There’s this expectation in my family: if we’re going to get together, I have to make the arrangements. For a while, we met once during the summer and again on Christmas Eve, but after I stopped planning the summer gig, it died out. I’m now at the point of stepping down altogether.
Though I’m at odds with my family when it comes to politics, normally it’s not an issue. I’ve never been the sort to reject someone over how they voted or what they believe. In fact, I’m the peacekeeper, the one who counsels the individual family factions, convincing them to let go of their grudges so we can all be together. But this election was like no other in the history of the country, and my issues with it go far beyond political affiliations or agendas. I simply didn’t have the stomach for subjecting myself to small talk about it.
A couple of weeks before Christmas, I finally relented and called the brother who hosts the event. When I confessed that I wanted to skip out this year, he assured me we wouldn’t talk about politics. Then he added that he didn’t think the two of us were quite on the same page about the subject. Now, I know where most of my family votes, but I’d always thought my brother was more moderate than the others. His statement was a little unexpected. I told him I was probably more middle-of-the-road than the family gave me credit for, and he responded with, “I think the country will be more middle-of-the-road under Trump.” While I was still stunned into silence by that statement, he added “I think he’ll pick good people.” Just for clarification, this was after a month of controversial selections that had been raged about on every possible news and social media source.
“I haven’t seen much evidence of that so far,” I said.
My brother laughed. “Like I said, I don’t think we’re on the same page when it comes to politics.”
Shrugging it off, I told him I’d get in touch with the rest of the family and see him on Christmas Eve.
I sent out the email, heard back from no one except a sister who said she probably wouldn’t make it, and went about my business. But I couldn’t stop thinking about my brother. It wasn’t how he’d voted, it was that he seemed so woefully unaware of what had been happening since November 8th. It was his casual attitude, shrugging this off as if it were like any other election—and Trump like any other president. If this was where he was, it stood to reason that a good part of the country was in the same place. And that was a staggering thought. The uproar on both sides of the political spectrum—that seemed like a logical reaction—but this obliviousness was boggling.
As Christmas drew closer, I began to dread our get-together. It’s always stirred up a bunch of crap I don’t want to think about, and for the past couple of years, it hasn’t even been much fun. Despite that, I’ve continued to go because I knew it was expected. But as I was taking my walk on the night of the 23rd, I started to wonder about that. Why was it expected? Other family members had blown it off. Why did I always have to be the one to go the extra mile? Why did I waste so much energy doing the right thing, when so many people didn’t return the favor? What would happen if I just said “screw it”?
When I got home, I shared my thoughts with my husband. He had no trouble with bailing, but for me, it wasn’t an easy decision. I felt like I was violating some sacred ritual, and I was sure I’d catch hell for it. Besides, I’d never let politics get in the way of a relationship. All my adult life, I’ve reached across the lines to maintain friendships in groups that were traditionally at odds with each other. Unlike many, who stick mainly to their little red or blue bubbles, I’ve been able to find common ground with just about everyone. My Facebook friend list is a mishmash of political purple.
So I slept on it. But then, on the morning of Christmas Eve I sent an email to my family. Instead of getting into the ugly truth, I told them I had a cold and didn’t want to share it with them. I expected the emails to start rolling in within hours: people giving me crap for bailing, telling me I had to go, harping on how it was tradition.
I didn’t hear a peep. Not an email, not a phone call, not even a text. Even though this is standard operating procedure for my family, it caught me off guard. I guess the biggest surprise was realizing what an idiot I’d been, forcing myself to organize and attend these events all these years simply because I thought it was required.
I’m still not sure how I feel about my motivations, or how I can justify them. This decision feels like it’s leeched away part of the essence of who I am. Let me explain. The growing divide in this country is a source of deep pain to me. I’ve always wondered why we can’t just get along. And when I saw the episode of The West Wing where the Republican Speaker of the House told the Democratic Press Secretary, “The things that unite us are far greater than the things that divide us,” I stood up and cheered. Peacemaking and mediation are in my blood. So how could I not only violate a thirty-year tradition, but also let politics be the reason? If I can’t resolve this lack of acceptance in my own life, how can I expect people who’ve always been at each others throats to do so?
I don’t have an answer for that question. No, scratch that. I’m convinced there is no answer. The truth is, no matter how much you might want unity, no matter what pains you take to be fair and accepting and to not offend—there are times you have to voice your opinion and stand your ground. There are times when the political situation is about more than just the politics.
I honestly think we’ve reached a point where it’s impossible to bridge the political gulf in this country.
But that’s a topic for another blog post.
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