SHIFT: An Exercise in Coping with the 2016 Election
Today I decided to try something new on ClassPass (RIP ClassPass Unlimited—to think that just two weeks ago that was the news I was mourning). The class, called “SHIFT,” was at a yoga studio near my house and the tagline was “Invigoration + Catharsis with the volume turned up!” I had started to come out of my post-election hibernation and was in desperate need of some catharsis so I decided to give it a shot.
I am lucky to live in Portland, Oregon—a place where I can take it as a given that the strangers bagging my groceries, sitting next to me on the bus, pouring my coffee, or teaching my yoga class are weighed down by the same heartbreak over the election results. Last Wednesday felt like the entire city was having a funeral—a feeling that has not quite subsided one week later.
So I wasn’t surprised to see the words “love will prevail” etched on a chalkboard in the studio when I walked in, or that the instructor—a pregnant former figure skater—was wearing a shirt with the letters “L-O-V-E” across her chest. But I was surprised to find myself jumping up and down to Lose Yourself from the 8 Mile soundtrack and screaming with each exhale—some kind of exaggerated pranayama—twenty minutes into class. I was also surprised that this turned out to be exactly what I needed.
I was not always a Hillary supporter. There is a “Bernie Sanders is Magical” t-shirt folded in my closet right now, depicting the aforementioned senator riding a unicorn in front of a rainbow. But when the choice came to down to Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, there was no question as to who I would chose. At first, it had nothing to do with the fact that Hillary was a woman, though I hate to admit that now. It was a perk, to be sure, but the bulk of my decision was based on my belief that she was, simply enough, a better option.
But then the Trump tape was released—another piece in a Tetris tower of vulgarities that I was sure had to topple eventually—and the idea of having a female president became not only a bonus, but a necessity. I wanted—needed—a nasty woman for President.
As I’m writing this, I’m aware of my privilege. I am white, well-educated, and live in a city with plenty of other white, well-educated people. I have a studio apartment and a 401K. I buy organic kale. And, as I said earlier, I’m on the ClassPass Unlimited plan. But I am also a woman, and up until last week I refused to believe that my country would elect a man who has said the things he has about women, or people of color, or immigrants, or really anyone—I’m having trouble remembering a time Donald Trump said anything nice about anybody other than himself—as President of the United States.
After I sweated and howled out some of my disbelief and despair that things did not go as planned, I laid down on my yoga mat and listened to the sound of the rain and part of a poem by a woman named Courtney Walsh. The poem went like this:
Dear Human: You’ve got it all wrong. You didn’t come here to master unconditional love. That is where you came from and where you’ll return. You came here to learn personal love. Universal love. Messy love. Sweaty love. Crazy love. Broken love. Whole love. Infused with divinity. Lived through the grace of stumbling. Demonstrated through the beauty of…messing up. Often. You didn’t come here to be perfect. You already are. You came here to be gorgeously human. Flawed and fabulous. And then to rise again into remembering.
On a different day of a different week I might have missed this poem—dismissed it as “woo-woo,” or not literary enough, or any other number of things. But today—one week since the morning I woke up and dropped my ballot off at the election office where a woman asked me to take a picture of her and her baby daughter, perched on her hip on what was supposed to be a historic day—I heard this poem and thought about the minute kindnesses that have carried me all week: the texts exchanged, the doors held open, the thank you’s, the free bus ride, the morning after the election when I was numbly waiting in line for coffee and a friend of a friend tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “How are you holding up?” The fresh box of safety pins waiting by the mailboxes in my apartment building. I thought too about the essays I’ve read by fierce women like Lena Dunham, Cheryl Strayed, Lindy West, and, yes, even Leslie Knope of Pawnee, Indiana. So many of us, flawed and fabulous, shouting in our own ways: on the page, on the streets, on yoga mats to the beat of Eminem— loud enough that our voices carry through walls.