Sitting Shiva

There is an old custom in Judaism known as sitting shiva. This custom is practiced after the death of a loved one. The Hebrew word ‘shiva’ means ‘seven’, and tradition calls for family members to observe a mourning period for seven days, during which they gather in one home to be together, share their grief, and receive visitors. The shiva ritual normally begins just after the burial of the dead.

When my late, great brother Jack (you can read about him here) died four years ago, there were circumstances which made the traditional shiva period difficult to observe. Jackie was in California when he died, and there was a lengthy process to have his body cremated and his ashes returned home. So for our family, shiva began when we found out he’d died, and continued until his memorial service the following week.

And so we gathered. We cried and laughed, we told favorite Jackie stories, received visitors, planned a service. We did all of the things people do when someone dies. Mostly we propped each other up and carried our grief together so the burden would not overwhelm us.

I found myself thinking about sitting shiva, and about grieving and loss, just after the recent Presidential election.

Hillary Clinton’s loss to bloviating man-child narcissist Donald Trump was a devastating blow, not just to me, but to family members, left-leaning friends, and millions of voters and supporters here in the U.S. and around the world. In the hours following Trump’s improbable victory, there was a nearly palpable level of shock, sadness, anger, and concern among those of us who opposed his candidacy.

In the early hours of November 9th, I was unable to sleep. I felt physically ill – a headache, nausea, trembling and chills. I felt confusion and sorrow. All in all, many of the same feelings one experiences after the death of a loved one.

Perhaps you’ll find this association between the 2016 election results and death to be overly dramatic, or amusing, or even ridiculous. You’re certainly entitled to hold a different opinion on the subject. But that doesn’t diminish what I, and millions of others, were and still are feeling. Even four weeks later, the pain is still there.

If you’ve followed this blog for any time, you may have noticed its absence since last spring. This is the first missive I’ve posted since March of this year. It’s not that I’ve had nothing to say. It’s that the Presidential race seemed to suck all of the oxygen out of the room.

Regardless of whatever else was going on, Donald Trump would not go away. And I just didn’t want to write about him. I still don’t, but here we are. We’ve entered some alternate dimension where being the leader of the free world no longer requires tact, diplomacy, pragmatism, experience, or good judgment. Or character, evidently.

We’ve elected (and that’s WE in the royal sense – I refuse to claim any responsibility for this insanity) a pathological liar, a bully, to lead us. A man who has been enthusiastically supported by some of the most racist, bigoted, and hateful citizens in our country. A man who claimed not to know anything about the KKK or what they stood for.

Early on in his campaign, Trump made it known that he was doing away with basic courtesies like kindness and tact, and dismissing the dreaded concept of ‘political correctness’. Some people took this to mean that it was okay to say anything out loud, even those thoughts that your mother taught you not to speak in polite company. Racist things. Hateful things.

And in the hours after the election results were reported, the people who live by those racist, hateful beliefs took the Trump victory as carte blanche to hit the streets and start bullying people. Muslims, Latinos, Blacks, Jews, women, members of the LGBTQ community – everyone not white, male and Christian, basically – became potential targets for haters.

My precious friend Jasson, a young man who has been a friend of my daughter’s since high school, and who has taught me so much about living life on one’s own terms, was targeted. He was walking out of the grocery store to his car, which sports a Human Rights Campaign sticker on the rear window. A man passing him in the parking lot stopped, looked at Jasson and his car, and said “your turn is coming, faggot.”

He shared that story with us late on the morning of November 9th. I was at work. And I read his text. And I couldn’t maintain my composure for a minute more. I walked out of my office, drove home, and collapsed in a sobbing, hysterical heap on my bedroom floor.

The full impact of a Trump presidency hit home for me at that moment. It was the lowest moment I’ve felt since Jackie died. Because that day, November 9th, the day Donald Trump was elected, I experienced another death. The death of civility, of tolerance, of acceptance. Because the President-Elect has made it acceptable to hate.

That moment, crying on the floor, shiva began for me again.

A recent article in Forbes cited a study by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which identified 867 incidents of harassment and intimidation reported in the 10 days following the election. In many of those instances, the harassers invoked Trump’s name.

Notice this study cited reported incidents. I can only imagine how many people were similarly harassed but didn’t file a report.

So this is where we find ourselves as a nation. Four weeks closer to the inauguration of a man who is completely ill-suited to lead anything other than a business empire built on shady real estate deals and poorly made garments fashioned in foreign sweatshops.

And I still grieve.

I grieve for every person who will continue to be harassed over their skin color, for every Muslim who will be vilified for the faith he follows, for every LGBTQ person who might be bullied or beaten, or who will worry that his or her marriage might be nullified, for every American-born child who has to worry about his immigrant parents being deported, for every woman who might have her reproductive rights taken away, or her right to autonomy threatened by men who think rape culture is acceptable.

Shiva lasts for seven days, but I’ll be grieving for some time. Don’t tell me to “get over it.” I won’t. I’m not done yet. Not by a long shot.

Don’t worry, though. I will not let my sadness overwhelm me. There is simply too much that needs to be done now.

Goodness must prevail. Love and kindness must win out over hate.

I leave you these words to ponder, from Irish statesman Edmund Burke.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”


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