Morningside Center staff developer Dionne Grayman was asked by her daughter’s school to facilitate a post-election circle for parents and staff. Many who came were upset about the election. Here’s what happened.
I spent election night with Stephen Colbert. I was super excited that he had decided to appear on a cable network because that promised a double shot of Colbert, straight, no chaser. What happened instead was, well, we all know what happened instead. And at 11:48 pm when I could no longer bear the sight of sheer shock on the face of someone who specialized in playing it straight, no chaser, I turned off the television.
I woke up and refused to acknowledge what I knew to be true. No NY1, no radio. My 12-year-old daughter was the one who broke my denial fast. She came into the bedroom with tears and very real fear in her eyes. I had no words on that Wednesday morning to offer her other than, “It’s going to be alright.” She counter-offered with, “No, Mom, it’s not.”
As the emails from my daughter’s school began to flood my inbox, offering assurance and reassurance around plans for classroom discussion, I did the only thing I could think to do, which was to provide them with the Election Listening Circle Morningside Center had proactively created. I forwarded it to the school and offered myself as an additional resource – as facilitator, fellow educator, concerned parent.
They took me up on it and asked if I would lead a listening circle for adults. They prepared for forty people to attend. Ninety-seven showed up.
We arranged the room into 10 small circles. A fellow parent, a journalist, began the evening by taking us through a history lesson of sorts. He contended that history bears witness to the peaks and valleys of humankind. He acknowledged that as a species we have an extensive and impressive record of Everests. But the transatlantic slave trade, the Holocaust and the Rwanda genocide are but a few examples of extreme lows. He maintained that this post-election cycle was another such low. He said he refused to believe that Donald Trump represents us at our collective best. Man, he said, sometime sucks. The people in the room, already anxious and apprehensive, became fraught with tension, fear, disappointment and visceral defeat.
The administration had decided that the circle I facilitated would be brief. We began the circle by reading aloud and together “To Have this Kind of Sharing” by Hugh Prather. Voices were shaky and uncertain. Then each participant had two minutes to share a thought or feeling about the election.
It was difficult to both speak and listen. It was hard to look other people in the eye. To sit in stillness and to hold the space for the hurt to come through. People were crying. I heard: “As a Brit who was stunned by the Brexit result, I know now what the Civil War must have felt like; family members on opposite sides.”
I heard: “I feel bad for only worrying about LGBTQ issues when there is so much more…” I heard: “I don't want to expose my son to the ugly stuff in life, but as an African American man, I know that I have to…” I heard: “When I’m in the room with my students, your kids, I'm strong. I'm here for them. When I'm around adults, I fall apart.” I heard: “There was an email sent to the members of my synagogue that if he signs into law a Muslim registry, then 8,000 Jews better show up to be first in line!”
I walked among small circles, passing out tissues, empathetic head nods, shoulder rubs. I made eye contact and offered smiles of acknowledgement and encouragement. I refilled beverage cups and kept a close watch on the timer. And slowly but surely, postures relaxed, tears subsided, pockets of laughter echoed around the room. People were leaning in, and community was doing what it is supposed to do: make room for shared healing.
We needed that time. The circle ended just as it had begun, with us reading together, but this time standing firmly on our feet. Loud, clear, and freed voices read the words of Margaret Wheatley’s poem “Turning to One Another,” almost as a convocation, definitely a benediction. Rely on human goodness. Stay together.