I woke up on January 21, after nearly three long and devastating post-election months, with a renewed sense of purpose. I brushed my teeth, showered, grabbed my signs, and hit the New York City streets with old friends as if I were about to conquer the world. Because in a small way I thought I was. I was adding my voice and my body to the hundreds of thousands who were coming out from behind their personal echo chambers to produce a loud, yet peaceful, collective scream.
Growing up, I used to think that I was born during the wrong era … that people weren’t vocal enough about the change they wanted to see in the world. Well, here they were, and I was right there alongside them.
We weren’t there to rally behind one man or woman. We weren’t debating the nuances of policy. We were simply creating a presence to say that this is what democracy and humanity and a civilized and inclusive society looks like. We were simply saying that women and children and minorities and immigrants, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, families of all different kinds, men who aren’t afraid to be feminists … we were saying that we have rights and we refuse to have those taken away and disregarded. Yes, it was exhilarating.
But that feeling did not last long. In fact, that feeling quickly subsided when I heard the phrase “alternative facts” uttered on Meet the Press the next morning. I turned to my husband, my mouth agape. “Alternative facts.” That one phrase jolted me back to reality and reminded me, especially as a writer and journalist, that this dystopian nightmare was so much more frightening than any of us could have ever imagined.
And, as the week went on, affront after affront, travesty after travesty continued. Women, refugees, immigrants, the press, the environment, any level-headed person who believes in science and truth and, yes, facts, became targets. And, like many, I felt — and I feel — overwhelmed by the deluge of tyranny imposed by the thin-skinned knee-jerk decrees of an ill-informed megalomaniac who is supposed to lead the free world.
We watched as our borders abruptly closed to those seeking refuge — and our hearts opened to the sadness and outrage caused by blatant bigotry and religious discrimination, in a gross display of political theater.
I can only imagine what my grandpa, a Holocaust survivor who came to this country after surviving the war bearing numbers on his arm, would think about his country — a country he loved — turning its back on people needing its humanity, putting its xenophobic fears (which can apparently only be swayed by economic allegiances) above its moral responsibility. His country, or rather a hateful few who are already abusing their power, turned its back on its principles — on Holocaust Remembrance Day — and went against every duty we have as human beings to “never forget” what atrocity looks like and what could happen when people become indifferent to both the suffering and hatred of others.
As I mourn this defiance of everything that America claims to stand for, I am reminded of the words I spoke as I wept next to my grandpa’s grave less than six months ago:
[As a child] I remember asking questions about his numbers and being baffled that anyone could want to hurt this grandpa and his family. My family. My grandpa. Yes, Grandpa was a strong survivor who would soften his memories of horror and evil with those of the kindness of strangers, like the woman who would secretly leave him food as he walked to the coal mines. … He lived 94 years. 71 more years than evil ever wanted him to. I can only hope that I embody just a little bit of his strength and pride and perseverance. That I love in spite of seeing and feeling and being reminded of hate.
Little did I know these words would ring so true today.
As Elie Wiesel, another beloved Jewish man and Holocaust survivor who passed away this summer, once said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” We must not become indifferent lest we let hate seep into and rule our lives. So we cry. We march. We help. We call. We donate. We organize. We rise. We resist. We remember. We seek truth. We speak out. We stay vigilant. We stand up for what is ethically just. We love.
Yes, we love. Because one way we can, collectively, begin to combat those with a bent, or rather broken, moral compass is to make sure that ours are that much stronger. We should take our broken hearts and — not only make them into art (as Carrie Fisher by way of Meryl Streep reminded us), not only turn them into acts of resistance — but turn the pieces into moments of love and kindness. Because, right now, we sure as hell need more of them. Because this is one power we have that can’t be diminished with the swipe of a madman’s pen or a hastily posted tweet.