Ophoff guest column: The fresh tears of Colossus
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wrecked refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
— Emma Lazarus, excerpted from her poem “The New Colossus,” inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.
As an 11-year-old girl in 1967, a chaotic world swirled around me. Not only was my family bat-poop crazy, but the horrendously divisive Vietnam War raged in southeast Asia. Young men burned their draft cards and young women, fighting for rights of their own, burned their bras. Race riots torched our cities. College students protested on campuses. Growing up in the ’60s meant that strife, unrest and violence were a normal part of everyday life. We were a country divided by politics, race, gender and ideology.
The high point of my year was sixth period choir class. For 50 minutes every day, the teacher lifted our thoughts beyond the bedlam and into a world of music, ideas and faraway places. We learned the lyrics and one melody in particular to “The New Colossus.”
I had never seen the Statue of Liberty, but my heart soared with the knowledge that we, as a nation, were one in spirit committed to a higher purpose. In the midst of a decade where patriotism was a dirty word, I felt my first stirring of national pride. Never had I doubted our commitment to the ideal expressed by Emma Lazarus.
Until last week.
Every American awoke to the same news on Nov. 9. Our public reactions reflect at least one truth that hasn’t changed: We still enjoy free speech. Sadly, we are a country deeply divided.
To say I am disappointed in the results of our presidential election is an understatement. I am incredulous, devastated and grieving for my country. However, at least half this country is elated. The hurt and outrage on both sides threatens to undermine our society as well as our relationships. In light of the damage that has been done and the threats that remain, I’ve given some thought to my own responsibilities due in the days to come.
First, I must process my grief in a healthy way. Second, in order to maintain my own sanity, I must accept what I cannot change, change what I can and ask God for the wisdom to know the difference.
On one point I ask the indulgence of those who voted for President-elect Donald Trump: Please understand that grief is not a temper tantrum. Grief is an emotional, mental and physical response to what we perceive as a catastrophic turn of events. From previous losses I remember the hopelessness, the sorrow and most of all, the anger. People who’ve yet to experience true grief sometimes have a tough time understanding the process, let alone being patient with those walking the path.
To me, this was far more than a political loss. My ideology may not line up with yours, but it is no less valid, it’s important to me, and giving it up hurts like heck. I may need some time to accept what I cannot change.
That being said, I alone am responsible for how I react to grief. As a member of our civilized society, I am bound to obey the law of the land or face the consequences. Without law our society would be reduced to anarchy, an even more unacceptable situation.
On this second point, I ask the indulgence of the disappointed. Trump’s supporters are not our enemies. They are our friends, our families, our co-workers and our countrymen. They believe with all their hearts that they made the right choice, and their convictions are no less valid than ours. They have to forgive our anger, as we have to forgive their choice.
Without question, the worst place to visit on the days following the election was Facebook. We could all find kindred spirits with whom to commiserate, as well as newfound foes with whom to spar. After briefly empathizing with my children, I chose to post the well-known “Prayer of St. Francis.”
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is error, truth
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek to
Be consoled, as to console
Be understood, as to understand
Be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving we receive
It is in pardoning we are pardoned
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
For now, I’ll set “The New Colossus” gently aside in my heart. Instead, I’ll focus on the wise words of St. Francis, knowing that the only change available to me is my attitude. Despite the fact that it grieves me, I’ll pray for Donald Trump. And someday, I hope to visit the Statue of Liberty. Perhaps she’ll be back to work by then.
Rachel Ophoff writes when her preferred course of action would land her in jail.
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