By Marieke Slovin Lewis/Bailleul, France, 1.8 miles from the Belgian border
Wednesday, November 4, 2020
Though the memory of waking up in a dark morning four years earlier to election results that had turned 180 degrees from the night before still haunts me, I somehow managed to fall asleep yesterday on election night.
This morning, my husband, Richard, and I sat side by side on the couch with our coffee and toast. When I started to talk about the election, my husband said he was trying not to think about it. Instead, I asked if he could help me pick out a juicer to order on Amazon.
We do not have the best track record when it comes to ordering anything in metric. We first ordered things by looking at the photo to determine the size. My husband wound up with the world’s tiniest set of food and water bowls for our American size cats (one weighs 20 pounds and never fails to astound any Europeans who meet him) and then a rug that we had to fold over to fit in our first apartment in Brussels when he thought that one yard and one meter were pretty close. He had thought that a yard was a little bit bigger than a meter, but it turned out that a meter was a bit bigger than a yard. After that, we began to use a measuring tape for everything. Measuring only goes so far, however.
Just the other day, I ordered the world’s largest tub of Vaseline because the cost per kilo was the lowest of all of the options. I thought I was ordering the same size as the smaller tub just to the left of the monstrosity that arrived. We have come to attribute the metric system to anything that does not make sense in our life in a foreign country as resulting from the metric system.
Likewise, while searching for baking soda after giving up on ever finding it at the grocery store, I wound up with a large box in the cart. When I asked my husband if I should go ahead and order it, he said that perhaps we should wait for the election results before ordering 2 lbs. of baking soda.
After breakfast, my husband began reading the news out loud. This did not inspire confidence. The New York Times told us that Florida had gone Republican (no surprise there) and that Georgia and North Carolina were still too close to call. My husband shared reports from CNN about the president’s threats to go to the Supreme Court if he was not declared the winner since it was midnight and he was ahead. I made dry heaving sounds and threatened to start vomiting for real.
For us, this election will determine not only the future forward for our home country but also whether or not we ever return to the United States. We joked as we were preparing to move to Belgium in the summer of 2016 that at least we would be in Europe if the unthinkable were to happen. Neither of us believed the unthinkable could happen, and neither of us can imagine it happening a second time.
My husband and I began the year 2020 in Belgium, where we experienced a first lockdown from mid-March through the beginning of June. Our plan had been to return to the United States at the end of May, when my husband would be finishing his doctorate at the Vrije Universiteit Brussels (VUB) in Brussels, Belgium. However, with the pandemic in full swing we had to change our plans. We were initially relieved when my husband’s colleague offered him a one-year post-doc at a university in Lille, France, just beyond the Belgian border. However, now we have entered into our second lockdown of the year as the virus ravages and overwhelms Europe. Our small farmhouse rental has become even smaller as we navigate living and working under one roof for another indefinite period of time.
On Wednesday afternoon, while my husband attempted to meet with his colleagues via Zoom, through what his boss described to the IT department (in French) as a “catastrophic Wi-Fi connection,” I went for a long walk with our dog. I stopped at the patisserie in town where we have found the best pastries and proceeded back out toward the farm fields. At least, we were in a country that makes exceptional bread and pastries, and the sun was shining. I saw a flock of grey partridges fly in formation from one field across the road where I had just walked and toward the far corner of another field. I wondered what it would be like to be solely focused on existing without the interruption of politics and the fear that the world will end far sooner should Trump (hereafter referred to with symbols %^$&*) be reelected. The gnawing dread that “the sky is falling” feels very visceral and very real these days.
While I walked, I also texted with expat and Belgian friends, sharing our shock and horror over the unfolding of the election results. A queer friend who grew up in Flanders and now lives in Brussels texted: This voting has had a huge turnout of queer, POC [people of color], excluded people trying to reclaim human rights, and it doesn't matter? I cannot deal with that message.
I responded: I know. No matter how much I reflect on it or do writing to make sense of how so many people can be so bigoted and selfish and entitled, I just can't make heads or tails of it in the end. My heart and mind just don't operate that way, so it's very difficult to imagine there are that many people who do.
I suggested that perhaps this is simply another step as we near the Tower Card scenario that my husband talks about so often. The Tower Card in a tarot deck indicates change and destruction on a large scale.
Perhaps, we must completely destroy our country in order to make it possible to rebuild a new one, for better or worse, I wrote.
What the Tower Card might mean for the planet and the future of all the species that depend on it for their continued existence makes me start dry heaving all over again.
There is so much going on right now with regard to the election and the two possible futures that might prevail. It is no wonder my system is in shock. There is only one path forward that offers the possibility of a future this planet and all of the many species and that depend upon its continued existence. The fact that this planet is the only one known to support life in the galaxy is enough to send another shock wave through my system.
There is also the groundless feeling that comes from knowing there are so many people who act upon values that center around fear and hatred.
Truly, neither my husband nor I can understand how anyone, especially women, could vote for such a villain. I will allow for a few people here and there because there's so many under-educated, religious zealots in the country, and the continued decrease in funding for education over the decades has done nothing to counter this trend. But an entire state going Republican still boggles the mind. The knowledge that millions of people have voted for $&%*^ is beyond comprehension.
In the wake of the election limbo, I have been thinking about how and why a person might vote for the current President to be reelected. It is my most fervent hope that this desire does not stem from racism, bigotry, and fear of the perceived “other,” but rather from a false sense that this politician will deliver on his very false promises. There are so many people out there who are struggling financially, and I imagine there is a desperation and desire to believe these promises, though in truth they are no more than hypnotism and manipulation.
I also know there are people out there who vote for themselves alone. As the election has dragged on, I remembered a colleague I met while working as an adventure camp counselor for the Audubon during my first summer after graduating from university. This colleague told me and other staff that he was Republican because it was in his best interest as a middle-aged white male. For me, this seemed counterintuitive as he was working for an environmental organization and the Republicans do not seem to have much love for the environment, but it was also an example of an insular, myopic, entitled view of the world. I was raised to act on behalf of the greater good, but this is clearly not the case or factor for many other people.
There is a dissonance between the political agenda of the Republicans and the promises they make to their constituents. There is also a dissonance in their approach to the world. Republicans vote in their own self-interest rather than thinking about the needs of the many. The dissonance appears when one considers that not voting for the planet means they are ensuring that their future bloodline will eventually die out when the planet implodes, succumbing to the abuse and overuse wrought by our species.
Okay, I will acknowledge that there are many selfish, entitled people out there and that many of them reside in the United States. But in the end, don't we all want the same basic things? A better future for our children?
Do we not want them to be cared for? Do we not want them to have access to healthcare, clean air and water, and hope for their children and their children's children? I don't have the answers, so I cope however I can. I text with friends. I go for long walks around the farm fields that surround our home in northern France. I write. I attempt to put a little wall of safety around my heart with only limited success.
Regardless of the final election results, I feel like my heart, mind, body and soul are grieving that so many people could vote for the version of reality this villain intends to create.
It makes me feel like I don't have a country, I told my husband this morning.
He reflected on this idea and suggested that this has literally become true for us. Our identity cards for Belgium expired at the end of October. Our temporary visas for France expire today. We are still waiting for our identity cards to be approved and sent from the prefecture in Dunkirk.
We are confined without a country, completely in limbo, I said. In France, the French word for “lockdown” is “confinement.”
Thursday and Friday, November 5-6, 2020
Thursday morning, I did my usual meditation sit before deciding whether or not to read the news. When I opened my email and saw the daily New York Times digest with the line, “Trump’s path to victory grows increasingly narrow,” I decided it might be safe to proceed. Reading the news, however, did not instill any more confidence than it had the day before. Multiple states were still in play, and votes were being counted with both candidates remaining very close in both key states and several others. I have never responded well to moments of limbo in life, and I could feel my anxiety level soaring to new heights.
My entire nervous system was on high alert from living in a state of limbo and uncertainty as the election droned on, and I moved through Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in a haze of stress and anxiety. While my husband was distracted by an online conference, I did my best to maintain some level of equilibrium. At least once an hour, I Googled “nytimes election” and read the updates. I tried watching late night comedians, but it was too depressing.
To stay away from the news, I taught a yoga class by Zoom. I pored over online shopping sites to keep my mind carefully neutral. Blank. My many meditation and yoga teachers over the years have said that it is important to lean into discomfort rather than engage in selective numbing, but this past week feels like an exception on a global scale.
I also tried chipping away at mundane activities. I dove into the pile of clothing I had set aside nearly a year earlier for mending. I did household chores, vacuuming, dusting, doing dishes, folding laundry. These undertakings help me feel like I have some iota of control in a world that feels like it is spinning increasingly faster and wilder than I am able to grasp.
Plus, cleaning shows instant accomplishment, however fleeting, and I needed a sense of achievement. With the pandemic fast closing in on a year, I have the sense that all accomplishment has come to a grinding halt.
As the current president threatened lawsuits and demanded recounts, my husband and I engaged in dialogue, musing over what country might let us in for political asylum should the worst happen. Even as Biden crept slowly and steadily forward, we were nervous about what it might mean to return to a country so divided.
We have been talking about the election as a watershed with regard to staying in a European country or returning to the United States. Regardless of the result, it is difficult to imagine going back to a country that invests so little in the welfare of its citizens. Reviewing exit polls as the election dragged into a third, fourth, and fifth day and seeing just how many people still support the current president, we are realizing that we have absolutely no desire to live in a country with so many people who want this future for the United States and the rest of the world. It is one thing to know there are %^$&* supporters out there and another to know concretely when you see the millions of votes coming in. It isn’t just a few votes, it is millions. MILLIONS!
A friend I met at a yoga teacher training in Belgium told me how there are people in the Flanders region of Belgium who can point to houses on their street and tell you who supported the Nazis in the Second World War. They are all still living there. Just as I would never want to live on the same street as a former Nazi, I have no interest in living on the same street as a %^$&* supporter.
I want to interact with people who are different and who are excited to share their cultures, languages, and traditions. I do not want to live around people who vilify people who are different and who actively participate in promoting politicians who will polarize those who are different and take away their right to live an equitable, safe, and healthy life. I want to feel safe. There is a citizen militia in the town in Arizona we left just over four years ago. Recently, they went out in full force to meet the Black Lives Matter protestors. This does not feel safe to me.
The farm fields that surround our home in northern France are dotted with bunkers in various states of decay, ever-present, poignant memorials of the cost of division. We live less than two miles from the Belgian border, and we can (and do) literally travel to Belgium and back on our morning walk. Thinking about the ongoing controversy over immigration and borders, the seemingly simple act of stepping off the French pavement and onto Belgian ground feels auspicious and momentous.
Saturday, November 7, 2020
When The New York Times finally declared Biden the winner late on Saturday evening, I felt the curtain of the gloom and doom and fear of returning to a divided country begin to lift. A weight was gone from my shoulders, and I realized I was completely exhausted. It is already tiring living in a foreign country where even the most basic activities require a constant interpretation and translation. A grocery store trip is like going on a scavenger hunt. Recall my earlier mention of having yet to find the baking soda after two months.
The election pushed me over the brink of fatigue. Days of treading water in a swirling sea of limbo, trying to be positive but worry that the worst could happen, had taken their toll. And yet, I felt a glimmer of hope for future with the knowledge that we would have a grounded, sane president once more. January 2021 was there like the sliver of light on the horizon, reminding us that dawn will arrive, like clockwork, every morning. Without the darkness of night, the coming of the light might not feel quite so significant, symbolic of the will to overcome and carry on in even the most difficult of times. And we shall overcome.
Since we have been in lockdown and we live in a quiet, farming community in northern France, we didn’t hear any loud cheering, honking, or dancing in the street. None of the fireworks my mother-in-law texted that her neighbors were setting off. But even in the quiet of the evening, we knew in our hearts that the world had just shifted away from fear and toward hope.
Friends posted congratulations on my Facebook page and sent messages via messenger and text. I saw an email in my inbox with the subject line, “OMFG! We shall be delivered!” and laughed out loud. It felt so good to laugh.
On our final walk of the day to take our husky out for his evening constitutional, the darkness and lingering fog lent a certain gravity to the moment. Biden has his work cut out for him, my husband said.
So many fires to put out and so many yet to come, I sighed.
My husband spoke of elections past when the news coverage noted the rarity of a peaceful transition of power. We shared a feeling of unease with the impending transition in January 2021. We talked about all of the rights we take for granted that have come to feel so precious and tenuous over the past four years: the right to vote, gay marriage, a woman's right to choose, and on and on.
As we neared our little farmhouse and saw the glimmer of light through the window, I felt my heart expand ever so slightly. I leaned into the feeling and smiled.
Marieke Slovin Lewis is a writer, musician, composer, yoga teacher, and editor. She grew up in Massachusetts and holds a Ph.D. in Sustainability Education from Prescott College. Marieke is a wandering soul and has lived all over the world. She currently finds herself in a second lockdown in northeast France with her husband, Richard Lewis, three cats and a big white husky. Marieke strives to create balance in her life through long walks around the farm fields that surround her home; practicing yoga and meditation; singing and strumming on her ukulele or banging on her bodhran; and writing, writing, writing.