Maybe it is because I have spent the last 20 years teaching elementary students history. Or maybe it is because I am perpetually optimistic, but I want to believe this country is all that it says it is. I want to believe that we are the values we are founded on and that our children can rest on our laurels.
And yet, here we are.
In this shit show of a country. A country that has written out its values in black and white. Values that took time to set. Values that are a matter of life and death. Values that over the past four years haven’t really come to pass.
So it’s not surprising that as we head toward election day I feel some PTSD creeping in.
I remember election day 2016 and the days that followed like they were yesterday.
I was sure that the 2016 election had been written in the stars — for me. After having two boys and a lifetime of dreaming, I had a baby girl. At almost one, I was carrying her on my hip to the polls. Together we would be voting for our first female president.
And even though I wondered why it had taken so long to get a female on the ballot, it didn’t matter because we were making history together. One day I would tell her this story. That she had been with me when we elected our first female president.
Life was good that day. So good.
That morning I had dressed us both in red, white, and blue. And when I stuck the obligatory “I voted” sticker on her chest, my eyes filled with tears. I looked at my daughter who would grow up in a different world than I had and I was so thankful. That day was proof of the progress we had made as a nation.
We all know how this story ends. But the hours that followed were full of telltale signs of what was to come.
I ignored them all.
The first being that my baby girl — always smiling and happy — was serious and contemplative when we left the polls. I snapped a pic to capture the moment and it was a rare glimpse of her without joy written on her face.
The second being my sister’s texts all night long. That night I had met some friends out for a paint and sip event. We briefly mentioned the election even though it meant so much to each of us. Looking back, I wonder why we didn’t harp on it more. One friend even showed up in all white. We knew the outcome we all hoped and prayed for. We wanted that night to be one we’d never forget.
As the night progressed, I would sneak a peek at my phone with updates from my sister. They were not trending the way I wanted. So, I ignored her bad news. There was no way Hillary couldn’t win — not in my book — not in my perfect version of our world. Tonight was fate.
In fact, I feel myself doing this all over again. My sister is a journalist, so she is my pulse on all things news related. The other day I asked for an election update and it was not the most positive report. And I ignored her — just like I did four years ago.
Four years ago I went to bed assuming I would wake up to better news.
But I didn’t.
The days that followed made me feel so naive. It shed so much light on where we still needed to go as a nation. It hurt my heart so deeply. I had always preached to my students that we celebrate our differences and that is what makes us great. Inside of an elementary classroom, it felt that the world was full of love. All my students treated one another with kindness, respect, and curiosity. So how could it be that outside my classroom the world was full of hate? That people really didn’t care for one another like I thought we did? That people actually judged one another because they were different? That seemed impossible.
And in a way, I think being a school teacher made those days that followed even harder. During the day I had to keep a positive outlook and remain neutral. It left little time to really share how I was feeling. I didn’t have the chance to share my disappointment and I felt very alone.
The day after the election, I was driving home to pick up my daughter and I pulled over to compose myself. I had spent the entire ride crying. Parked in a neighborhood close to the sitter’s house, I turned on Hillary’s concession speech.
It was then that she said the words I needed to hear.
The words we all need to hear when we are down.
“I know how disappointed you feel because I feel it too, and so do tens of millions of Americans who invested their hopes and dreams in this effort.”
There was something so comforting about her words. All day I had felt that my sadness was solitary. Talking about politics in school is so tricky. I had to remain very neutral when in fact I was quite heartbroken about the outcome. Her words changed that for me. I was not alone and we would be okay. More importantly, I was part of a “we.” We would have to be okay. We would travel on, together. We would make history. Just not today.
The days and weeks that followed were full of so much sadness for me.
Yet, as we head into this election, I’m optimistic. I don’t know how else to be. I don’t know a world where there isn’t still hope.
I’m completely shaken up and yet it’s hard to imagine an outcome less than favorable.
All those years I’ve spent teaching how history unfolded to make the world a better place, I also taught about the power of using your voice. I have taught my students that one small act does make a difference.
I still so desperately want to believe this is the truth. That we can make a change, one person at a time.
I just pray we see evidence of this on November 3rd.