Sunday, November 6, 2016
At the end of this coming week, I will turn 68. Whether I celebrate this occasion or not depends on what happens in three more days.
My birthday has always come four days after an election but I have never felt as though that would blot out my happiness at entering a new year. This year is different. This year threatens to darken many of the ones that follow it and I have been sickened by this for months.
For me my 67th year has been one of mixed blessings. There have been too many deaths, but on the other hand I received the friendship of three girls, two small and one almost grown, who make me feel hopeful about the state of the world to come. For more than a quarter of 2016 I went through my days without smiling, but during that time I was sustained by my children, my friends, and a cousin whom I hadn't laid eyes on for half a century. Later that same cousin and I ate ice cream and rode a carousel together in Manhattan, the city where we both were born months apart. Her renewed presence in my life has been a gift and an unexpected one, which is always the best kind of present.
I discovered the excitement of traveling in my own country this year and that was another joyful surprise. New York and Los Angeles are as much fun to explore as Bangkok and Beijing. We have not yet become a homogeneous country and for that we can thank immigrants. Please give us more. They, like my grandparents and great-grandparents in the past century, bring texture and vibrancy to a country that has always been sustained by its new waves of population. Current threats of wall-building nauseate me to the point that I feel waves of vertigo. This is not what the United States does. From an economic standpoint alone, this is madness. And from a cultural standpoint, all anyone needs to do is go to Jackson Heights in Queens or Boyle Heights in Los Angeles and feel buoyed up by the energy and life that comes with new arrivals to our country.
Facebook's annoying little yearly memories were particularly poignant today. Four years ago, I posted exultant cheers at President Obama's swift victory, one that had been by no means assured. On Tuesday night, what will be said? The terror of what might happen is tarnishing the afternoon sun and the glint of light on leaves that are still green and shimmering through the window that I face right now.
By no means will this election be the end of the horror that has come home in the past year. No matter who wins, the repercussions will be difficult. Victory will not be a band-aid no matter who achieves it. We are too divided a country to lapse into any sort of peaceful complacency.
I won't be in the United States for the inaugural ceremonies but I won't stay in the country where I will spend the beginning of next year. One of the other gifts that I received this year is the understanding that I do have roots, and they are found in the eastern corner of the U.S. It's an odd thing to learn as I approach the last quarter of my life (if I'm lucky). But when I make shoofly pie, a dish invented by my Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors who have lived in the Lehigh Valley for three hundred years, when I laugh with a woman whose blood and humor and joy of life are all things that we share in spite of fifty years of distance, when I think of the energy that I get only on the Eastern seaboard, I know this is a true fact of my life.
This is my country and that is my corner of it. And that is a present that may well change my life, once again. Whatever happens on Tuesday may blight my birthday celebrations but it won't send me to Mexico or Cambodia. It may make me and many other people like me bitterly unhappy but it won't make us quit. We are all better than the stereotype and it is time to prove that, win, lose, or draw.