I finally cried. It was Richard Dreyfuss’ face at the end of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” that did it.
And writing this.
This election opened a door that will never be shut. Just as the door of slavery is open, forever, behind us, this door will stay open. Our deepest impulses to wall each other out, to be petty, to throw grenades and run and hide behind friends or money or religion, our past, our race, the whole infection is out where we can see it now.
These weeks felt both like when I broke up with the man I wanted to marry, and the weeks after 9/11. After I broke up with the man, I knew I would not be the same person. After 9/11, I knew our country would not be the same.
I never knew before that our country will not last forever, that God will last longer. I’m not sure what I mean by “God” exactly, maybe I mean our stories, maybe I mean art. I don’t mean my religion, my practice, or churches, or anything like that.
In a good way, I knew I would never be the same after that breakup. I had never been brave enough to love someone completely. Misguided though it might have been, I had loved someone completely, and it had completely fallen in, as completely as bombed out Dresden.
That Christmas, it was near Christmas, was maybe the most beautiful, in a way, though, I was so tender I burst into tears whenever I wanted to, and I cried better than I had ever cried. I couldn’t believe it could be, could ever be Christmas again. But it was.
We did everything we always did, I was, with great luck, wrapped in so much familial love, I could never fall too far in any direction. There was an enormous snow, and my sisters and I were stuck at my mom’s, the four of us in her two-bedroom duplex, and we got up, put on all the long underwear and pants and sweaters and hats and mittens we had, and went out into the yard and built a snowman, which was actually more of an iceman because the snow was like that, we had to bring warm water out to seal the outside of our man, then we went back inside and watched TV until we had made each other completely insane.
But I knew, that year, about tiny, frail things being born in the dead of winter. I was a tiny, tender thing.
Dreyfuss’ character, Roy, was a man changed. He knew something, and he just wants someone to tell him, “This is really happening.” A person for whom a huge, frightening surprise falls upon him, and it becomes a beautiful opening, not a closing, not an end. He gets hit with the light, like Saul. His wife doesn’t understand, he loses his children. Then he loses his planet. Or he leaves it.
I took the train to my piano bar in the city, and as I descended its steps, I knew I would be all right. I got a drink, I got a seat, and we sang and sang and sang. I didn’t care what we sang, though it helped that they were songs by Jews and gay men, mostly, and we knew the words, even to the songs that were very old, and I knew that whatever happened, we were never going back.
Everything that scares me about who I am, who I might be, is held at bay by the strength of oppressed people. They never cease to comfort and inspire me.
There are other dangers. But we’re not going back. We won’t be the same people. Already we are not the same people. We can be new people, who are more kicked in the teeth, but more tender as a result, and more brave. Enormous change means being someone else. We have to be new people.
Because we’re never going back.
Image: “UFO Photo” by Jim Shaw, Metropolitan Museum of Art.