On the Sunday after the election, I went to the local Unitarian fellowship for no reason other then to be in the company of others, and to hear the thoughts of a minister who always seems to find comforting words when there are none to be had. And as I expected, she did it well. Yet it was a voice from somewhere in the back of the sanctuary that brought me to a place that gave me an understanding of exactly how I felt in the moment.
There’s a tradition in this liberal religion of little tradition that we light candles to acknowledge both the joys and concerns of the past week. A woman took the microphone from the usher and spoke of her dear friend who had passed away on Monday night after fighting a losing battle to cancer. And this was not presented as a concern, but rather a joy. Why? Because her friend did not have to live another day to witness Donald Trump’s victory.
There is something so perversely desperate when death seems to be the best option, and yet I can’t deny thinking a similar thought while sitting in front of my television on election night and witnessing the willful bludgeoning of democracy. Not that I would ever contemplate doing something to myself, but I did have a moment of solace knowing I will turn sixty-five on my next birthday with many good years behind me and less in front. But for my children and all the others who shall inherit the sins of their parents, I mourn.
To be clear, this isn’t about politics. We all seem to have agreed that this was a contest between two flawed candidates, neither of whom would claim a large enough mandate to lead decisively and without rancor. To many people, and ironically the majority of those who voted, the choice was to reject Trump’s brand of pop culture fear, hate, and discrimination. Yet as a result of an electoral system few understand or can explain, the loser wins.
The death of Leonard Cohen was not a complete surprise. He telegraphed the expectation when he released his latest album and met with David Remnick for a beautiful New Yorker profile that ran in October. As he spoke of the challenge in finishing his final album You Want it Darker, he shared what it feels like when one is at the end of time:
“The big change is the proximity to death. I am a tidy kind of guy. I like to tie up the strings if I can. If I can’t, also, that’s O.K. But my natural thrust is to finish things that I’ve begun. I don’t think I’ll be able to finish those songs. Maybe, who knows? And maybe I’ll get a second wind, I don’t know. But I don’t dare attach myself to a spiritual strategy. I don’t dare do that. I’ve got some work to do. Take care of business. I am ready to die. I hope it’s not too uncomfortable. That’s about it for me.”
I found it peculiar that Leonard Cohen died the night before the election and yet we didn’t learn about it for several days after. I don’t know why his family waited to share the news but would like to imagine it was to allow the news cycle to do what it does and create a sacred space for Leonard’s life to be honored apart from the political cacophony. Given that every newspaper, magazine, and website has run hundreds if not thousands of stories on his life and work, it has been a passing of both love, respect, and memories.
By the time Saturday Night Live came on, I was already in bed and under the covers. In no mood to laugh or feel elevated, I dropped a sleeping pill to take me far away from the pain in my heart. On Sunday morning when I awoke, social media was smokin’ with news of Kate McKinnon’s moving performance of what may be Leonard Cohen’s most treasured and memorable song, played in the character of Hillary Clinton. I’ve watched it now a few dozen times, with tears never far away. This is how I am choosing to remember what once was, what could have been and what is yet to come.
I’m not giving up and neither should you.
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