On Election Night, Diana and Luke walked into the TV room wearing nothing but towels, hair dripping, eyelashes glistening.
“Duval county just went to Biden,” the ABC News analyst said as he touched an interactive map of Florida, and with a tap of his index finger, showed running tallies and count percentages and past winners. “What’s really interesting is that Miami-Dade county,” he said, “which has always voted Democrat, is leaning toward Trump.”
Like my children, I felt pinned to my seat by the blinking cartoon images of the two candidates, lined up as if they were opponents in a boxing match. The sizzling infographics in red, blue and white, the ominous yet upbeat transition music played by synthesized violins.
I had been tense the whole day, rushing around as if spinning would blow out some of the fire inside. All around D.C., restaurants, shops, and banks had boarded up in preparation for civil unrest. In case there was looting, Walmart stores across the country had taken down their displays of guns and ammunition. And even though everyone said the avalanche of mailed-in pandemic-era ballots would slow down the process, we were hoping for resolution.
“Live from New York, it’s George Stephanopoulos!” a disembodied voice kept saying at the end of each commercial break. Maybe it’s late-stage capitalism or the way we’ve always compared our country to the Roman Empire, but the pundits looked like mythical gods sitting 6 feet apart in their sparkling white rotunda. And yet the show was being broadcast from a black glass building in grimy Times Square, and the spectacle was taking place in polling booths and post offices and ballot boxes across the country (but mostly in Arizona, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Nevada).
The kids said to wake them up to tell them who won, but even those who stayed up the latest went to bed without knowing.
The next day, I had lunch with a friend. As if nothing were hanging in the air, cars lined up at red lights, birds criss-crossed the sky, and the sun shone through the french doors onto our table. We laughed about how the president was saying, “We want all voting to stop. We don’t want them to find any ballots at 4 o’clock in the morning.” But I couldn’t admit to my friend that I wouldn’t be devastated if he won again. In fact, there was a part of me that craves what happens when havoc is wreaked.
When we are destabilized, we band together to hold ourselves steady. When we are threatened, we find something in each other we hadn’t noticed before.
Chaos makes me feel alive. It disrupts the staidness that creeps over normal life. It burns off the staleness that inches over once-bright surfaces. It wakes me from the trance I spin, thinking I’m not needed here.
Crisis breaks the ego, and allows the heart to shine through. I’m afraid that winning this fight will make us think that we don’t need each other anymore.
I heard the news when I was in line to pick up my farm share at the Westland Middle School parking lot. It was 11:30 on Saturday morning, and workers were pulling boxes of eggplants and green onions and apples out of a truck when I heard someone cheer. Then a lady told me as she carried a box back to her car, “We have a new president!”
As I drove back home, I could hear cars streaming along Wisconsin Avenue and beeping in a victory song, so I played my horn as I pulled into our driveway. Diana and her friend, who were playing Barbies on the porch, came running down and said, “Biden won!” Virginia met me with a big smile as I opened the car door, held out her arms to hug me and said, “It’s over.”
The summery air on our street became peppered with whoops and calls as the news spread. Neighbors ran out of houses to exclaim and pretend-hug.
92.6% of people in Washington voted for Biden. But half the country was mourning now. When the votes have only slightly tipped to one side, when both sides think the other are crooks, what kind of celebration is this? The man across the street with the same name as my father, who gives us armfuls of figs from their tree every August, yelled something about “stealing the election” and slammed his door.
For this one day, I wanted to forget conflict and remember what it’s like to be exultant. In a time when parties have been few and reasons to celebrate even fewer, I wanted to be part of something big. So I grabbed Diana and her friend and we ran down to Wisconsin Avenue, where all you had to do was wave and people in their cars started calling out and honking and then more cars started honking until the whole avenue was an impromptu party.
It reminded me of the summer of 1990 when Italy won the World Soccer Cup. Cheers and whoops ricocheted out of every kitchen window in Rome where I was staying. People hung out of car windows, doing victory laps on the boulevard along the Tiber River, blowing fog horns and honking and setting off firecrackers.
My friend and her husband were getting into their car when we headed back to the house. “We’re going down to the White House!” she said, and I wanted to jump in the back seat. Back home, Virginia was playing Y.M.C.A. by the Village People really loud, and I bopped and sang along as I blended the cream of cauliflower soup I was making for lunch.
“We should go downtown and see the scene,” I said to Virginia. She smiled and I could tell she wanted to go, already dressed for the sunshine in a cut-off t-shirt and my old bell-bottom Levi’s. Mark, Luke, and Diana wanted to go too, so we shoveled down our soup, and hugged my husband good-bye. Be careful! he called in Italian.
As soon as we emerged from the Farragut North metro station, we could hear music and honking and people cheering. “It sounds like a whole bunch of rhinos stomping!” Diana said about the music booming in the distance. Streets were blocked off and a go-go band was holding a concert on a stage near McPherson Square. People were dancing, mingling, smiling, taking pictures, and walking through the crowds with signs — Bye Don, Love is Power, and Trump is Over. Someone gave Diana a Count Every Vote banner and she carried it like a royal pennant.
When space freed up on a concrete barrier in the middle of Black Lives Matter Plaza, we took turns climbing on top. People were filling in the streets in all four directions as far as you could see. Celebrating as if a dictator had just been ousted. Characters walked by in crazy red, white, and blue costumes, two men stood on a pylon and made out, a woman popped a bottle of champagne and spewed the bubbles everywhere. At the tall black fence surrounding the White House, a guy was being lifted by another to re-tape the most massive of all the protest signs, which said, “You’re Fired.”
That night Virginia and I watched on her laptop balanced on the kitchen counter as Kamala Harris and Joe Biden delivered their victory speeches. “We must restore the soul of America!” Biden called to a crowd of people sitting on top of cars and waving flags in what looked like a futuristic drive-in movie with massive banner-like screens. “Our nation is shaped by the constant battle,” he thundered, “between our better angels and our darkest impulses.”
Soon Trump will not be the face of our nation anymore, and maybe he’ll even get locked up in jail, but something of him will live on. When you’ve won a war, the demon is no longer across enemy lines. It’s inside of you.
The seed of each thing is born inside its opposite. Like yin and yang, we are living inside an eternal cycle of chaos and order, dark and light, confusion and clarity.
“It’s time for our better angels to prevail!” Biden called to the crowd. I wanted to believe him. But I know that in a time of light, there is always the danger of closing one’s heart where the seed of darkness can grow. After the victory has been made, can we be better?
To accept the demons and the angels in myself and others is the way forward. To hold these opposites as part of a holy oneness. To welcome both the terrible times and the peaceful times. To see a drop of myself in the most opposite other. And to know that we need each other to wake up, to grow, to be better.