This holiday season, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who felt the way Charlie Brown did when he opened his mailbox to find nothing but an echoing empty space. Try as I might, I can’t wholly blame social media, used to proclaim everything from romantic enchantment/disillusionment to feline excitement, for the dearth of cards in my box.
The hard truth: I’ve been forced to realize that some of those absent cards were powerfully silent missives conveyed by those who no longer wish to traverse the often-treacherous fissures that separate and increasingly fortify Blue and Red America.
Like many other Americans, I’ve talked in various degrees of frustration and anger about our badly divided country. I’ve winced so hard I thought my skull might crack when I saw the fake news, insults and stupidly vulgar attempts at humor that friends and acquaintances of varied shades of red and blue posted on Facebook and Twitter about those they not only don’t agree with, but now consider grave and intelligence-challenged adversaries. Hiding posts and un-following some of these people helped release my wince just a bit. Of course, one person who is now very much an ex-friend did take the time to send a card featuring a cheery Santa. In it, she wrote that I and those who think like me have ruined America and that I should just leave the country now. I’m very glad she paid me in full for the money I lent her for her nasty divorce 20 years ago.
Still, it wasn’t until I received only a few cards, after sending a card to every political opposite friend on my list who didn’t engage in particularly vile online behavior, that I really understood that America’s divisions are not contained to state boundaries, demographics, “Whole Foods versus Cracker Barrel” or the shrieks from sometimes wise but often insipid political commentators. The divisions have torn down to the threads of real people.
And not just at difficult Thanksgiving dinners. If my experience is not atypical, a whole lot of us, no matter our political beliefs, are finding ourselves in real-life situations of very real unfriending. I suppose we should not be surprised. When considering what too many of us released from our darker zones during the most raucous, polarized presidential election in modern history, one doesn’t need to be a psychiatrist to see that the damage will not be confined to missed Christmas cards.
Amid the splinters that lurch between people and regions, some of our political leaders are spouting sound bites of differing sincerity about the dire need to mend the nation’s divides. A bit. And I suppose even partially sincere talk of healing is better than that which may cause the divides to yawn wider. One does wonder if any desired healing will be a mending that benefits most everyone and is not merely a sinister attempt to conquer, dominate, and rule “the others” by force and fear.
All the same, anyone who has dished out muck or has been on the receiving end of such (no matter how funny or true we thought it at the time we threw it) must ask if true healing can occur when people not only don’t want to talk to others who think differently but consider those persons to be somehow less than worthy of recognition as fellow human beings who deserve dignity and respect. Can healing truly take place when people use terms such as libtards, idiots, white trash, or conceited elites to identify those they once might have been delighted to get drunk with, share life’s most wonderful and most sorrowful moments, or even just live together as neighbors in peace, if not exactly someone-died-or-had-a-baby-casserole-bringing warmth?
To be fair, a few of my friends who think differently made a big effort to reach out to me after the election to say that no matter how much we may disagree or fight, we must continue to be able to drink a beer or Crown Royal together at the day’s end and want only the best for each other. One couple told me I’m always welcome to food, lodging and libation in their room named in honor of one of my less cherished presidents.
And so, as Christmas came and went without the presence of those who once were friends but maybe, in the final analysis, weren’t such great friends after all (and yes, some of them might think the very same about me. And you too.), I have resigned myself to accepting the empty box Charlie Brown found so sad to behold.
I’ve also accepted the thought that any national healing that might take place will only occur after many of us find out, in the words of the old Joni Mitchell song that “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”
That might include holiday cards and people we once loved.
Mary Stanik, a writer and public-relations professional, lived in St. Paul until her recent move to Arizona. She is the author of the novel “Life Erupted.”
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