“I wonder if you understand that all of us, that we’re all citizens of a different town now. A place with its own special rules and its own special laws. A town of people living in the sweet hereafter.” ~ Russell Banks The Sweet hereafter
Doesn’t this election feel like the hereafter of a head-on car crash?
Some of us are bleeding, some of us are in daze, some have lost friends, and some have lost courage while staring blankly into unrepentant eyes of strangers.
After May 16, we all will carry on with our lives. We will go to work and the movies, laugh at parties, argue with strangers, and talk with friends. On the surface, the sweet hereafter will look much like the familiar everything before. But try as hard as we might, we won’t be able to shake the feeling that something has changed inside us. Like we lost something, or someone.
Like there was a death in the family.
It isn’t like bigotry, sexism, pettiness, victimhood, and bullying didn’t exist before these elections. We saw them in the drawn curtains of our neighbors during riots, we saw them in honest unguarded comments by our friends and colleagues, we saw them in the eyes of strangers and acquaintances, but we chose not to acknowledge them. They chose to keep these hidden under the wraps of civility, and we chose to live our lives around these unacknowledged blobs of ugliness. We compromised for the sake of decency, the everyday practicalities and our regard for camaraderie.
Then everybody got swept up in these elections, even those who weren’t interested in making comments or taking sides. We all felt that there was something different about this moment. It wasn't the glitzy campaigns, their dubious claims, the incompetent politicians, the yearning for the new and brave. It wasn't also our harsh realities, our photo-shopped illusions, or our compromised media eager to smother, silence and suspend those with differing opinions.
What these extremely polarizing elections did was all but drag and pull down the curtains of all our concealed hypocrisies. What we hid in our like-minded agreeable huddled whispers, all the snickers and snarky comments, all the clawing prejudices of clenched teeth, all the unacknowledged flaws, all the controlled bile of blame, all the blood oozing from the still-fresh wounds, these elections have forcibly unleashed it all in full public sight.
And we've seen the true faces of each other. No masks of civility. No regard for camaraderie. With all our beliefs and views and unvarnished thoughts, we went to battle. Every day, each day we fought – hurling abuse, blame, accusation, hatred, prejudice. We argued sanely at first, then angrily, and finally with viciousness. Even this taught us something about ourselves. We changed as individuals, as a community as a country.
Now most everybody around us is feeling this smear on their souls. Whatever surface emotion we will feel on May 16, deep down it will feel dirty. More importantly, it feels like we have lost a part of ourselves. Some part that was bright and light and decent. The joyful part that sat in our social media living room watching India win the world cup together, the curious part that listened without interrupting wise minds who brought different point of views to the table, the friendly part that reached out from the farthest corners of the internet and touched hearts, the Indian part that filled us with pride – all that has gone cold. Blank. As though we are mourning the innocence that we have all lost.
We can’t be friends with some anymore, because as it happens we were never friends with them in the truest sense. We all are hurt, merely by each other's true faces. Shocked and disappointed and a little scared. Moreover, we are surprised by our own aggressive individuality, that which was chiseled in these polarizing elections by our true characters.
We can’t un-see the true faces of each other that we have seen. We can’t un-look, un-acknowledge, or deny what is staring us right in our eyes.
We can’t put the spilt milk back in the bottle.
How will we put together our pieces after this crash? How will we glue together these gaping cracks?
Maybe we should let the pieces be for now and like a shaken kaleidoscope yields new patterns of shattered glass, we will find ourselves a new compact. As long as the kaleidoscope doesn't break, we will be okay. We will rearrange ourselves, our friends, our lives, and we will move on.
But we have lost the previous pictures and patterns. From here we can only go forward. As TS Eliot wrote: “So Krishna, as when he admonished Arjuna on the field of battle. Not fare well, but fare forward, voyagers.”
And for those who are willing to reach out to one another, we must remember that our hands alone cannot reach some of the wounds. We will need the very hands that have inflicted these wounds to slap the bandage on.
Be those hands.