November 8th The Election Unfolds
As the night wears on, it’s becoming clear that Hillary Clinton has lost and Donald Trump has done the seemingly impossible. I’m remembering the darkest days of the AIDS epidemic and how we responded then, when all seemed lost. We’ve been through dark nights of the soul before and experienced painful realities that shattered our illusions. We’ve all lost and know what it feels like to be afraid and disappointed and angry. We also know what it’s like to take deep breaths, to comfort each other, to get some rest and wake up in the morning knowing we will find ways to move forward. “We could never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world.” Helen Keller
November 9, Day 1. The Morning After
We wake up in grief and fear and anger. Something has died. What do we do when we are in deep grief? Here's what I have learned:
1. Keep breathing . . . and as deeply as possible. (Really, we have a tendency to stop breathing or breathing very shallowly when something terrible happens. Take as many deep breaths as you can; it will help.)
2. Seek comfort in those around you. Whether it's live or phone or e-mail or prayers; be in communication with your people, the living and the dead.
3. Remember that you are not alone. There are millions of people who feel the way you do right now. There is strength and solace in that knowledge.
4. Move slowly. There is enough time and space to have the emotions you are having right now. They will be replaced by others and then return again. Grief is a process and it needs time.
November 10, Day 2. To-do List.
1. It hasn’t even been 48 hours. Okay to be angry and at a loss.
2. Keep television off.
3. Stop trying to find out which friends and family voted for him.
4. Eat more.
5. Find some tips for dealing with low-grade nausea.
6. Sleep more.
7. Remember that resentment is a poisonous tea I think I’m brewing for someone else
November 13, Day 5. Still Alive.
Experience is what we get when we don't get what we want.
November 15, Day 7. Responding To Hate.
I met a young gay man on the AIDS Unit at San Francisco General when I worked there as a counselor in the 1980s. He‘d just been diagnosed with KS lesions in his lungs and was told he had a short time to live. The medical team contacted his parents, who lived far away, and they came immediately. During a five-minute meeting with the doctor they found out their son was dying and also that he was gay.
When I met the father afterwards he told me it was harder for him to find out his son was a fag than to hear that he would be dead soon. It took almost three weeks for their son to die; every day his parents watched as the nurses (primarily lesbians and gay men, some with AIDS themselves) continued to care for him, clean him, and lessen his pain as much as possible.
I was there the morning he died. When the father stepped out of the room and saw me, he hugged me and cried and cried and cried. He was as tall as me and his grief was so vast; I remember thinking we were both going to fall down; he kept saying, “My boy is gone.”
The next day the parents returned to the hospital to say good-bye. They thanked everyone for their love and care of their son. The mom took me aside and said she was going to miss me; she said, smiling, that she and her husband had talked and wished they could adopt me and bring me home with them. I kept in touch with them for a while; they started a support group for Parents With AIDS in their community.
November 16, Day 8. White Water.
He will never be my president!
We have to give him a chance!
I can’t tolerate racists and homophobes!
We have to engage with them!
It’s the end of the world!
It’s the beginning of the next chapter!
I can’t bear to see his face or hear his voice!
We have to listen and pay attention more than ever!
I’m moving to Canada!
We need you here more than ever!
I was once in a raft that flipped over in a dangerous section of the Merced River outside Yosemite National Park in California. There were eight of us, all HIV/AIDS service providers. When the raft tipped over, several were able to cling to rocks until they were saved; others were helped into nearby rafts; some had safety lines tossed to them and were pulled to shore. I couldn’t get to a rock or into another raft and the safety lines couldn’t reach me; I was on my way into Quarter Mile Rapid with only a paddle. I was freezing, panicked and afraid, but I remembered what our guide had told us earlier: If you get tossed out, go with the current, your feet downstream, and use your paddle to steer. Keep your head above the white water and don’t struggle against the river; you will exhaust yourself and not be ready to swim ashore when the current slows down.