The last few weeks have been big, right? Can we all agree that things have been intense? There's a lot to take in, and it's hard to know how to process it. How do we respond? What is our responsibility as citizens, as neighbors and family members, as friends who share some of our collective experience, but who are also singular, individual, and unique in our personal experience? How do we continue to come together and hear one another's concerns and grief, and also share joys and victories, even if they aren't our own? It's tempting to believe things are black and white; that whichever side you fall on is the right one. But the reality is more nuanced. I'm not speaking about the new administration here, but rather, the people. The people we interact with every day.
Let me just say that this is not the post I wanted to write. This post is a compromise. I wanted to share my sewing experience with you before too much time had gone by, but truthfully, political events have captured most of my attention. I have been at times inspired and empowered in the last ten days, but more often than that, I've been anxious and discouraged, often outraged and sad. And those things will come out. I will write about them in time. I will sort them out and make sense of them as I can, but right now, this post about making Nettie's new "big girl pants" and about getting on with things, is my best attempt at sanity and practical encouragement.
I spent much of inauguration day getting ready for something I'd been looking forward to all week. I was excited about it, but also nervous and a little stressed, because I didn't know what to expect. While Net was with Grandma in the morning, I cut out the pattern and pinned it onto the fabric I'd bought. During nap, I packed my sewing bag with scissors and pins, a seam ripper, and the pattern instructions and fabric. I threaded a new bobbin for the sewing machine and changed out the general needle for a ballpoint needle. Everything was ready for the evening's sewing class.
I don't know what I pictured. I think some grown-up version of a 4-H meeting, with like 15 or 20 ladies sitting around long tables eating a "fun, healthy snack" of apple-wedge boats with American cheese slices for the sail. Turned out there were just four of us: Allie, who co-owns the fabric and yarn boutique called Crafthouse, and two other women, also in their early thirties. Everyone was super nice. And no one checked my seam allowances.
Turns out I had a lot in common with the other women. (Yay! We were all so similar!) Two were mothers, one of an 18-month-old and the other of an almost-two-year-old, like Net. All of us were in some stage of past or present entrepreneurship. Kind of odd. Allie owns the shop, another woman co-owns and operates a cheesecake bakery, and the third was in the beginning stages of a dog-training business. (In case you're wondering, I'm counting my Etsy shop as a business, since it DID employ me at almost-minimum wage for two years.) We all had sewing experience, but were new to sewing with knit fabrics, which is what we were using for our pants. All of our sewing machines were older hand-me-downs from female relatives. (Thanks, Aunt Joan!) And we were a pretty quiet bunch. We talked, but quietly, with too many apologies and a good amount of blushing. (Wow, we were all so similar!)
Towards the end, one of them checked her phone and made a little moan over her Facebook feed. "Is everyone's Facebook all full of inauguration stuff?" she asked. I nodded. For sure. She scrolled down a bit, then said "Oh-oh, things are about to get weird!" I shook my head and volunteered "I know, I tried to watch part of the ceremony but then the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang God Bless America or some song like that and it made me cry for all the wrong reasons because it seemed so ironic, so I turned it off and put on the radio but the radio had it on, too, so I cried again and then I had to go pick up Nettie....." I've found the best way to end awkward, difficult-to-understand jumbles of thoughts is just to trail off quietly and then make an apologetic grimace and shrug your shoulders.
The room grew very quiet, more quiet than it had all night. And the way I measure this is that for a few moments we were all very careful not to make eye contact, and I saw the other two women stiffen slightly in their chairs, drawing themselves up straighter. We were all very still. (Oh, no! We were NOT all so similar!) Then Allie jumped up and offered us the last cookie and made over us for having such a smooth class with so few difficulties to sort through. Everything was fine. We all knew, without exactly having spoken it, where the others stood in regards to the great divide that seems to have split the country. But all the same, we were going ahead, asking about each other's kids, exclaiming over cute fabrics in the shop and how well our three little pairs of knit pants had turned out.
I left the shop feeling good, happy to have done something that was difficult, happy to have met new people, to have stretched myself beyond my rigid routine and actually enjoyed it, happy to have found common ground with some women who were trying to be thoughtful about how they lived their lives, even if that translated differently in our politics and faith.
The drive home was slow and exhausting, though, through the thickest fog I've ever been in. And to top it off, when I pulled into the garage at 10:30, a possum greeted my headlights, looked at me baldly for a second, then scurried behind some boxes in the corner. I feel like that ought to be a metaphor for something. Maybe it will come to me. I screwed up my courage and gathered all my bags in my hands, then threw the door open with my foot, and ran straight out, leaving the van and garage door open and the headlights on for Dave to deal with.
Here's the thing. To a lot of us, it feels like a big possum has wandered into the highest office in the land, and now he's crashing around trying to find his way out, and the mess is just getting bigger and bigger and we can't figure out how to get him out either. Others believe the possum is preferable to the weasel, and they're still hopeful the possum will force out the rats. Or the swamp rats, or something. For those of us who aren't as hopeful, we can call our rats in Washington to complain about the mess, and get out and protest and speak truth to - ahem - possum, and that's fine. That's a good thing to do; I'm doing it, too. But we also need to keep talking with those who don't reaffirm our own ideas. I don't want to do it. It makes me nervous and upset and I would SO rather surround myself with a bubble of like-thinking people. But I'm afraid isolation, dichotomies, and partisan politics are what landed us here, and I'm sure that more of the same will not heal what seems to be broken in our country.
So today I'm being honest. You know where I stand, at least generally, unless the possum metaphor was lost on you. And I hope I can continue to be honest with you about what I feel and believe, without being accusatory or condemning or dismissive. One of the best things we can do is engage in dialogue with people, all kinds of people, and really listen to their stories. Our beliefs are born out of our experience, but thankfully, that experience does not always have to be first-hand. It can be co-opted from a grandmother or mother, a friend, an acquaintance, someone we hear speak, or things we read. It's called identification, and it's the most valuable tool in transforming ourselves into caring, compassionate, empathetic individuals. This is not the time to be insular. We all need to be looking to needs and interests and experiences outside ourselves, for the good of everyone in our communities, our country, and the world. We're going to have to keep stretching, keep doing difficult things. We might discover how much we have in common. It might be fun. And if not, well, hitch up your big girl pants, smile, and eat the damn cookie.