Post-Thanksgiving Reflections on Coming Together & Goodness
I have Trump supporters in my family. After the 2016 election, I could hardly bear spending time with my brother and his wife. We fought. I judged. I once (almost) got kicked out of their house at 2 am in a furious alcohol-involved argument about who should be drained from the swamp. I think we both had decided to give it a rest and just part ways. After all, we live in different states and don’t have very much to do with each other day to day.
But this solution wasn’t very satisfying to either side. Family is their most important core value. My (& Be Strong Families’) mantra is “Connecting. Conversing. Transforming.” I am committed to creating A More Perfect Union by bringing people together in Cafés to have safe conversations to bridge differences. To find common ground through common values. To building community and peace. Yet I couldn’t even converse with, much less transform, my own extended family. I could only relate well to my political allies in the family and commiserate and bond with them over the inconceivability and embarrassment of having relatives in “that camp” — who won’t be educated or argued out of it. I felt like a fraud.
Cut to Thanksgiving. My bro invited everyone to his house— even me. He went out of his way to make it possible for my whole crew to come. Not only my adopted Ethiopian American son, but my two other spiritually adopted (as young adults) Ethiopian American sons. We all were kind of nervous about what would happen, how it would play out.
What happened was extraordinary in its simplicity. They turned off Fox News and turned on football. We didn’t talk politics. We talked about what we were grateful for. We caught up on what was going on in each other’s lives. My brother offered one of my kids a job — telling him that anyone with a CDL who can pass a drug test can make $80 K / year working for a concrete company and promised to do some digging about possible connections he might have in Chicago — giving a young kid hope and better direction for his future. Over mashing potatoes, my sister-in-law brought me up to date on her work disrupting mass incarceration with the state of New Jersey. These are my evangelical, Trump-supporting relatives, doing more than just talking about changing society in directions I wholeheartedly support.
My brother has a Thanksgiving ritual. We sit in a circle and each of us — each of the 30 people gathered — says what we are most grateful for this year — in the moment or in retrospect. My niece’s fiancé said, “I’m grateful she said yes!” My mom said, “That we’re all here together, healthy.” When it got to my brother’s son, Zach, the conservative mayor of his small town, he ventured into political territory, alluding to being grateful for the current national leadership. Uneasy intake of breath. My other nephew, sister’s son, Bryant, retorted “I’m grateful the Democrats took the House.” Cheers. My brother shut it down, humorously. Kept the peace with strong body language and a smile, exercising leadership: “We’re not going there tonight.”
I don’t see his move as avoidance: I see it as inclusion.
Yesterday, I was interacting on Facebook with a young (like at least 25 years younger than me) lesbian friend who has broken with the gay community over what she experiences as transphobia. She wrote, “I personally don’t like labels anymore. I would rather just be Sue. I would rather just like you because you’re Katthe. I have actually never asked my partner her label. I just like good people no matter their label or community. Every community is so diverse. Missionaries, I actually like a lot of missionaries now. Who would have thunk?”
It’s simple yet profound: the possibility of connecting with each other through goodness and compassion. The possibility of disagreeing with each other and passionately pursuing our political commitments, but also being able to put them aside, to come together as family.
I wrote Sue back:
“WOW! This is actually so deep (& simple). What the times are calling us all to do is embrace each other as one family — human and non-human, including all and everything — including the planet. I am / have experienced this in my own family of origin. My brother and sister-in-law are Trump supporters. At first I couldn’t be in the same room with them. Cut them out after the election. Over time, my position has softened because they are good people who love me and bring our family together and also make lots of practical concrete contributions to social justice. I don’t agree with their ideology but am finding it possible to both love and enjoy them.” We emoji-ed hearts 💕 to each other, ending a passionate text conversation that had begun with a disagreement on trans / feminist issues and resolved with a muah, without either of us capitulating completely to the other’s point of view. With me having learned something: which is always my intention and desire in debate.
I am grateful for having had the opportunity this Thanksgiving to be able to find a path back to loving, respecting, and appreciating my brother and his family as the good people they are. The kind and generous and welcoming people they are. I am grateful to have had a powerful experience of family. Of inclusion. Of healing. Because I want more love instead of more hate in my life and in the world. I am hungry for being included rather than being isolated. I need to be the change I want to see in the world. Ironically, my Trump-supporting, Fox News-watching brother and sister-in-law lit up this path in what was feeling like inexorable darkness. I didn’t have the words on the spot, in the circle, to say it, but this year, I give thanks for learning and experiencing the power of diversity AND inclusion.