By Julie Rine, Minerva Local Education Association
My doctor called last week, and never before have I been so happy to receive official notification that I have strep throat. After the shocking and brutal election results, I frankly thought I might just feel that sick for the next four years.
The idea of a man with Trump’s lack of government experience and brash and offensive manner of speaking becoming our next President seemed inconceivable to me, and when it became clear that it was going to happen, it impacted me physically. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t think. I hurt, all over. I couldn’t put two words together and the idea of ever being able to write about it seemed impossible.
I did, however, teach. It was certainly not my best teaching performance, but I went to school the next day, and even though I was exhausted and numb, I taught. It would have been easier to stay in bed that day, and for many more after, but I did not want to send the message to my students that when life doesn’t go your way, you bail. I couldn’t address the election with them that first day; it was too soon, too raw. And I was still trying to figure out why my reaction was so strong. I’ve been on the losing end of many elections, but never before had I been this emotional about the loss. It felt a lot like the days immediately after my husband’s death, and that didn’t make sense to me.
I eventually realized that what I am feeling is indeed grief. I am mourning the loss of the idealistic image I had of our country, of what it could have been, what it should have been, and I am reeling from the injustice of it all. In the days following my husband’s death, I was surrounded by people who loved me and supported me wholeheartedly, making the loss not necessarily less painful, but somehow more bearable. Now, I feel as if half the people I know are happy about the very event that has devastated me, and it is a very isolating feeling.
There are stages of grief and I am still fluctuating through most of them, spending a lot of time in anger. The future may be uncertain, but one thing has not changed: If anyone tries to hurt any of my students, the wrath of Rine will rain down, because do you know which students I care about? All of them. The black ones. The Mexican ones. The gay ones. The disabled ones. The Christian ones and the not Christian ones. The young women and the young men. The Hillary supporters and the Trump supporters. Each and every one of them has the same right to a quality education in a safe and welcoming environment in one of America’s great public schools. My friend and former student blogged so eloquently about anger the day after the election, reminding us that Elizabeth Gilbert said anger is okay, that “Anger, we can work with. At least anger (unlike boredom and fear) has fire in it. At least anger is alive with a kind of passion.” I may have been down for a few days, but I am not out, and this teacher and many others like me will stand up for our students in the face of any threat, perceived, promised, or Presidential.
As I am slowing emerging from my post-election funk, I am finding that there is still a richness and beauty to this world. Taking a break from incessantly watching the news since the election has left me more time to read, and I’ve discovered that there are still wonderful books out there, some that allow me a pure and simple escape from reality, and some that force me to confront issues that need confronting. There are still organizations that fight for the rights of the weak or disenfranchised, and I can give my time and money to those groups who need it now more than ever. There is fresh snow on the ground, which not only brings beauty but the hope of a few snow days this winter, the universe’s way of saying to teachers, you deserve a break today. There are peppermint brownie cake pops in the Starbucks pastry case, and what better indulgence is there now that I’m getting my appetite back? There is still laughter in this life; on a museum trip last weekend, I asked my four-year old nephew what he thought a computer from 1980 was, and he responded, “I don’t know, but I bet it’s from the ancient ruins.”
I find the greatest comfort, however, in knowing that there are still more people in this country who backed the candidate who believed in inclusion and diversity and equality than those who backed the candidate who spewed hate and won the election. We may be struggling now, but I believe we will find each other, support each other, and stand next to each other as we keep fighting for the democratic principles we so strongly believe in. We will not give up. We will not leave the work to anyone else. We will not stop protecting and loving America’s children. We will not stop fighting for a strong public school system. Hillary Clinton may now have an unwanted but well-deserved rest, but our work is just beginning.
I am grateful that I feel, gradually, my fight coming back to me. The world felt cloaked in darkness in the days immediately following the election, but the light is beginning to peek through. Grief fades. Light returns. Love persists. The fight continues.