The morning after the election I woke up in a hotel room in Portland, Oregon. I hadn’t slept much the night before, staying up late watching the returns come in, trying to quell the swelling nausea I felt as it became increasingly clear what the outcome would eventually be, simultaneously fascinated and appalled, like driving slowly past a terrible traffic accident on the highway. And after the pundits finally ran out of anything at all to say, after the last swing state had swung, after Donald Trump’s surprisingly restrained victory speech, lying alone in bed, tossing and turning, alternately panicking and reflecting on how much I had to be thankful for.
Around five I surrendered and got up. I sent a few messages to colleagues, family, and friends telling them I loved them and how much their friendships meant to me. I showered, dressed, and packed my bag – I’d be going directly from the client workshop I was in Portland for to my overnight flight home, the flight I’m on now as I write this – and went out looking for breakfast. Salmon hash and perfect poached eggs. Buttered rye toast and good coffee. It was still early and the place was quiet and mostly empty. I ate slowly, staring out at the standard PNW mid-fall mix of mist and light rain. A father came in with his young son, maybe five or six, and they took seats at the counter, first exchanging hugs with the waitress. They ordered, then Dad extracted a chapter book from his backpack and began reading aloud to his little boy while they waited for their food to arrive. I listened, not to the actual words so much as the familiar and comforting cadences of intimate caring contact.
On the MAX light rail train up to Washington Park I found myself surrounded by members of a girls’ chorus, identically dressed in white tops and long black skirts. They must have been on their way to a performance, and they filled the entire car, sitting and standing in tight clusters, chatting and texting and giggling, ebullient and alive. Then one of the young women softly began to sing. A few of her friends joined in, and then a few more, and suddenly they were all singing – clearly, powerfully, in heartbreakingly beautiful harmony, exhilarating in their joined voices and the sheer infectious joy of singing together. They climbed off at Providence Park, still singing, as I wept quietly in my seat.
The project that brought me to Portland is a new polar bear exhibit for the Oregon Zoo, and a focus of our discussions over two days of meetings was on how to be honest about the catastrophe of global warming and its impacts on these majestic creatures without simultaneously extinguishing any faint glimmers of optimism among our visitors – a demographic that matched exactly the father and son across the room from me at breakfast. In deepest darkness we turn toward the light. Hope, however frayed and frail, is the only antidote to despair.