How Jimmy Carter Helped Soothe My Election Blues

I don’t have much to say about this election. Well, that’s not true exactly. I have so much to say– so many, many, many things to say– that it all goes around and around in circles and cancels everything out and in the end, there’s nothing left but a huge, heavy sigh. And some tears, compulsive chocolate-eating, swearing, quiet rage, uncertainty and exhaustion.

I haven’t felt like writing because it seems like everyone has already written what needs to be read about this all. I’m still trying to make intellectual and emotional sense of our country and our voting process. While I do that, I’m also just coping anyway I know how and anyway I can. “Whatever gets you through the night” is my motto right now. For me, that means reading lots and lots of true crime novels. Isn’t that weird?

When the stock market crashed in 2008, it sent my extremely even-keeled husband into a tailspin. As a financial advisor, he watched in horror as portfolios disappeared, clients’ panicked and his colleagues freaked out. I remember trying to calm him down and nothing worked until I stumbled on the cable series Dexter, about a serial killer in Miami.

I tucked him into the couch with lots of blankets, turned on Dexter and started baking a mountain of muffins. It worked. Watching this vigilante serial killer calmed his nerves and took his mind off the stock market. We binge watched three seasons in one weekend. He slowly got better, subsisting on a diet of muffins and nonstop Dexter.

So I borrowed a page from that dark episode in our country’s financial history and applied it to this latest shock. I started with “The Michigan Murders” which is as highbrow as the title suggests. Then I moved onto “The Monster” which is, as you may have guessed, a very subtle true story about a horrifying serial killer. I’m scared as to what I’ll read next, but I can’t seem to stop it.

I also have a slight obsession with President Jimmy Carter. As far as obsessions go, I think this is a pretty healthy one, especially when compared to my true crime bingeing. It started years ago with my Mom and I talking about him and all the amazing things he has accomplished in his life. And then, I took my family down to Plains to attend his Sunday School last year and that really sealed the deal.

My friends got used to listening to me gush about President Carter and our trip to Plains. We always said we’d go back and make a weekend of it and finally, one day a couple of months ago we just put it together, easily and quickly. Someone found a cheap fare to Atlanta and we all booked it within five minutes; I booked our hotels in another five minutes; someone else got a rental car and boom– our trip was planned. There were originally six of us going, but one of our friends had to have an emergency surgery the week before, so she was with the five of us in spirit.

We picked this particular weekend knowing it would be the first Sunday after the historic election: “It’ll be amazing to hear what President Carter says about electing our first female President,” we all said.

None of you reading this need a spoiler alert for what happened instead.

After the election, I was so upset I couldn’t imagine getting up the energy to head down to Plains a mere four days after the election. I could hardly muster up the physical or emotional strength to put a bra on for two days. How was I going to fly to Atlanta and drive three hours to Plains? My friends all felt the same way.

But I had a concert that week with my beloved Chicago Jazz Philharmonic and that slowly and gradually lifted my spirits. I was surrounded by my musical family who were all in the same beginning stage of grief as I was, and misery sure does love company. Our conductor, Orbert Davis, lifted us up with his composition, his playing and his leadership. I was still dazed and upset, but the music was getting in through the cracks and healing me, note by note. Our concert was Friday night and it was amazing. The audience needed healing, too, and the energy in the Auditorium was intense: grateful, thirsty, sad, triumphant, and powerful. I got home around 11:30 Friday night, slept for a few hours, got up to finish packing and our taxi picked us up at 6AM.

We were all tired having been dragged through an emotional ringer all week. We were wounded, we were limping. But we had our bras on and we were ready to hear what President Carter had to say. I needed to be in the company of like-minded women where I didn’t have to explain or rationalize all the intense emotions I was having. Where no one, no one, was going to tell me to get over it and no one was going to wonder why on earth I was so upset. (Side note to anyone who thinks this way: stop saying that to people about this election. Just stop saying it. If you even think it, immediately tell yourself: “Shut up, Self, don’t say that out loud. It’s a stupid and ignorant thing to say to someone else who is in considerable pain.” Got it? Good.)

I love the women I was travelling with: they are smart, engaged, passionate, confident and capable Moms in my town. We all have kids the same ages, we all share the same interests and we are fierce. We had all voted for Hillary, we were all scared half to death at the thought of President…oh I still can’t say it, let alone write it. You know who and what I mean.

It was so healing being with them all on our “Thelma and Louise and Jimmy” trip. We were all in the same exact boat (or in this precise case, rental minivan. How we could go away for a weekend and leave our collective twelve children behind us and still end up in a damn minivan boggles my mind.) and no explanation was necessary. This was so healing, almost immediately, like a salve applied to a burn.

By the time we made it to Plains after we drove there from Atlanta, we were in good form. We went to President Carter’s boyhood farm and sat in the rocking chairs and swing on his porch. We sat in the beautiful, blessed peace, surrounded by nature. We were so at home, content and relaxed, that when other visitors showed up, they saw us sitting there and actually knocked on the screen door and asked if they could come in because it looked like we owned the place.

We had a lovely dinner that night over in Americus, at our haunted hotel, the Windsor. We laughed, drank wine and ate fried pickles. We talked politics, kids, politics, kids. We went back to our room for a nightcap and I played my violin for a bit to warm up and get my fingers used to it since I had been playing viola all week for my CJP concert. My friends sat and drank wine while I played and we decided that if anyone called up to complain about all the racket, we’d play dumb and say it must be a musical ghost, surely not us, why would we be playing a violin at 10:00 on a Saturday night? That would be really weird.

We got up super early the next morning to get ready and be at President Carter’s church by 8:30. We were so excited and I was a little nervous about playing. Miss Jan sat us in the first two rows, just like last time.

President Carter and Rosalyn looked spry and remarkable for 92 and 89 years old, respectively. They take your breath away to see them; it really is a remarkable life experience. When President Carter began his Sunday School lecture, we were all waiting with baited breath: how is he going to make this all better? How is that even possible?

He did and it was.

He spoke about the election right off the bat. He began by saying that he and his family did not vote for the winner; no surprise there as he had very clearly, publically and loudly announced his support for Hillary Clinton early in the campaign.

Instead what he did was reference his work that he does with the Carter Center, based in Atlanta. They go around the world, into the most volatile, war-torn spots on our planet and monitor elections in order to preserve the democratic process of voting.

He said immediately: this was a fair election. He won. This is the democratic process that we have (darn you, Electoral College!). We have to accept the results, he said.

I felt a shift. For the first time since the night of the election, I felt like the heavy boot that had been pressing down on my throat had been lifted off. I was still on the floor, yes, but no one was stepping on my neck any more. It was a start, however pitiful.

President Carter then told us how he called Donald Trump to congratulate him on his win and I’m not exactly sure, but I think I saw a statue of Baby Jesus weeping in the corner as he said this. I could be projecting just a little bit, though. President Carter told us that he offered Donald Trump his support and his help, since he knew he would need it in the coming years.

If I were Jimmy Carter, I would not have handled things with such grace. I probably would’ve called Donald Trump, yes, but I would’ve been roaring drunk and they would’ve been obscene prank calls, not calls of support and offers of help.

President Carter then told us he called Hillary, to offer his condolences and his understanding since he felt he was in a particularly unique position of having both won and lost a Presidential Campaign. I’m sure Hillary was very happy to hear from him. I hope she Ugly Cried to him on the phone and they both said horrible, horrible things about Donald Trump until Rosalyn had to interrupt them and scold them– but not before she also got in on the act, too.

And finally, President Carter talked about our most valued precious and commodity in our country: freedom. In other countries, he said, their most precious and valued commodities might be shelter, food and clean water. And after those requirements are met, then you look for fair elections.

As Americans, we have all those things. We don’t have to like the results of the election, but we can choose how to respond and how to go forward. We can choose to accept the outcome. We can choose to love. We can choose to hope. That hope that President Carter offered was a glimmer of light for me: it got in through the cracks, as light always does. President Carter spoke elegantly, knowledgably, beautifully about the scriptures of the day and inspired us all.

But this is the nugget I took home and which gave me hope: If you borrow President Carter’s global view, if you borrow his vast life experience, you can look at this election with a different perspective.

In our country, we expect fair elections. We had them. Step One.

I’m not ready for Step Two yet, but like finally getting the strength to put on my bra, it’s the first step towards getting dressed. I experienced a tiny shift with the realization that this was a democratic process, fair and square. It was enough of a shift to hit the pause button in my brain and land on Acceptance.

After church, we all went out to lunch to the only restaurant open in Plains on Sundays, along with the rest of the congregation. We spent the afternoon shopping and walking around tiny Plains and hanging out at the Carter’s old high school, now a National Historic Site. We kept running into the same people around town, some of them relatives of President Carter, some of them close friends. We felt peaceful, safe, and happy. That whole town has a magical feel to it that is very hard to explain. It’s like you’re time-travelling back to a different era in our country. We ended the day by wrapping ourselves in blankets and sitting in rocking chairs on the veranda of the Plains Inn, overlooking Main Street. We laughed until our sides hurt and talked until we froze and had to go inside to continue our talk on the couches. It was so healing. We were transformed.

Someday, I’ll be ready to move towards Step 2, whatever that may be. Until then, I’ll wallow in my puddle of true crime novels and maybe bake some muffins. See you all on the other side.

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