I made a chocolate cake last weekend because my husband’s aunt was coming for dinner, and I thought she’d enjoy dessert. The cake wasn’t anything special—just a mix jacked up with a cooked homemade frosting. I froze most of it because we don’t need that much cake and put the remainder in the refrigerator. When I sliced off a piece today and tasted that ridge of cold icing, I was reminded of the Sarah Lee cakes my grandmother used to bring home from the Acme. She and I would peel off the cardboard top from the little foil pan and cut a slug of chocolate cake, (or occasionally orange with buttercream frosting) and eat it while it was still frozen, right out of the grocery bag, giggling at the audacity of 11 AM cake. Eating that cold chocolate cake today took me right back to my grandmother’s kitchen with the Formica-topped table and the little window cut in the wall where we moved food in and out for meals on the porch.
I’m currently reading a book about memoir writing where the author suggests using small experiences and tiny details to “find a way in” to your story, to get to some of the hard places. To let the taste of cake or smell of pipe smoke or a crinkled newspaper clipping open the gates and allow the memories and connections to flow.
Maybe we need to find a way in with each other right now. For the first time in my life, politics are impacting relationships, forcing me to make difficult and in some cases, heart-breaking decisions. I feel constantly on my guard, afraid I’ll say something that may offend, and yet frustrated because I believe I have a right to speak my truth, especially when lives are at stake. I tiptoe because so many choose to stomp with steel-toed boots. I’m trying my best to go high and still stand up for what I believe is right and kind and decent. It’s not easy, and some days I’m afraid I’m going to lose it.
Driving back from the park today where I walk (I know, there’s irony in that), I noticed a number of homes had political signs supporting the same person. Several homes had signs supporting another candidate but, sadly, those signs were defaced with the names obliterated by spray paint. The owners of those homes where the signs were defaced chose to leave them up, perhaps as a symbol of where we are right now as a country.
Politics has always been a sordid business but never like this. It didn’t tear us apart and incite violence and hatred. When I was growing up, my parents used to get together with the neighbors on Friday nights to drink a few beers and shoot the breeze. They were on opposite sides of the political spectrum, and there was much shouting and laughter, especially when my mother got going. But no one ever left those Friday night get-togethers angry. Both families would have done anything for each other, and that was far more important than anyone’s political stance.
We need to find our way back into reasonable conversations and healthy arguments even if they’re fueled by beer and pizza. We need to be able to put a sign in our yard or a bumper sticker on our car without fear of vandalism. We need to find the tiny details, the shared human experiences, and the memories of who we used to be that will re-connect us and get us past this terrible and ever-widening chasm of anger. Before it’s too late.