I didn’t think I was one of those people who was overly confident about Hillary Clinton’s likelihood of winning the presidential election. I suffered through most of this election season haunted by visions of what a Trump-led America would look like, even as I fantasized about one day telling my children what it felt like to vote for the first female president. On Election Day, my stomach churned with nauseating nervousness.
But on Election night, as it became more and more clear that Donald Trump would become our next president, I found myself unable to let go. Long after the watch party I attended had gone quiet, long after my boss and her husband slipped away, and the party ended, and my crying roommates went to bed, I held on. I waited desperately for the turn — the comeback — that would give Hillary the 270 electoral votes she needed.
In the final desperate moments of my waiting, a stark image flashed before my mind’s eye. Me, in a hospital room, gripping tightly to the hand of someone I loved, someone who was already gone but whom I still just could not let go.
That image came from a lecture given by Dr. Soong-Chan Rah last month at an anti-racism conference I attended in North Carolina. He told the crowd that far too often, white Christians respond to American white supremacy and the other evils of injustice as if we are still in a hospital room, rather than recognizing that we are at a funeral. In a hospital room, no matter how dire things are, the ultimate focus is still on hope of recovery. At a funeral, the focus is on grief and lament and loss.
The problem with the hospital room, Dr. Rah went on, is that we fail to see the body in the room. And there are bodies in the room of America — mostly black and brown bodies, queer bodies, trans bodies, and female bodies.
I was convicted by this analogy, because I know that I have never been good with death. It terrifies me so much that I avoid anything and anywhere that draws near to it — including hospital rooms, actually.
But I have been thinking about death a lot since Tuesday night. Not simply because the hope for Clinton’s presidency has died, nor even because whatever faith I had in a more just America was so utterly decimated. I have been thinking about death because the risk of it — for people I love, and even for myself — seems closer at hand and more real than it ever has before for me. I realize that such a statement reeks of privilege, but it also testifies to the dangerous reality of violence and bigotry that I fear a Trump presidency may incite.
I worry for my friends who are black and Latino, or trans, or immigrant, or in need of healthcare, or even, to some extent, queer like me. I worry about all of us, as our new president negotiates partnerships with Russia and earns the global ire of world leaders. I worry about this earth as I see a leading climate skeptic named to head the EPA transition, and I wonder if, by the time we can correct whatever damage is done in the next four years, it will be too late.
It may sound ridiculous, but my fears extend beyond a concern for policy and politics. I fear for lives.
And as I have been wrestling with and coming to terms with that fear, I’ve also realized how much my fear of death and loss has limited my willingness to fight for justice. I have often wondered, and doubted, whether I had it in me to lay down my life for another if needed. And I have told myself that I will probably never have to find out. But that acquiescence to fear has engendered a larger unwillingness to risk anything that really terrifies me. And I am confronting the reality that our rapidly approaching future under Trump is in some part the result of cowardice like mine.
I have decided that neither I nor my friends nor this country can afford my fear for a moment longer. And so I am coming to terms. I am walking through the world differently now — knowing that from here on out I will risk what I have to in order to protect those people who are being threatened and abused by this world. Repenting of the years of my life I’ve spent too afraid to do all that my faith demanded of me. I am sorry, I am sorry, I am sorry.
I will not, for a moment longer, tremble or waver in my work for justice in order to preserve my comfort, the comfort of oppressors, my job security, other people’s good opinion of me, or even my life.
Trump has painted a picture of America where walls loom, refugees are banished without a merciful glance, families are torn apart, people of color are killed more frequently and with even less consequence, and the suffering are left to suffer all alone. I find myself praying for a presidency that is only bad rather than catastrophic. And I find myself resolved with a new certainty to never let the vision Trump has painted come true. Over my dead body.