Who put the election in November?
Who took a look at a calendar, saw Thanksgiving and Christmas looming and thought, “Hey! I’ve got an idea, let’s have the country duke it out as a pre-holiday warm up!”
Why not February? Everyone is depressed in February.
I don’t get it. It seems there is so much these days that I just don’t understand.
On Sunday, we finally hauled our butts to church, where we could sit there in the not-knowing with other willing people. It was a remarkable service. No sermon. Lots of singing.
I got super nervous during Joys and Concerns. I go to church with people of all political stripes, we talk about our views openly and respectfully. I’ve never once heard anyone attack anyone else, but as of last Wednesday, anything seemed possible.
“Please, God,” I prayed, “don’t let anyone say anything political. Let’s just offer up successful knee-replacements, and terminal diagnoses, and all the regular stuff. I need an hour, just ONE hour, where no one says anything designed to offend anyone else and no one takes something said as an offense. I get it that this isn’t what radical love is about, I get it that I’m being selfish, but I’m just so tired, so so tired, and so so raw and I need a breather. Please. Really, God, I’m not kidding, I think knee-replacements are the way to go here.”
And sure enough, we got the joy of new jobs, and safe travels, and the grief of unexpected death, and one woman who got up and could barely get through her request, and I knew it was going to be truly heartbreaking. When she couldn’t continue, her husband finished for her. This is what he said:
“We’re so looking forward to Thanksgiving, it will be so good to see our families. But it’s also going to be really hard. We ask for prayers of grace.”
And there’s the truth of it.
For a lot of people, this is the first time that the nasty side of politics has made it’s way to the holiday table. We’ve all pissed and moaned and grumbled a little as we’ve passed turkey in years past, but for many, this seems different, more vitriolic, more dangerous.
This is not new for me.
I’ve struggled with how to talk about this. I’m talking about my family, after all. People I care about. I’ve rewritten it a hundred times, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the unedited truth is the only way to go.
When I was sixteen, my mother told me that my step-father, a man that had been in my life since I was nine-years-old, could probably love me if I would just stop being a liberal.
At sixteen, I didn’t have a lot of political views. What my step-father was responding to, what made me “liberal”, was how upset I’d get when he’d start ranting about “niggers and queers.”
Listening to him talk that way made me feel icky, even though I knew a lot of it was just designed to get my goat. Because he was a successful, educated man, it also made me feel scared. He wasn’t powerless and frustrated; he was powerful and bigoted. He used hateful language to provoke me like some people use an old rag to tease a puppy. I couldn’t explain that. I also couldn’t explain why I wanted so badly for someone like that to love me, but I did.
I sat through years of holiday dinners trying to keep the peace. He sat through years of holiday dinners trying to rile me up. I wanted my mother to be happy. I’m not sure what he wanted.
It wasn’t just holidays. My politics were a scab that he couldn’t help picking any chance he got. He kept Fox News blasting through the house eighteen hours a day and would frequently shout to me that I should come pay attention. As soon as it became clear that we were never going to have a real or useful conversation, I avoided any political topic. I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t focus on the things we had in common (the grandkids, at least), and he couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t just agree that he was right.
When my mother died in 2012, my step-father turned off the TV for four days. The silence was deafening and so welcome. We listened to music, talked about my mom, my kids, his childhood – the things I’d always wanted to talk about.
It wasn’t until I got home that I realized the Obama bumper sticker had been peeled off my car.
I’d like to wrap this up with a happy ending, but that hasn’t happened yet. Might not ever. We don’t spend holidays together anymore, and that’s ok.
Still, many of my family members vote differently than I do, and I’ll be visiting with them over the next month. I miss them. I look forward to hanging out and discussing everything OTHER THAN THE ELECTION.
Because here’s the thing:
If your love for someone is dependent on their politics, it isn’t really love. And yes, it IS possible to love someone whose ideas you find distasteful and abhorrent in the worst case, and misguided and ignorant in the best. Believe me. I’ve been doing it for 20 years.
If this is your first time, here are some reminders and tips for survival:
- The holidays are about love, tradition, and gratitude. They are not an event on the post-election debate circuit. There will be other times appropriate the for discussion of serious political issues. This is not it.
- Find common ground and stay there. Talk about the kids, books, movies, the freaking sweet potatoes. There was plenty to talk about before Donald Trump ever showed up. There still is.
- Don’t make comments under your breath, or “jokes” about controversial topics. You may think you can get away with saying, “I was kidding!” but everyone knows you were just being an asshole.
- If you have children, remember you are making their holiday memories. Don’t let one of them be a shouting match over the dinner table.
- If someone else starts a conversation that even hints at the possibility of disaster or discord, change the subject. You can say something like, “I’m really interested in talking about this, but I think January would be a better time,” or even, “Hey look! A black hole!” You know, whatever works.
- Don’t drink too much. This is not the year to get blotto and forget half the things you said, which will, I promise, be exactly the half that the other people will never forget.
A presidency lasts four to eight years, after that you get someone new. Unfortunately, this is not true with family. Be kind, you’re stuck with each other. Here’s to turkeys and trees and February elections.