These are truly dark days in my adopted country. I, like the majority of people both in- and outside of this nation, didn’t think there was a chance for the chips to land the way they now decidedly have. At a friend’s house on election night, I had a brief fit of rage around 11:45 PM when it started to become apparent where we were heading, but I then quickly began sinking in to soul-numbing disbelief — could this really be happening?! I had to leave and went straight home and to bed. When I woke up early on Wednesday morning and realized that the disaster was a done deal, the sense of despair was so overwhelming that all I could do was cry. Texts and calls with questions and concern kept arriving from family and friends all over but I didn’t know how or what to respond. My gut urged me to pull a blanket over my head and hide from the world until I could find somewhere to draw energy and strength from. I sent a two-word email to work — “Out sick” — then crawled back into bed and curled up next to my dog.
Later that morning, I exchanged a couple of emails with my boss and briefly apologized for not having enough of a handle on my despair to make it in to work. This is an intelligent and extremely pragmatic woman who acts with integrity, and the uncharacteristic intensity of her last reply startled me: “At least you can always move back to Sweden!” While the tone seemed unnecessarily harsh at first, she is correct of course: theoretically, I can always move back to where I came from. Should I decide to do so, I would find myself living in the same country as my two beloved sisters and many wonderful friends. I would, without too much hassle, get “re-integrated into the system” and as part of a, comparatively speaking, supremely privileged population be able to reap numerous benefits. Am I oblivious to this entitlement? Absolutely not. I know people who made repeated attempts before crossing the U.S. border, walking through the desert for over 36 hours non-stop, gambling with their life to gain access to a future not available to them in their birth country. In no way has my existence in the U.S. ever demanded such risks from me. Considering all of this, my boss’ statement began to take on a different meaning: shouldn’t I be capable of pulling it together enough to get my sorry ass in to work like everybody else?…
As the day went on, I had several heartfelt and supportive exchanges with friends that were reaching out in desperation. I also visited and had a long conversation with my building’s super, Mesut. We discussed the election outcome at length and when I told him about the email from my boss earlier that morning his response was immediate: “Of course you’re not going to just leave! You’ve lived here for so long — how could anyone expect you to walk away from everything that you have worked so hard to create?” I wasn’t surprised by his reaction — Mesut is also a person for whom I have a lot of respect and I know from earlier conversations that his outlook on the world doesn’t differ much from mine — but I felt comforted by it. Originally from Albania, he has lived in five different countries prior to settling in NYC eleven years ago and he has an intimate understanding of what happens when you decide to settle in a new, foreign place: you make a commitment because you feel like you belong.
To be able to feel at home is phenomenally important to all of us. Where, how, and under what circumstances we do so differ wildly, but it is a fundamental human need. And none of us who have fled or (im)migrated will ever forget where we originally came from. We may have simple or complex relationships with our individual pasts, but the past is always part of our present. I am very much a born-and-bred northern Swede with an innate understanding of that country that takes many years to gain for a person who first arrives at age 23. But after over 20 years in one place you begin to put down roots, and mine run deep in this city. I am profoundly grateful for the existence that I have been able to create for myself and New York occupies a very special place in my heart. Here, I have formed life-long bonds and met people with whom I share a kinship so deep that they have become Family. I both feel love and am loved here — this is home.
The deep sense of abandonment and loss of security brought on by this election is still difficult for me to put into words, and there were several periods of shared silence during yesterday’s conversations. Sleep and (art)work provide badly needed respite from the anxiety and I am grateful for every moment that I can forget the awful reality that is now unfolding like a highly disturbing movie. But the flood of international news and the texts and calls that I continue to receive prove that this reality is just as horrific when observed from the sidelines. We live in a global era and the results of this election simply can not be understood as an isolated national disaster — this is going to have far reaching consequences. It is this insight that fills me with dread and made it impossible to go to work yesterday: there are no more safe places. Not even for Swedes who may want to escape this shit show and return to their native country.
I wrote my boss back in the afternoon. Not because I think she expected me to, but because I, after a day of reckoning, finally had reached a place where I could articulate a reply: “If this country sinks, the rest of the world is going down with it.” Despite the desperate denial implicit in the choice of the electorate, we are all one. And as life goes on, those of us who know this simply can not afford to ever normalize this disastrous event. In order to safeguard who we are, how far we have come, what we stand for, and what we believe to be possible, we must acknowledge our despair. Not to bring ourselves down on our knees, but to burn away all delusions and superficial explanations for why hatred may ever be justified. This is a time to slow down and take stock; to stay present with what we feel so that we can act with courage and integrity. And more than any other thing, this is a time to show love.