There were a lot of tears, hugs and hand-holding last evening as 250 people gathered to share their greatest fears, sadness and — looking back on their lives — the time of greatest misery and doubt, which they got through to better times.
It didn’t take long for each person to get in touch with such feelings, because for a lot who flocked to Ashland Presbyterian Church, these emotions have been very much at the surface since last Tuesday’s election that handed victory to a man who has promised exile or at least registration for people of the wrong religion or nationality.
The gathering, called “Hopes, Fears and Tears,” was moderated by The Hearth’s Mark Yaconelli of Ashland and was aimed specifically at healing the emotional fallout from the surprise win of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton — but participants were warned not to debate any politics.
In small groups, addressing what new fears do you have, people variously said they dread the whole government will pick up and “normalize” Trump’s oft-voiced screeds against Mexican and Muslim immigrants, “giving people permission to scare me and my children,” said one woman.
Perhaps as a sign of the fear, most people said they’d rather not have their names used in print.
One man said he feared the long-term consequences of such prejudice, “which could take us back years, losing the ground we’ve gained in women’s rights and with low-income people.” Another man said he feared the embarrassment such events would cause globally for the U.S.
“We’re all struggling with this, beyond our capacity for knowing what it is,” said long-time community activist John Fisher-Smith. Along that line of thought, a woman said, “Well, we can no longer deny that racism and sexism exist in our country. It’s right here in front of us now.”
Speaking to the large group and trying to describe the fear in himself and the community, long-time guitarist-composer Gene Burnett said, “Fear is like the loss of the words we know. Things are about to change for the better and they get much worse. We don’t know what it is and not knowing is the root of all fear.”
One woman, in small group, said she thought the winner, an outsider, might represent a fresh face, but soon was getting those same old fearful feelings that “he’s one of them.”
Another woman bemoaned the language of the campaign, which made her feel “We’ve lost the ability to care for another human being and can only demean and hurt, unable to listen and empathize.”
Tasked to define their sadness of late, one said it’s anger that comes first and after that’s unloaded, you feel the sadness. One man addressed the new depths of prejudice in our society, noting “We thought we were getting somewhere since ’64 (the Civil Rights Act), but the truth is we don’t want to face (the racism).”
Another man echoed the thought, saying, “Maybe we’re all just fakes. Our children will be growing up in a world that I thought was past and that’s very sad.”
One woman said much sadness now flows from the loss of family members who have broken off communication from this controversial and nerve-wracking election.
Hoping to draw inspiration and vision from past life lessons, Yaconelli asked everyone to share stories from their own lives where they made it through challenging struggles. Many did, finding the common thread that no matter how despairing things are now, they evolve and resolve into a better life.
“Everyone found they had a will to go on,” said Fisher-Smith. A woman added “... and someone came into our lives who made a big difference. You find yourself in a place you never thought you’d be. It led to reaching out, then to action, which came from the energy of despair.”
Yaconelli challenged people to a final question, “What gives you life now?” Many said nature, animals and simple things like the hugs of friends. Others said getting to the gym for a good workout. One woman said she’d been seeing the same woman at the gym for weeks, but not speaking to her, then, in the mirrors, she saw the despair on her face and went over and hugged her -- a hug that was happily returned.
“Instead of laying in bed, I went down there and worked out. I saw what was in her face. We hugged and said we’re not alone. We touched each other’s souls in common grief...Hugging is so important.”
Another woman added, “No matter who is president, this is our time, our loving kindness that we have to share with others.”
The event ended with holding of hands in a big circle while musicians played and sang the “Hallelujah” of Leonard Cohen, who died only a few days ago.