Post-Election Letter to My Daughter

Dear Elena:

So at 5:30 today you and husband Matt will go look at a handyman’s special. “Maybe we’ll spend four years fixing it up,” you said, “and pretend we’re in Canada.” Pretend is about all we can do. Moving to another country is easy until you plan it.

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You and Killian help your mother and me know what matters.

I wouldn’t go, even if I could. You and the boys are here. Matt and brother Micah are here. We’re in Erie, Pennsylvania, in a county, state, and nation that favored Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. Still, I’d rather be across town from you in a land that is sick unto death than away from you in Shangri-La.

I live on our Sunday family dinners. Your mother said she missed her boys as we were driving to North Carolina a week ago today, not a hundred miles out of town. And I love when you send me a message asking, “You want to have lunch?” like you did on Wednesday.

Of course, on November 9th we all needed to connect with loved ones. The America we thought we knew had died.

“Donald Trump?” we said to ourselves. “Donald Trump! He’s going to be our President?”

So over goulash and corn bread we sat together and beheld the unbelievable. The flute music I had playing helped us breathe, didn’t it? One thing I forgot to tell you was what your mother said early in the morning, when Trump’s victory was assured: “This is the worst night of my life.”

Before the results were official, she curled up, pulled the blanket up to her chin, and floated away. It was after 4:00 when I drifted into a surreal, twitching sleep.

America has survived divided and disorienting times before, but Trump’s victory has left some of us who opposed him barely able to function. A friend of mine said yesterday, “I can’t stop crying.” What’s this about?

Simply put, we’re genuinely terrified of the President-elect of the United States and mortified that our fellow citizens voted him into office. That’s the nub, right? During the endless campaign, we heard the wrath that Donald Trump promised, learned of his ruthless business practices, eavesdropped on his predatory confessions and watched him ridicule anybody and everybody with glee. Now we wonder what he’ll do, emboldened by the power of the Oval Office.

Even if Trump ends up being a decent President, Clinton supporters are gut shot. We’ve gazed into millions of American souls. The rage and darkness are far worse than we imagined. Voting machines are hardly put away, but social media are already buzzing with stories of Trump supporters and sympathizers embracing their champion’s menacing bigotry as a mission. Sure, hatred is as old as Cain, but now the ugliness American folks kept inside is going public. Why? Because elections give mandates far beyond party platforms.

When you showed up for lunch, you were numb, dazed with wondering not only how President Donald J. Trump would impact us all today, but grieving at the prospect of explaining to Cole and Killian in due time that the leader of the free world is nasty and can’t control his own behavior. Your face was slack with betrayal.

I told you that I had spent the morning praying and had some ideas, and you said, “Yeah, please, give me something.”

But then we boiled noodles and warmed corn bread and never got beyond stunned lamentation. So a couple days later, I’m sharing what little I have.

My morning of silence and reflection on November 9th sent me back to the basics. That’s the only thing I know to do when troubles come and disappointment as an anvil on the chest. What do I have control over? What must I let go of? What’s most important? What doesn’t matter?

You might remember that in the middle of lunch I put my spoon down, walked over to Cole, and kissed him on top of the head. Then I said, “You could use a kiss, too,” and gave you one of your own.

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Cole and I will look at the world together, Len, and I’ll try to teach him compassion.

Those ten seconds were my most basic of basics. I can control the love that I give my family and friends. A peck on the head is my way of saying, “I’m with you. You’re dear to me. Whatever we face, we face together.”

Watching Cole dip soda crackers in his goulash, I thought, “I can make a safe, gentle, affirming home for my family.” With your mother, I have control over this house, and it will be a place of love.

So I put my lips on his head and kissed all the goodness I could summon through those red curls and into his head and heart.

Amazing what bending close to our boys’ fresh faces and breathing in can do to give us bravery and clarity, right Elena? Our family—and neighbors of good will, sound mind and compassionate heart!—have something elected leaders can neither give nor take away: a spirit that seeks to unify rather than divide, build up rather than tear down, sacrifice rather than steal, heal rather than destroy, understand rather than ridicule, praise rather than blame, and speak truth rather than rejoice in falsehood.

Anyone entering the little Coleman house should experience this largesse of soul—and by house I also mean, presence. We live on grace and mercy, Len, and now more than ever, we can’t let ourselves forget it. May God’s agape shine in all that we say and do.

Like you, I’m angry and wounded at the moment. We’re still in a fog of dismay with zero visibility. All of our tomorrows have to be renegotiated in light of the faith that guides us.

A few of my personal beliefs give a sharp edge to the love of God as I receive it.

  • Evil resides in this world, and love demands that we stand up to it. Although we try to do so without demeaning others, the truth generally causes pain to somebody.
  • We might be tempted to comfort each other by saying, “This is all part of God’s plan” or “Everything happens for a reason [of God’s design].” As a Christian, I find that laying unfortunate circumstances in God’s lap results in letting human beings off the hook. No deal.
  • Some will say, “We’re a nation under [God’s] judgment.” Actually, that’s another way of suggesting that humans aren’t the agents of the consequences of our own actions. As judges, we do an excellent job of sentencing ourselves. Why blame God?
  • Still others will remind us that God is always in charge. I couldn’t agree more, as long as we don’t expect God to pull our American chestnuts out of the current fire.
  • Parents wonder, “How will I explain a President Trump to my children?” I propose as much of the truth as possible, told preferably cuddled together under an afghan in a loving home. Chances are, Cole will start school during the first Trump administration, when calling people fat pigs and making up cruel nicknames may be the norm. I imagine parenting will consist of finding wisdom along the way and doing your best. Just know this, your mother and I will be with you, supporting you and Matt and giving our boys the extra measure of strength they’ll need to walk our family’s kind and loving path.
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The basics sometimes begin with chocolate.

Heck, maybe we’re worrying too much—shoveling smoke, as a friend of mine used to say. But I doubt it. We’re probably in for a rough ride.

Millions have endured trying times before us. Even now, our situation could be far worse and still enviable to much of the planet.

So what should we do? Begin with the basics. For Micah, that included buying his mother chocolate and attaching an encouraging note. At the moment, I’ll start by saying, “I love you, kiddo. We’ll take good care of each other and love the world as best we can.”

Love,

Dad

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18 thoughts on “Post-Election Letter to My Daughter

    • Peace and strength to you, too, Michelle. I’ve got some catching up to do in the reading department and look forward to seeing what you’ve got to say. “Tough” is right, sister. John

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  1. Thanks you John. I’m very raw right now along with sick and fearful for my children and grandchildren in this developing climate of hate. Your words help.

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  2. I thank you and Elena for sharing this with us. My own friend Dudley is a basket case over this; I hope I can resist letting him rant openly about the election fiasco. It would be like people protesting an election they took part in and can’t change now, anyway.

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  3. Well said John, as I look for encouraging words for my own daughter. All I could come up with in the early morning of Wednesday was the “The election is over, the orange blob won (her words not mine, although I tend to agree) and I love you, it will be alright. Maybe you should take the day for mental health, I love you!”
    All I wanted to do is throw a big blanket over her an protect her from all the sadness and hate she fears is coming, I have faith that you are right the love and compassion has to start at home, Maybe I should have been at the ready with the chocolate as well.
    As always love and peace to you all,
    Carrie

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    • Peace and love back at you, Carrie. The one thing I’ve noticed in myself in these days after the election is the power of love–cue in Huey Lewis! Seriously though, praying in the spirit of love has helped me orient myself toward loving engagement rather than heated arguments. Hugs to you and that daughter o yours! John

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  4. John, you called it. You said you believed he would win, and I didn’t want to believe it could happen. My husband is a basket case. I, who am not a crier, wept and wept. Friends, family members (even little Ben), and former students are devastated. I have a current student who is transitioning from female to male and hasn’t been back at school since the election. Thank you for your post and your encouraging words to Elena. All we can do is what we do in our own spheres of influence. It’s hard to be hopeful, but I sign off as always with, Cheers! Deb

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    • Yeah, Deb, we sure do have a world of hurt going, don’t we. (I would have paid good money, by the way, to have been wrong about that election. Crap!) And now I guess we have our work cut out for us: trying to engage lovingly with people we (or I at least) would like to punch in the throat. In the last few day as I tried to pray with a loving spirit it occurred to me that sometimes love can change minds when facts and confrontation can’t. And, dagnabbit, never give up your “cheers.” Peace, John

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  5. So glad that Heather directed me to your blog. I am still angry at those who voted for him. They have directed the moral compass of our country further downward into the abyss of hatred and intolerance. My heart breaks on a daily basis with the realization that I have no power to change anything. I am trying desperately to rid my heart of the anger. I know ultimately that this anger is only hurting my chances to be at peace. Thank you for reminding me that there are people still around that believe in compassion and kindness.

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    • Hi, Liz. Thanks a million for reading. Yeah, sadly my angry side wants to, in the words of my son, “punch people in the throat.” But, of course, where will that get us? I’ll send good thoughts your way for healing and sanity and trust you’ll send the same my way. If you’re ever up for reading that’s a little brighter, stop by my other blog, A Napper’s Companion, which is Dr. Jekyll to this blog’s Mr. Hyde. Merry Christmas! John

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