society—mothers and fathers, teachers, businessmen, pastors, nurses, engineers and veterans. 2. It’s an honor to care for such trailblazers.
But a bigger part of me wanted to punch the accelerator to speed away from this preview of all our futures. I tried to fill my mind with all the urgent tasks I needed to accomplish. But something within me knew I had to turn around and share this important moment with my unlikely adopted community. And so I did.
I turned around. I parked. I walked from my car and joined the huddled geriatric masses slumped in their wheelchairs. Out of the 15 facility residents who are veterans, only one made it out for the festivities. The activities director moved him to the front row. I kneeled down and thanked him for his service. He gave me a nod. I’m not sure he could hear or understand me. But in that moment, it didn’t matter. We were all just united…Americans celebrating the freedom we enjoy.
To have this experience on the heels of the bloodiest (political) battle since Antietam is not lost on me. Last Tuesday we all watched—some with excitement, some with horror, and all in disbelief—as Donald Trump was elected our next President.
I’m not gonna lie…I spent the better part of the Fall burying my head in the sands of entertainment. My biggest nail-biter, while eating Skittles and watching back-to-back episodes of Say Yes to the Dress, was hoping Pnina Tornai could come through for the picky bride and her overbearing mother.
But even with my news fast, stories about the two candidates seeped into our house like black mold. Hillary left me with huge trust issues and Trump just made me sick. No amount of mental gymnastics would allow me to pull the lever for either one. So armed with my conscience and a handful of sugar high, I voted third party.
Whether the former Celebrity Apprentice star really meant to win or not, November 8th is the day reality got real for us all. The negative fallout was immediate. I was extremely proud and encouraged when Hillary Clinton and President Obama urged our country to come together and give the new President-elect a chance to lead. But unless acceptance looks like riots and #notmypresident, a lot of people are still pretty worked up.
Here’s the deal…Contrary to the inflammatory rhetoric on both sides, I think people just voted for whomever they felt could better help them survive their daily lives. And on lots of days for lots of people, just surviving is a bitch.
My biggest take away from this election cycle is that we have become a nation that has lost the ability to communicate. Screaming obscenities over police lines or firing verbal bombs from social media bunkers doesn’t count. I’m talking about face-to-face conversations…asking questions and actually listening to each other’s answers. It’s a lot harder to demonize someone when you’re looking him/her in the eye.
It’s normal for us to filter everything through the grid of our own realities. For us it’s self-employment and trying to squeeze life-blood from our bank account turnip while holding a health insurance letter saying our premiums will just about double in 2017. But guess what? Our needs are only two out of 318.9 million.
I recently learned that we have a poverty rate pushing 40% (according to census.gov) in our little town of Ruston…40 percent!!! What? (Randy has never mentioned that on Say Yes to the Dress.) Aside from our inherited involvement with eldercare, a few years volunteering at an elementary school, and annual holiday drive-by good deeds, I’ve been oblivious to the needs of others.
So while I’m watching and praying that President-elect Trump will have an attack of humility, I’m going to focus on my own need for change and engagement. No politician can fix all our nation’s ills. We each have a responsibility to be a part of the solution.
Back in the parking lot, it was all a blur. “I see them!” someone yelled. “Wave your flags!” Old hands held up Old Glorys as the Blue Angels screamed by and dipped their wings. Set against the backdrop of a brutal election, this was a freakin’ Hallmark commercial—these aerial symbols of freedom zooming past our living heirlooms. The only thing that could have added more emotion to the mix was if the Angels had air-dropped a box full of cute babies and puppies.
I stumbled back to my car and ugly-cried for a few minutes. But then, I felt hopeful. When you get right down to it, we all want the same things—safety, respect, and a little compassion. Surely we can work at making that a reality for everyone?