What I’ll Say When I Stop Crying

trees-in-yellow-wood

Today was hard. I’m still working on articulating my grief, which is complicated as well as painfully simple, but in the meantime, I tried to articulate my sadness to my students, many of whom are black, Hispanic, immigrant, and Asian. Statistically, some of them may also know, or someday realize, that they are a sexual minority. For these students, it did not take them long to realize they did not quite fit in at our campus, which means today quickly became extra difficult for them.

So , I give you two things. The first is the email I sent my freshmen classes tonight. I extend this message to any reader and friend feeling isolated or hurt.

 

Dear Students,

As some of you might have gathered, today was a difficult day for me, not because “my” candidate lost, but because of what President-elect Trump came to stand for and endorse over the last 15 months. I hope his presidency will be a different story, but right now, I am very troubled by vitriol from this election, as well as the lack of civility that now exists between me and people that I love. I’m working through that now, but it all came to a head this morning during our class. I’m sorry I was not very present for many of you today. For those of you who saw me ugly-crying at the end of class, thank you for your hugs and kind words. It meant a great deal.

After class, I met with a student of color who was terrified by this election. We had a long, sad conversation about fear and faith. The hardest part was when she looked at me and asked, “Do minority lives matter?”

I want you all to know that the fact she had to ask me that question made me cry a lot harder, and the answer is yes, a thousand times over. If you are someone considered a minority at this university because of your race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, I want you to know that your life matters. You are a child of God and you are loved, and I am on your team. Please tell me what you need. If you do not fall into that “other” category above–if you have always known that your life matters– know this: your life also matters to me. You are a child of God, and you are loved, and I am on your team too. You also have a responsibility to your classmates who are suffering today. Please be kind to them. Please speak out if you see or hear of injustice. Please listen if they tell you why they are struggling right now; this week is not the time for platitudes or cliches. Listening and praying will go much further than anything else.

This Friday, we are going to have a discussion of the election and how to move forward in a way that respects the most vulnerable people in our community. This will not be a time of argument, but a time of careful listening and lamenting that an election can hurt so many people so much.  I hope by then I am done crying so that I can talk coherently. But I wanted you all to know my thoughts tonight, and know that I want to be a safe person for you. That honor has to be earned, and not just given, but I hope this email can be a way to begin earning your trust.

Thank you all for being in my class. Much love and peace to you tonight. 

***

Secondly. Today in my Creative Nonfiction Class we talked about where to go from here. Part of that journey will involve  reading more poetry, for, as JFK says, “Power corrupts. Poetry cleanses.” The poem I selected, which I could not manage to read but my Canadian student read beautifully for us, is Langston Hughes’s “I,  Too, Sing America.” For whoever needs this–here. Laugh, eat well, grow strong.

I, Too, Sing America

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,"
Then.

Besides, 
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.
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