The day of the election, the very hour that the results came out, I was with women from Uganda, Nepal and Thailand. Each listened to my shock and disillusionment, politely and sympathetically nodding their heads. There was also an undercurrent of world weariness, a reaction I've come to recognize in people's faces while I'm talking, usually mid-sentence -- I am listening to this white lady, and I will try to make her feel better, but really I do not understand what she is complaining about. So many, many times, I have been the recipient of incredible kindness and empathy from women and men living under extreme inequality, poverty and even violence when I'm trying to voice my own discontent or disillusionment.
My Thai friend said, not unkindly, "It was the same for me under Thaksin, but you get up every day and you go to work." The Ugandan woman has known the same president her whole life, elections there being largely a formality at this point. She was almost confused -- you get to have a reaction? My Nepali friend told me where she was when the Crown Prince of Nepal killed his entire family at a dinner party (yes, that really happened). Through dictators, violence, gender discrimination and so many forces beyond their control, my friends just carry on with their lives. Go to work. Feed the kids. Come home. I was chastened and disabused of my exceptionalism once again. It's not that I don't believe that America or Americans can't be exceptional -- it's that I see so much bravery no matter where I go in the world, that it is not a quality that can be possessed by any one country or any one type of individual.
Even my reaction to this election has been steeped in privilege. I can't escape it. I felt like I need days off to process, but who gets that, really? What about the realities of the world around me -- friends persecuted for being Christian, persecuted for being Muslim, friends living in sexual exploitation -- make me believe that I, as a woman, as an American, deserve or will be able to deliver any higher standard of justice? There is nothing new under the sun. I can hope for healing, I can pray for restoration and I can work towards justice, but I have so much to learn.
I don't say this to any further bemoan the election or predict the future of American democracy. I only hope to show that there is so much we can learn from brothers and sisters from other countries and other faiths about just about anything. Their societies are older, their interfaith dialogue and understanding often richer and their interpersonal dramas and struggles the same as ours. This NY Times video of comedians around the world giving advice was so heartening to me. People have gone before us, people have thrived and laughed in the face of political disappointments or even danger. There is much work to be done. I think it's also okay to give up. To peace out. It's not the reaction that anyone promotes on a tshirt (if one more person tells me now is the time to care more, to lean in, to run for office, I SWEAR TO GOD...) but, good grief, just stay safe and sane out there. Sleep for four years and wake up refreshed for the next fight. There is so much dignity in the act of carrying on, living your life as you would live it.
It also softens the edges of judgment you feel when you evaluate other countries, economies or people when you feel the burden of something you can't control. I have friends who have left the sex trade who feel compelled to return -- not for themselves, but for their families. For their child's education. For their sister's school fees. My judgments on sexual morality or hopeful protests against the commodification of bodies doesn't really hold up when women love their families so much that they are ready to sacrifice for them. Similarly, my own faith is strengthened by asylum-seeking Muslim friends who have been persecuted for their faith. If they can believe so strongly and fight to worship freely, to be what they were born into being, then so can I. My refugee friends have a world of knowledge about belonging and abuse of power and the divine -- I need only to listen.
I don't mean to elevate the poor or the lives of refugees or women in sexual exploitation to a position of greatness or suggest that I should feel guilty for my emotions as a person of relative privilege. It's taken some time (hello, decade of my 20s), but I now know that I can hold my suffering alongside theirs without condemnation of myself. This is the gift that my friends have given me. They listen to my disappointments and grief and encourage and pray for me in Somali, Arabic or Nepali. They have set me free from the idea that I am special, and yet they have reclaimed it with their support and love for me. I mean, I try not to go overboard with how bummed I am that I can't get American Netflix with my new VPN to my friends in jail, but you get the idea. Their grief is my grief. My tears are their tears. They have accepted me as I am, ignorant of so many things of the world, and still they give me hope. I am grateful.