And so, it begins.
Fifteen months ago, I was talking to Justin in my local bar, Mr Biggs, in New York, and I told him it would happen. “He won’t even get past the first vote,” he said. Then, Trump did. And beyond. Next, he was the Republican candidate. “He’s going to do it,” I told everyone last week. And then… well, the rest is history (literally).
He was not my choice. I cried when it became clear what the outcome was going to be. I woke today in shock and disbelief. President Trump. The very words stutter from my tongue as if in combat with a serpent on their way into the ether.
But it’s happened. And we must accept it. For whatever reason, a self-confessed pussy grabbing, tax-avoiding racist has acquired the top job in the world. I will never understand it, but I have to live in hope that the disturbing rhetoric The Donald employed to land the gig will quickly dissipate once the reality of what’s involved sinks in.
The actor and rights campaigner John Barrowman posted a wonderful clip on Twitter this morning. In bed with his husband, Scott, he called for the hatred on Twitter to stop. While not liking the outcome of the election, he appealed for calm; for the continuance of people standing up for what they believe in; for the need to move forward.
My heavy heart of yesterday is no lighter today, but I will not lose friends over the chasm that lies between us in relation to this. One of my closest friends and even my mother voted for Brexit; I was, and still am, in disbelief that they did. But it’s their right. I was also genuinely interested in their reasoning, however insane I thought it to be.
Because that’s what we do. Or should. We are the only living species that has the capacity to voice our thoughts and feelings in words (and before all you Chihuahua lovers out there tell me that your pooch talks; barking doesn’t count. It really doesn’t); but we are often so busy listening to the sound of our own voices, we forget that we have another great skill. Listening.
I spent last night in the same bar in which I predicted the outcome of the election and shared what seemed that very same distant memory with Justin. It’s not the result either of us wanted and, apart from two people, it wasn’t the result anyone else wanted there, either. It’s a gay bar, and the horror of Mike Pence, Trump’s deputy, recommending electric shock therapy to “cure” gays is, of course, abhorrent. As is so much else of what has come out of these men’s mouths.
But a democracy is not about one day, no matter how historic that day might be. It is about having a voice that continues to be heard until it dies – and in so many forms, not least literature, long after that.
I want to come back to ears, though. We hear but we do not listen. Every day, we have the chance to learn from others, no matter how different their opinions and beliefs might be from our own. Even as I write, I am conscious of the gift of sound. I hear a police car siren racing along 11th Avenue in New York, my keyboard tapping, my refrigerator making ice, a car horn blowing, my mouth slurping at the glass of bubbly I had put by yesterday in anticipation of a celebration today (ah, well; it’s got be drunk, no matter what the occasion). Listen. Words are our armor and our anchor.
One of my favorite songs the brilliant Iris Williams sings is Sondheim’s Children Will Listen and I’ve had the privilege of hearing her perform it on more than one occasion. I’m not a huge Sondheim fan, but the lyrics of the song always move me: yes, children will listen. Adults don’t.
At what point in our lives do we lose the capacity to listen? Is it when we begin to form opinions different from those our parents instilled/indoctrinated? Is it when we realized that some people are just vile? Is it because we live in fear of not having our own views of the world validated? Is it simply a terror of thinking that we invested in something that might turn out to be wrong?
I have no idea. But I do know that although we hear so much, we have lost the capacity to listen. Today must not be a day of mourning; as John Barrowman said, the sun is still shining (although it’s not in New York City, it’s bizarrely pissing down for the first time in weeks, but you know what I mean). We must all, no matter what our beliefs, listen and try to understand – that is the only way of conversion.
I will never understand attacks on any human being, whatever their sexual persuasion. I will never understand racism. I will never understand intolerance.
But we are complex beings who carry baggage and gather more as life goes on. This, however, I do know: we progress only by understanding, or at least trying to understand. I keep going back to quoting Ephesians: Be kind to one another.
Today, I cry tears of disappointment – and, yes, fear. But onward. Upwards.
It is what it is.
And I’ll say it again. Be kind to one another.
This is all, at the end of the day, that truly matters.