This morning, the world as we have known it has changed. Regardless on which side of the political fence you stand, nothing will be the same. The electoral college (bolstered by popular vote) ushered in a man who they believe represents their values. For those who made a different electoral choice, the prospect of four years of his leadership, is terrifying.
A week prior to the election, I wrote an article called How Can You Cope With Election Stress? It speaks of the toll the election has taken on the population of this country. Physiological and psychological symptoms such as those related to anxiety and depression were arising. After I wrote it, I consulted with other therapists and they too were seeing an upturn in their clients reporting increased distress. What sparked the original article were the words of my young client who had taken a proactive stance in campaigning. He told me afterward that he would continue working for justice and peace by supporting his party.
Yesterday morning, I arose with a combined sense of anticipation, tinged with trepidation. I looked forward to casting a vote, led by my conscience and sense of responsibility to support a world in which love and peace, rather than hate and fear prevail. By 7 a.m., I stood outside the polling place where I had cast my vote for both primaries and general elections since moving to the area in 1993. The line wove around the packed parking lot as folks bundled up against the chilly morning temperature; some sipping warm beverages, chatting with their neighbors.
A few moments after arriving, a man standing behind me, said, “I know you from somewhere.” We attempted to figure out where, as we went down the list of possibilities. A smile lit his face as he asked, “Do you marry people?” When I said that I did, he reminded me that I had officiated his wedding 15 years earlier and that he and his wife were still happily married and were the parents of two children. We caught up on the happenings in our lives since then. I felt warmed inside and out as we got closer to the building in which we were to speak our minds and hearts by casting our votes. Another friend who I usually see at the polls was there and we smiled hopefully that our collective voices would be heard and would lead to a brighter future for everyone.
The overall mood was jovial and in this suburban Philadelphia church parking lot, there were no protests and people were respectful of each other and cooperated across party lines; perhaps a model for what is possible with the outcome of the election.
After stepping out of the curtained booth, I walked back to my car and retrieved my FREE Hugs sign and walked up and down the line which remained lengthy and offered embrace to those waiting. Very few declined, most expressed gratitude that I was doing that. A man who I didn’t know, asked if he could take my picture. I gladly agreed and posed with my neighbor who also happened to show up at the same time. He posted it on his Facebook page and when I got home, issued a friend request. As I perused his page, I saw that a friend of his was looking for consultants to work with her company. I reached out to her and by afternoon, she had hired me. A perfect fit for both of us.
Later in the day, I drove to Doylestown which is where I often do FREE Hugs events. Standing on the corner of State and Main Streets, two friends and the young daughter of one of them offered portable love in that form. Most were eager to accept our invitation and those who refrained, for whatever reason, were encouraged to hug themselves or each other. A woman who was walking a canine companion, said that her dog was protective of her and wouldn’t like it, so I bent down and got to know the pup first and in a few moments, the woman agreed to a hug and the dog wanted more attention herself. A couple who I had hugged earlier, returned with a bakery bag containing a macaroon. Two other people asked if they could get us anything from the nearby Starbucks. A man in a red jacket with the name Kevin inscribed on it, hugged us and then said we had just been hugged by John Wayne, which was his real name. Not sure who Kevin was. People air hugged us from their cars and in some cases, rolled down their windows so I could (after looking carefully) dash into the street before the light changed, to hug them for real. Folks honked their horns and gave us the thumbs up. All we spoke with, were in agreement that what we were doing was potentially world changing.
Like many, I stayed up late to check out the results. I danced back and forth between wanting to keep apprised and not wanting to know. By the time my head hit the pillow at 1 am, it was mostly a done deal. I felt a sense of neutrality, a numbness. I awoke around 4:00 and checked social media and was almost overwhelmed with messages from friends whose emotions ran the gamut from anger to fear, from overhelming sadness to abject despair. Mixed in was resolve to learn from this experience, remain focused on recovery, more determined than ever to be a greater force for good in the world.
Returning to sleep, I found myself in a dream in which I was hunkered down in a trash strewn New York City apartment with friends. My right leg began to bleed profusely. The blood resembled barbecue sauce and I asked a friend to find a rag to staunch the flow. It took awhile, but eventually she did. There was an element of fear to the dream, but somehow I knew I wouldn’t bleed out and the wound would heal. That is the way I have come to view the rift in our country and by extension, our planet. We have the choice of rending it or mending. I see it as a call to action.
In each moment, there is a choice: love or fear. In this one, I choose love.