The morning after

I spent election night alone in a Raleigh hotel. An interview didn’t turn out the way I hoped it would. The rest of the night didn’t turn out the way I hoped it would, either.

I got up this morning, checked the TV — yep, it happened. Texted my wife. Signed onto the computer and refreshed Twitter way too many times. At some point I had to get my eyes off the screens. I went for a walk. The air was cool enough for a jacket, but the breeze felt good and clean.

A few blocks away I found a diner called Big Ed’s and sat down for a late breakfast. The waitress brought coffee and I started to check my phone but instead I looked around. Nobody was weeping. Nobody was gloating, either. People were talking about the election, of course, but they were also making weekend plans and talking about basketball season. One older man sat with three younger ones. They were at the next table, so I could overhear that the younger guys were part of some work-release program. They passed around their phones, sharing pictures of their kids.

The waitresses were quiet but cheerful. They had to get up early this morning to go to work. That’s what most of the rest of us did, too — got up and went to work, or raked the leaves, or checked in with our mamas. Our American lives will change in profound ways because of what happened Tuesday, but down at street level, for most of us, we will do what we always do, because it’s what we have to do to keep going.

I have friends and family members who wanted this day to happen. They include people of faith who voted for the most un-Christian candidate I can remember, and women who voted for the most anti-woman candidate I can remember. That is their right. I have contradictions, too. All I’ll say for now is that we’ll keep talking, and in a year or two it’ll be interesting to see what they think about the deal they made.

Every time there’s an election result I don’t like, or some movement that makes no sense to me, I think of Tommy Lee Jones in the first Men in Black movie: “A person is smart. People are dumb.” But that doesn’t go quite far enough. A person is smart. People are dumb. The country is even smarter. Our country has taken a thousand blows. People from outside have hurt us, but we have hurt one another even more. We have survived it all because our system is terribly flawed but basically good, and our people are terribly flawed but basically good. That’s a lesson some of us find hard to believe right now. But history bears it out. It is a stronger and deeper truth than any count of electoral votes.

On my walk back I stopped at a street corner to wait for the light. A young woman walked up and asked if I knew how to get to Salisbury Street. I started to explain but then I remembered I had a map of downtown in my pocket — one of those little sheets they give you when you check in. I didn’t need it. I handed it to her and she smiled and headed down the block in the cool fresh morning.

You might feel lost right now. There is always a map. There is always a way.






79 thoughts on “The morning after”

  1. Thanks so much for this. You could’ve just thought about it and kept it to yourself, but you were willing to share this little vignette of your past few hours. I find it enormously hopeful.

  2. After I read it twice I forwarded it to several friends who needed this as much as I did. Been missing you for years. So glad to have re-discovered you. There aren’t enough good writers around for me.

  3. Sounds nice. Problem is, people who need maps the most think they already have one. And the people who _do_ have maps don’t realize their most-trusted maps are for another city, or a lost time, and cognitively speaking utterly useless.
    Tommy Lee Jones was right: the country is dumber than law school, ‘People’ are the ‘country’, literally. No homespun tale can make up for this.

  4. Ah, this is so good to hear. I have so many people who feel lost and utterly crushed because of the election, but I will surely recommend them this to see if it helps them! Thank you.

  5. “We have survived it all because our system is terribly flawed but basically good, and our people are terribly flawed but basically good.”

    Thank you for this reminder. I needed it today.

  6. I hope so Tommy, I truly do. Yet there is a pessimism in our history of optimism (because where would yang be without yin). “I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of freedoms of the people by gradual and silent encroachment of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”
    — James Madison (attributed to Madison, by his contemporaries)

  7. This was a great read. Thank you. The only statement I’d disagree with is that, “people are terribly flawed but basically good.” Trump isn’t simply flawed and, based on his behavior during the campaign, I don’t believe him to be a good person either.

    While I do hope to feel the same inspiring hope you expressed about the current state of affairs, I also can’t help but feel we have just handed over the country to a morally lost man without a map, with no way to do good for anyone but himself.

  8. It is of crucial consequence to bring all that is said and done in the dark, out into the light of day. This election cycle and all the events of the last year across this land have laid out in view of each and every person still breathing just how far we have yet to go to reach our point on the map. The point where we really can move forward and beyond.

  9. Thank You for you post, it did bring tears to my eyes and thoughts to my mind. I am praying that the map will be rewritten and all will someday have the liberty to take off without restraint to follow their own route in unrestricted confidence that they will reach what they set out for.

  10. Thank you very much for this Tom. I wrote a short few thoughts of my own about this a little while ago. I’m still in complete shock and feel so uncertain about how this is all going to play out. You’re optimism is comforting however.

  11. Well spoken Tommy, thank you. I work with medical students. Today one young lady came in very despondent over the results of the election. She said she didn’t know what she was going to do. I asked her if she was studying to make her dreams come true; living out her plans for life. She said yes. I told her that is what her focus is. Who is sitting in the White House is not what is going to get her out of bed in the morning; it is doing what she loves, helping others, helping save lives; that is what gets her out of bed. That is what she can dwell on; that will keep her moving ahead and her heart living in hope. She was grateful we talked.

  12. This was very well written. We are basically good and our country is as well. I hope that by reading this the people who are concerned will be more at ease with what is happening. None of us know what next year will bring, but that thought would have applied to Hillary as well, had she been elected. Both parties are terribly flawed and neither of them are ideal. What’s important now is unity. Let us all unite as we work together toward a positive future.

  13. Tommy : My wife & I live in NH and to say that we’ve been in inundated with negative ads, campaigners invading our neighborhoods for candidates- not just for the highest office in the country, but by local, state government and we’re relieved that this campaign season is over. But we’re shocked that the wealthy bully who has disrespected women, ethnic groups, based his campaign on discrediting Pres. Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain and all the other candidates, crushed the polls and got the largest number electoral votes resulting in winning the election. A country divided and citizens confused and desperate for leadership & change of government.
    So the first days in office Trump promises to undo Env. actions, deport immigrants, and push to have a wall keeping illegal aliens out… but continuing the mode of dividing the country. Your thoughts were introspective and void of candidate criticism, but people will be demonstrating and voicing their outrage at the outcome of the 2016 election.

  14. A good, short, uplifting pieced for Hillary’s supporters that nevertheless begs the question: had the people elected Hillary, would that have made them smart or dumb?

  15. Tommy. Muito obrigada por compartilhar o seu sentimento. Eu não moro nos EUA, e sim, no Brasil, onde estamos atravessando um momento muito complicado com relação a política. Um momento em que o nosso país está muito triste com os últimos acontecimentos. Mas, enfim, a vida continua e rogo a Deus todos os dias para que esta tempestade termine. Mas acredito que ainda irá demorar tempo demais, pois cada dia descobre-se mais corrupção de quem foi eleito para defender os interesses do povo. O que aconteceu com o povo americano agora, me deixou muito preocupada com o futuro do povo americano. Bem, só posso neste momento me solidarizar com todos vocês e aguardar para ver o que poderá acontecer nos próximos anos. Desejo sinceramente que esta preocupação que se abateu sobre grande parte dos americanos se dissipa o mais rápido possível e que todos tenham paciência e tolerância pois tudo na vida tem um começo, meio e fim… Um grande e afetuoso abraço…

  16. Elections are always like that. It’s like not knowing what to expect or having you expectations met whereas unknown about what it will hold. Trump has won, the stories are out, and in 2 – 3 years our lives will still be here.

  17. Thank you for encouraging! This helps in a way you can’t imagine.
    On the other hand, I did see people cry, and I did see people gloat. I am from Mexico, and have many friends from different communities. I know that some of us feel unwanted, but I want to spread love! And love to everyone! And the way you worded this piece was very inspiring… you can love with the most minimal acts: smiles, or giving a lost person your map. Thank you for being such a nice person! <3

  18. I would disagree. I expected “a person is smart, people are dumb and the country is even dumber.” Basically good? I would wish but tell it to the Native Americans who were killed or displaced by our ancestors. Tell it to the blacks who endured 100 years of Jim Crow and were lynched with impunity. Tell it to the Vietnamese who were killed in our unjustified war against them and who still suffer the effects of Agent Orange. Tell it to the other animals who are going through a human-caused mass extinction. Tell it to our future generations who will be the ones who suffer from our unwillingness to deal with problems of overpopulation and climate change.

    Many people I know individually are admirable, but I often am appalled at the acts of our government and country as a whole.

  19. I must agree with you RobAlex. I think in small numbers, face to face, individuals (with the willingness for basic goodwill) try to connect meaningfully with each other. And that is smart. But, en masse, people are often dumb and the larger the numbers the more inclined they/we become to castigate some other grouping as the enemy. Take it to level of a whole country, and virtually every country that ever had power got that by some kind of exploitation of another country, = ‘My Country Right or Wrong” is a very scary idea.

  20. Thank you. Today I feel more grounded. Yesterday was hard. But you are right. Our days at this level isn’t likely to change much. we hope. Larger issues that we care about are also worth fighting for. And we can still fight for right.

  21. Everyone sort of looked like we did on 9-12; stunned and not sure what the future will hold. Thank you for reminding us that our lives don’t revolve around politics. Life is for the living and those not living theirs are already dead.

  22. It’s beautyfuly written.. the life goes on we should not lose our hope even if we lose… It is encouraging and relaxing. The life and the success is for the one who is ready to get up and run even when he falls…

  23. It’s beautyfuly written.. the life goes on we should not lose our hope even if we lose… It is encouraging and relaxing. The life and the success is for the one who is ready to get up and run even when we falls…

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