What with the election and the death of Leonard Cohen, I can’t get this tune out of my head. Other people will respond to it differently, but to me this hallelujah is a plaintive wail, a cry for guidance. That’s how I hear it, anyway–especially the way kd lang performs it, as she did in San Francisco not too long ago. I was lucky to be there to hear her at an event for Hillary. This song, her rendition on that night, was unforgettable and spine-tingling. Cohen’s song has been performed thousands or maybe even millions of times, but lang turns it into a sermon, a plea, a prayer–a religious experience no matter what religion you cling to.
I’m writing this on my 65th birthday, an occasion I’ve been sort of dreading because sixty-five, social security, Medicare, aches and pains and the thought that this means crossing over to a new “check the box” age range. I know, considering the alternative and all that. . . something I’m acutely aware of as I still reel from my sister’s death at age 66 last year. Much too young. Does that mean I am still too young also? And for what? To make some positive changes in this upside-down world that has me reeling as well? Deep down, I don’t believe that my time to take action has passed. It’s just that today I’m feeling helpless and bereft.
Millions of women (and men) are planning to march the day after the inauguration. I may join them. “Not my President,” they are saying. Just as too many people maintained, shamefully, for eight years after Obama was elected. It was decidedly wrong then, and it’s wrong now. Sadly, he will be my president, and I have to figure out a way to deal with that. Right now, I’m looking at ways to contribute to organizations that will hold his feet to the fire, making sure that he makes good on the oath he will take to “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States.” The oath “to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”–not just the parts he agrees with. All of it. And unless something really unprecedented happens between now and January 20, I will join the ranks of the disbelieving when he puts his hand on a bible and takes that oath.
Many, many people have been expressing themselves with music, poetry, long essays and rants of all sorts. Most alarming are the recent reports of violence against women, the swastikas spray-painted on buildings, confederate flag waving, racial epithets screamed at school children and adults of all ethnicities, chants of “build that wall,” and “go back where you came from.” Every day a new set of offenses, the result of a fired-up and fed-up group of Americans who now assume that all bets are off and they are released from civil behavior towards the “other’: immigrants, Muslims, the LGBT community, people of color, Jews, and American citizens who choose to speak in languages other than English in public places. People say, when confronted with these events, “this is not who we are.” But yes it is.
It’s always been that way. Each new wave of immigrants started on the bottom and didn’t necessarily lend a hand up to the wave that came behind them. There have always been haters and cheaters, those who never “give a sucker an even break,” and those who mistrust and vilify the “other.” If we’re being honest, we have to acknowledge these things about our country. I want to believe most Americans are better than this. I do. But there is way too much evidence to the contrary, especially now that so many are emboldened by one man who has been elected to the highest office in the land.
The first sight of America my grandparents saw, the Statue of Liberty, welcomed them with,”Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
America, I can’t breathe.
Some folks are now wearing safety pins, as many people started to do after the Brexit vote. It’s supposed to represent support and a willingness to step in to prevent bullying, harassment, or harm intended for those who find themselves vulnerable to the hate crimes we have tolerated for far too long. I’ll wear the safety pin, and I hope I’ll have the courage to step in if I see something happening, like the kinds of things people all over the country now think it’s OK to do, with the tacit approval of the President-elect. I’ll wear the safety pin, but will not attach a yellow star.
Could it happen here? Could it? As he said himself, when confronted about his plan to require all Muslims to “register”: You tell me.