You could almost hear it on January 20th, as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were sworn in – the sound of an entire country (or most of it) exhaling. Friends, both male and female, told me how they watched the Inauguration with tears streaming down their faces. I did as well, feeling not only a surge of emotion and hope, but a letting go of the tension that had kept me in knots for the past four years. I would no longer have to wake up in the morning dreading what Donald Trump might have in store for us that day. I would no longer feel my breath catch in my throat every time I heard “breaking news” on the TV or the radio. I would no longer be consumed with dread that America was in its death throes.

 But fear is an interesting thing. It has a muscle memory. Even though we know we can breathe easier, even though our minds accept a new reality, our emotional musculature lags behind. I am not the only American who still tenses up when a news reporter says, “Today the president…” I have to remind myself that he or she is referring to President Biden. I have to tell myself that, while there are still things to fear – Covid being a big one – I don’t need to be awash in terror all the time. We are no longer a country without leadership; we are no longer careening toward a cliff. We came shockingly close to losing our democracy, our country, everything that America stands for…but we didn’t. 

 America was in an abusive relationship for the past four years, and as with any abusive relationship, the emotional wounds take time to heal over. Years ago, I was in an emotionally abusive relationship that never descended into violence, but I often suspected that physical abuse was just beneath the surface, waiting to explode. Long after I exited that relationship, I learned that the man had been arrested for domestic battery. I wasn’t surprised.

I remember how I felt when I walked away from him – like layers of my skin had been scraped away, like my blood was dangerously close to the surface, like I could be injured by just brushing past someone. I remember the questions that haunted me. How could I have ignored the signs? Debased myself by staying with a man who humiliated me, manipulated me, zeroed in on every weak point and attacked them with words like scalpels? In the end, I had to accept that I had allowed this. The problem wasn’t that there was a destructive man in my midst, the problem was I took him home. 

It occurs to me that we as a country are at some point going to have to come to terms with the fact that we gave Donald Trump the keys to the White House. We took him home, even though it was glaringly obvious who and what he was. Maybe it was our naivete – thinking that racism, antisemitism, the unbridled hatred of White Supremacy, were on the fringes of our society, not deeply embedded. We got educated quickly when columns of neo-Nazis marched through Charlottesville. And our education continued with every rally, every demonstration, and finally with the Confederate flag being marched through the Capitol. To be fair, Donald Trump didn’t mastermind these groups; he just said to them, “Come on out of the shadows. The weather’s fine.”

So maybe to truly exhale, to truly feel like we have recovered, we need to look hard at our weak points, at where we fell down, where we failed to notice the darkness that was encroaching. Strength comes from opening up to weaknesses and saying, Okay let’s get to work on these. Let’s stare right at the darkness and dissolve it with light, because attacking it with another version of darkness isn’t going to work. The man who beat me down emotionally and went on to beat another woman with his fists was someone I ended up hating for quite a while. But the more I learned about myself, about why I had said yes to him, he faded in importance. What remained in me wasn’t the sharp cut of hatred; it was the knowledge that I would never again fall prey to such a man because I had found my strength, I had found my light, and his darkness was just a speck in the distance. I think we can do that as a country, and I believe we started down that path on January 20th.


  1. Lydia Slatton says:

    Thank you again for your words. It truly does take time, distance and education to heal and recover from the trauma of abuse. I too have walked my own path to regain my strength. It is wonderful to know the control of our government and country are in sane hands once again. But the journey of being able and proud to stand in our own truth once again doesn’t happen overnight. We must continue to keep the faith.

  2. Joy kim says:

    Yeah like a breath of fresh air!
    P.s. patti: I saw u w ur parents in the old b&w GE commercial shown in the latest Showtime doc on “The Reagans.” What an adorable & cute kid u were!<3

  3. Sepehr says:

    Fantastic!an exact sample of the American faith

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