So, what Im about to write here today may, on the surface, seem to have nothing at all to do with grief or with being widowed – and maybe it doesnt, but it also does. This election and everything surrounding it, has affected me in ways I cannot even describe. It has brought back the intense grief of losing my husband, and I did not expect those feelings to happen, so it was shocking to me. Im going to write a longer piece about it later, but not today. Today, I am just feeling in a funk, and I feel like my mind and brain arent functioning right, and I dont much feel like writing. So Im going to share with you all, something I did with my acting classes yesterday – in our first classes after the election results. Hopefully, at the very least, it will provide a small slice of hope, for even just a few hours or moments.
So today, I worked and taught classes at the Unversity where I work. The “post-election” mood on campus was very sad, morose, students walking around in a fog. It is a largely liberal campus, and recently, there have been issues with racism and attacks and threats on people of color, LGBTQ people, Muslims, and more. We spent the class seeing the monologue presentations that were due, and then with the last 20 minutes or so, I decided to do something a bit different. It is something that I also did with my students 15 years ago, during the class that followed the events on 9/11.
A few years ago, I took a stand-up comedy course that my friend and comedy mentor Jessica Kirson taught. One of the many things that she taught me, that has stuck with me forever, is to always “acknowledge the mood of the room, and react to it in a real and honest way. Otherwise, it just hangs there and everyone is nervous and on edge. When you acknowledge what everyone is thinking, people can then breathe and relax.” I have always believed this to be true with everything in life, not just on a comedy stage.
So, with this in my heart, I asked my students to stand up in a circle. I then told them that I could sense the tone was sad and dark today, and that no matter who you voted for or didn’t vote for in the election, there is a very real feeling of fear and uncertainty in the air. I told them that I would like for them to leave my class today, not feeling despair, but feeling hopeful. Even if its just for an hour. So I asked each person to think about just one thing good that has happened to them this week – something hopeful or joyful or small or large – and share it with the class. It could be anything. Here are some of the things that students said, both today, and 15 years ago (because, yes, I still remember what they said):
“When I got home last night after a long day, I was expecting that all the cake would be gone and I wouldn’t get any, because that always happens. But I opened the fridge, and they had saved me a piece. There was cake! I had cake!”
“Decided to take a trip to Ireland at the end of my senior year. Im 25% Irish and I cant wait to see and experience a new land.”
“We found out that my mom is finally cancer-free.”
“Just as I was pulling up to campus this morning, someone was actually pulling out of a spot RIGHT in front of this building, and I actually found parking. I NEVER find parking! I parked!!!”
“My boyfriend bought me a puppy. “
“I found $20 in my jeans.”
“Last night, I saw my first shooting star.”
“I woke up Wednesday morning, and just didnt want to get out of bed after the election results. I told my boyfriend I cant get out of bed, and I just kept crying. He left the room and I thought he just didnt care or understand. But a few minutes later, he came back with a tray of breakfast. Chocolate chip pancakes, bacon, and coffee. He said if I couldnt get out of bed today, then he would just sit here with me instead.”
“I bought this kick-ass pair of boots, and Im not taking em off.”
“My gay brother came out to my conservative, religious parents, and my dad said ‘Yeah, we already know, and we love you. Can you please pass the pork chops?”
“My Nana taught me how to make her Italian meatballs. Its a secret recipe, and she’s not in good health, and she wanted me to know how so I could keep making them at Christmas.”
As soon as we started doing this, the mood of the room changed so quickly. People began applauding for other people’s “good things” and hopeful moments. And when they left my class, they were smiling, laughing, and communicating with one another. Sure, they will all go back to having anxiety and panic and fear, later today, just as I will too. But for at least a little while, we managed to replace the feelings of despair with feelings of hope. We didnt change the world or anything today, but it still felt pretty awesome.