This is political. This started as a blog post about sailing. You might think sailing isn't political. I disagree. I think LIFE is political. It's also a very long post. Some stories are better that way.
Note: We voted by mail before setting sail.
On Tuesday, November 8th, 2016, I thought I was starting to get the hang of this sailboat life. I thought I was even starting to “get” sailing pretty well. I actually thought things were going pretty darn well. We went to bed early on Tuesday night. On the anchor in a harbor in Long Island Sound. We wanted to get up early and get sailing early, to make more progress southwestward in the next day’s predicted very light winds from the West. On the phone that evening my son asked, “Where are you guys going to watch the election results?” He must have wondered what strange apolitical person was impersonating his historically election-night manic Mom when I told him we weren’t going to watch them at all, that we were going to go to bed early. I gave him permission to text me the results, said I’d turn my phone to “do not disturb” while sleeping and see his text in the morning.
On Wednesday morning (November 9th, 2016 - in case it’s not etched in your consciousness like 9/11) Adam and I awakened not quite as early as we’d hoped to do. Before we got out of bed he reached for his iPad and I asked, “Who is going to be President?” His reply made me think he was joking. I said something like, “Are you kidding?” I grabbed his iPad and looked. I still couldn’t believe it. I had to check the source. Was he looking at Borowitz? The Onion? It was CBS news. That’s when the ohmygod’s started. I must have said, “oh my god” about oh, I don’t know, 20 to 50 times. Somewhere during my ohmygod mantra Adam slipped in the news that the Republicans had won the Senate and the House as well. The ohmygod’s intensified. Then we read my son’s text on my phone, “It’s Trump. I’m scared for everyone.” My reply to him, later that day, “Me too, sweetie. Me too. Now we have to be extra loving and kind. We have to help each other.”
Part of readying ourselves and the boat for sailing is turning on the VHF radio. We listen to Channel 16, the “hailing” channel. It’s the channel to use if you need to call the Coast Guard or a Sea Tow or to hail another boat that is nearby. You call them and then go to another channel to say what you need, keeping the hailing channel free for anyone who might need it in an emergency. On the day after 25.6 percent of eligible U.S. voters said that they wanted Donald Trump to become our next President, some yahoo was using the hailing channel to crow about how happy he was about the election results. Adam asked me to promise him something. “What?” I replied. “Promise me you won’t get on the radio today.” He didn’t need to worry. I had no desire to tangle with any Trump supporters. I was as sad for them as for anyone else.
It was a grey day and very cold. The wind direction was super challenging; coming from pretty much exactly where we didn't need it to come from. And hardly enough wind to sail at all. I snapped at Adam several times. He was steady and patient, as he is almost all of the time. He wanted me to acknowledge that I was upset about the election results, not about the things I was snapping about. He may have been right since I can’t remember what those things were, just a few days later. That night, once we’d anchored, I sat down and cried.
The next morning (Thursday, November 10th) I cried some more. I dragged my feet about getting ready to sail. Adam wanted to know what was wrong. I felt homesick. I felt tired, heavy. I wanted to be in the place where I felt safest, surrounded by lovely and loving people. I wanted to go drink chai at Dandelion Market with my friend who had so graciously accepted the results of her failed bid to be Mayor, offering free chai to the whole community, even her opponent. I wanted to hug my sister, my mom, my niece, my nephews, my son, my granddaughter, so many of my friends who were hurting. I didn’t want to do something hard, something new. I didn’t want to sail. I didn’t want to be cold. I didn’t want to be isolated from people. I reminded Adam that I hadn’t set foot on land since Monday night and that I need vigorous cardio exercise to be my best self. I knew I needed some exercise. I was not the best sailing companion on Thursday.
But sail we did. We sailed our hearts out. But it wasn’t enough to get from the anchorage in New Haven, Connecticut’s harbor across Long Island Sound to Port Jefferson before dark. We had to motor too. We motorsailed a good bit of the way. Motorsailing is when you are using the combined efforts of the engine and sails. At 1800 RPMs our boat burns about 1 gallon of diesel per hour and in Thursday’s wind conditions we could go about twice as fast with the engine as using the sails alone. Whenever the engine is on, I am calculating how much fossil fuel we are burning. We want to use as little fuel as possible. The point of having a sailboat after all, is to sail. We try to only use the engine when going into or out of narrow channels. We haven’t had to fill our diesel tanks since we bought the boat, but we’d rather have full tanks than empty ones, for safety’s sake. Toward the end of Thursday afternoon, Adam started calling around, asking if various fuel docks in the area were open. None in Port Jefferson were, so we changed course to a fishing marina just 2 and a half miles east.
We arrived at the fuel dock in the most beautiful little harbor near Brookhaven, NY around 3 pm (15:00 for my public safety, aviation, and military friends). Knowing that sunset was less than an hour and a half away, we decided to pay the $100 to stay at the dock overnight. Plus, Adam acknowledged how much I need those long walks punctuated by running intervals on the beach in order to be a more resilient person. We filled the fuel tanks, paid the fuel and docking bill, grabbed our sneakers and the camera and headed for the beach, getting there right at sunset. It was a stunningly beautiful sunset. I ran some intervals, feeling really warm, warm in my bones, for the first time since my last beach run on Monday evening. I picked up some trash while wearing my invisible super hero cape. I’m the kind of super hero that saves baby sea turtles’ lives by keeping plastic trash out of the ocean. I was feeling really quite good and alive. I made a goofy sea bird video for my six year old nephew and my granddaughter. I was smiling and laughing and just breathing in the beauty.
Adam decided to make my evening even better by finding a restaurant that we could walk to. 1.5 miles away was an Italian restaurant called, Sevino’s Hideaway. We started walking from the beach near the marina to the restaurant around 5 pm. The road skirted a marshy part of the little harbor. There was this gorgeous giant marsh grass, taller than Adam, silhouetted against the sunset with the water behind it. It was a narrow road in an upscale neighborhood with houses facing the water (one of them was for sale: $1.5 million according to the real estate app). Expensive cars were going by every few minutes, pretty fast. It wasn’t a particularly pedestrian friendly street. OK, it was a very unpleasant street to walk along. Not much room to step off the road. But we were managing, stepping off the road whenever cars approached. As I paused to take a photo of the marsh grass, the sunset, and some swans, a car went by and one of the male occupants yelled out, “Fuck you.” I was jarred. I asked Adam, “Were we too close to the road? Did they have to leave their lane to go around us?” “No,” he said, “it was probably just teenagers being assholes.” Earlier, I’d read that exit polls had shown that it was a myth that low income white people were Trump’s biggest group of supporters. It was actually high income white people who had supported him most. Suddenly, this neighborhood seemed ugly and scary.
We arrived at the restaurant. All of the cars in the parking lot were expensive and gleaming. We were in our grungy sailing clothes. I had gotten too warm while walking with my fleece hoody on and was actually wearing the smart wool long underwear top that I had slept in the night before. We were not dressed for dinner, to say the least. I was self-conscious, sure everyone was judging us. But the restaurant staff were professional and welcoming. I wanted to sit in the bar because it was so lively and bright. Our bartender / waiter turned out to be the owner. He had left his Manhattan life to come back to Brookhaven to “rescue” the restaurant from the people who had bought it from his Dad. It had been his Dad’s “baby” and he didn’t want it to close. We really enjoyed chatting with him. When he found out about our adventure, he asked, “How do you keep from killing each other?” Ha! An occasional evening off of the boat is surely the answer.
Walking back to the marina, in the dark, with expensive cars whizzing by now and then, tired, but mostly pretty happy, we saw a “Hillary for Prison” sticker on the back of a stop sign. When presented with a walking path we opted to get away from the road, hoping not to be run down by privileged teens in their fancy cars. After not too long, we found our way back to the boat.
Even though we wanted to go straight to bed, we decided to top off the water tanks, plug into the shore power, and take out the trash and recycling. Adam was filling the tanks as I made a couple of trips to the trash and recycling receptacles. As I approached, I heard men talking, perhaps just a little intoxicated. Their dogs raced toward me, barking fiercely. Being a dog person, though a little scared, I kept my voice soothing and said, “Don’t worry puppies, I won’t hurt you.” They called the dogs to them and all was fine. When I came back with a bag of recyclables, again the dogs ran barking fiercely at me. This time no one called them off. But I stayed calm, “It’s okay. I won’t hurt you.” They calmed. The men came over with their beer cans in hand. They asked if I was on “that really big sailboat”. Yep. They wanted to know our ultimate destination. “Maybe Puerto Rico.” They were shocked to hear we had walked to Sevino’s. Apparently a 3 mile roundtrip walk for a beer and a burger is a crazy thing to do around here. They said, “That boat is big enough, you could have your very own restaurant in there. Is it really just the two of you on that boat?” I became wary. I made some jokes and tried to find a way to excuse myself from the conversation. A Mini Cooper arrived in the parking lot. We talked about cars briefly. One of the men said, “You could fit that car on your boat.” Me: “Wouldn’t that be great? Then we wouldn’t have to walk to Sevino’s.” The car driver was the wife of one of the men. I excused myself. “It was nice talking to you guys. Got to get some sleep. We want to sail out early.”
When I got back to the boat, Adam was finishing up with the water tanks, “Who were you laughing with up there?” “The drunk marina owner and his friend,” I whispered. I didn’t want them to think I was rude or to have any reason to resent me. I didn’t want them to feel “rejected”. I was cautious when the men approached me, and a little scared when they asked if it was just the two of us on the boat, and a little more scared when one told me that the other was the marina owner and the marina owner shook his head, irritated at his friend for naming him. Maybe he was just modest. Probably. Were those men dangerous? Maybe not. Probably not. But the election of Donald Trump, a man with little regard for a woman’s consent, has put me in mind of all those times that men didn’t care what I wanted, only what they wanted. That night, two nights after the election, was the first night since we moved onto the boat, that I wanted to lock the companionway hatch when we went to sleep.
In my lifetime I have awakened to a man sitting on my bedside, petting my hair, drunk, uninvited. It was the man who lived across the street, whose children I had babysat. One of my roommates had left the front door unlocked. It hadn’t ever been a problem before. We lived in a “safe” neighborhood. I haven’t thought of that for many years. Listening to Donald Trump’s words during the campaign brought up a lot of unpleasant memories. Knowing that a lot of people voted for him, despite his ugly words, has me looking at my fellow humans more warily.
Words, Dawn. They are just words. This is what someone on facebook said to me. Let’s consider. Do words matter? What does it mean to say that someone is as good as their word? What does it mean to keep your word? Or to walk your talk?
A dear friend and former teacher of mine, Jack Green, recently wrote about an experiment he has used in the classroom to demonstrate the power of words. Don’t take my word for it, try it. One person, the receiver, holds their arm out to the side, parallel to the floor. The other, the speaker, presses down on their arm. The receiver’s job is to hear the words said by the speaker and then keep the speaker from pushing their arm down. First, the speaker says something sincerely kind, something like, “You know I love you and this is just an experiment,” then presses the receiver’s arm down, all noting how hard or easy it is. Then after a brief rest of the arms, the speaker says something mean, something like, “I hate you. You are stupid and ugly.” (Don’t smile and laugh, be serious about the experiment.) and again tries to push the receiver’s arm down. Did you try the experiment? What were the results? Do you think words can have repercussions in the physical world? I do. I think they matter a lot.
Someone else, who I love and respect a lot, posted that “we will all be ok” even if we are upset right now. I hope very much that we will ALL be OK. But it’s easy to say we’ll all be fine if we are the ones in the nice cars, in the homogenous white neighborhoods, surrounded by people who look just like us, who pray just like us, who are not under attack. What if you were Muslim, of Mexican heritage, or a rape victim seeking an abortion? Would you think you were going to be OK then? A Muslim student was killed in Wisconsin in the days leading up to the election. A middle school child filmed other students in the lunch room chanting, “Build the wall.” on election day. In a high school in Western Colorado, after the election, some students put cinder blocks in front of the door to the music room with a sign that said, “The Wall Starts Here.”
Fear is sometimes an appropriate response to external stimuli and can keep us safe. I have a very healthy fear of high velocity winds and heavy seas when I am on a sailboat. When the winds are too hard and the waves are too high, we don’t sail. This is an appropriate response to fear. All healthy human beings experience fear. It is healthy to fear a person who has said menacing things to you or your peers and has the power to hurt you. It is healthy to fear a person who is driving a car in your general direction and yelling, “Fuck you.” It is healthy to fear unknown dogs that are running at you and barking. It is healthy to fear intoxicated, leering men, when you are alone and far from home. These fears can potentially help you stay safe. How we choose to respond to fear is what matters. I lashed out at Adam on several occasions on Wednesday. Not the right response, admittedly. I apologized and I’m working on processing my feelings in a more productive way. If we don’t acknowledge our fears and anxieties and process them, they can become misdirected.
The thing is, it’s hard to see persecution if you are a member of the privileged group. So what can we do about it, if we aren’t experiencing it, if we aren’t seeing it? We can BELIEVE the stories of the harassed and the persecuted. We can LISTEN and BELIEVE THEM and CARE enough to do something about it. We can LEARN how to confront bullies. We can have discussions about what bullying looks like, what harassment looks like, and how to stand up to it. We can roll play with our loved ones so that we are better prepared to confront hateful behavior when we see it. We can refuse to downplay or excuse the behavior of bullies with words like “boys will be boys”, “just locker room talk”, “just teenagers blowing off steam”. We can refuse to belittle people in our community when they say they are afraid, telling them to buck up. We can instead say, “I’m here for you.” “You can count on me to stand up for you and stand up with you.” If you see someone being harassed or intimidated you can go over and talk to them, ask them “Are you OK?”, “Can I sit with you or walk with you?”
Why would we put ourselves at risk in this way? Well…
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” ~ Martin Niemöller
And what about those who are expressing hateful or hurtful sentiments? They are part of our community, part of our country. How do we deal with them in a loving way, while still having healthy boundaries, while NEVER condoning hate speech or harassment? First, it is OK to set healthy boundaries. You are not attacking anyone by simply saying, I won’t be around people who advocate hurting others or discriminating against others. Be that at Thanksgiving dinner or “in the locker room”. After acknowledging that it is absolutely OK to honor your own boundaries, maybe consider my friend, Jack’s, idea:
"Parent teacher conference……If I was teaching now I would call a parent teacher conference with all the students that are being inappropriate, unkind, and mean. The conference would be under the cottonwood tree, down by the roaring fork river. At this conference we would call him, the teacher, the person offended, and the parents. Under the tree I would ask the student why did you say that ? Why were you mean? And why did you want to hurt to win a point? I would let the student talk and explain himself in front of me, The offended, the group and to himself. They could talk as long as they wished and we would listen to them. We would serve A cup of tea…under the tree,
Until we could see
We would talk into the night and build a fire sit up till the morning light. Let's do that, let's call a parent teacher conference, And bring love back." ~ Jack Green
Jack’s approach could really help someone who is misdirecting some unexamined anxieties and lashing out inappropriately to understand themselves and to find better ways of addressing their own feelings. It’s a form of Restorative Justice. It can only happen in a setting that is safe for all parties involved. Can you think of any ways to heal a wrong or even a wariness between you and someone you interact with regularly, who voted differently than you? It’s a challenging problem.
The outcome of this election is one of those things I can’t change, like the wind speed or the weather.
How I respond to my fellow human beings’ behavior, especially when it causes me unease, is something I can choose, just like I can choose whether to raise the sails or head for safe harbor.
Wisdom and level headedness is desired in both situations. Someday, we might be caught out in an unexpected storm on the sailboat. Then, I’ll need courage. I’ll need to be able to stay calm enough to do the right things to get us safely back to shore. I, like many others, have been blindsided by my fellow voters’ choices. Now we must find the courage and tools to help ourselves and others stay safe in this storm. More than ever before, I am challenged to remember, “There is no them, there is only us.”
If you know some tools and/or skill sets that help people come together and deescalate feelings of resentment, please share them in the comments. If you have stories that need hearing, please share here or add a link or send me an email. If you just need a virtual hug, I’m here for you, just let me know.
Wherever you are, whoever you are, whatever your skin color, whatever your gender, whatever your sexual orientation, whatever your religion or lack thereof, whoever you voted for or even if you didn’t… May you be well. May you be happy. May you be free from suffering. I wish you deep joy, deep love, and deep peace. (Those who experience these things have very little room left for hate.)
~ dawn on a sailboat, Friday, November 11th, 2016