I know it’s not healthy, but I can’t help but quantify my toughness. I count the miles I run, the games I win, the bruises I earn (and press and photograph for depth of their purples and yellows). And for whatever reason (#ThePatriarchy), I’ve always felt that crying is the opposite of toughness. So I try, with all my might and concentration and willpower never to cry.
On that night, I sat on my bed and looked at the ceiling, knowing nothing was up there. No artwork, no mirrors, no stars. I just wanted to counter the force of gravity in hopes that—I don’t know—my eyes would become sponges and just sop the tears back up.
You are not a crier, I reminded myself, and tucked my head in its shell like a little box turtle.
I cry so infrequently that I should have the union guys install one of those 522 days since a workplace incident signs in my bedroom or bathroom or wherever you fucking people cry. It had been about that long. Not that I was counting.
But this whole election had me feeling things. And that night, after all the build up, I couldn’t hold it in any longer. I didn’t weep or anything—let’s not be dramatic here—but tears fell, and I sniffled a few times, and my face turned red and blotchy, which is the ugly punishment God gives me for betraying my toughness.
Fine. I cried. I can admit it.
I was just so… moved. I’d never felt that way before. Things designed to make me feel that way—poetry, literature, weddings, the scene in The Lion King when Simba ascends Pride Rock—had never stirred up emotions quite like these. I was confused. What was happening? Why was I crying? And most importantly, if these were happy tears, did this count against my record?
I sat in my bed, alone, and watched the news. Around the world, men and women and children poured into their public squares to celebrate your inauguration. The cameras cut to Japan, to Turkey, to Kenya, to the UK.
The people chanted your name. They danced in the streets. Everywhere, they beamed like they had been the ones who elected you. Their joy summoned the spirits of Ronald Reagan and Jack Kennedy and John Winthrop for heaven’s sake.
Regular people around the world believed in America. My God, they believed in America like I believe in America. It was so light, so brilliant, so illuminating. So… hopeful.
That was by design, wasn’t it, Mr. President?
In 2004, I watched your speech at the Democratic National Convention with other overachieving student government nerds in my summer apartment at the University of Maryland. And I caught fire watching you. John Kerry would go on to lose the election, but I knew then, just like everyone else, that you were the future. That you were a visionary. That you were the guy.
During those next four years of the Bush Administration, the economy tanked. The stock market crashed. We were in two major wars, neither of which really seemed to be getting anywhere. New Orleans drowned. Fox canceled Arrested Development. Our Vice President shot his friend in the face.
Your message could have been doom and gloom. If not me, then this. Fire and brimstone. Hysteria. Anger. Anxiety. Depression. Danger. Fear.
You told us Yes We Can. You got us Fired up and ready to go. Your words painted a picture of the America I believed in, the one I studied in my public school textbooks. America, the righteous, gutsy nation that had won the Revolutionary War, defeated Hitler and the Axis, landed on the moon, and glistened from sea to shining sea.
You brought us together. You made us believe. Not just in you, but in ourselves. In this romantic idea of what America is and can be.
You reminded us who we are.
You didn’t sell hope. You gave it away for free. When you said Yes We Can, there was no opting out. Because you truly believed it. And so did I.
So much that I went to Columbus, Ohio to campaign for you. It snowed the whole 12 hour bus ride, and I almost puked like 80 times, and I slept in a cold YMCA gym where I didn’t know a soul. But that next day, I still knocked on hundreds of doors in the freezing cold. And, toughness be damned, I hate the cold, Mr. President. But I still did it for you.
And when I came home, I made phone calls for you. And I hate the phone too.
Even with a do-nothing, obstructionist Congress. Even when Superstorm Sandy destroyed my sister’s house, the town where my parents live, and the beaches where I grew up. Even when terrorists attacked the Boston marathon and a gunman shot up children in a classroom and cops killed Black boys and Jay Z cheated on Beyoncé.
You were not afraid. Against all odds, you gave us what you had always given us: the audacity of hope. You made me believe there was always a way forward. Always something I could do better. Always something we, the greatest country on Earth, could do better.
And of all the things you stand for—the policies, positions, and politicking—it is your capacity for hope that makes you truly exceptional. I’m so grateful for it. Thank you, Mr. President.
I don’t want to watch the inauguration. I don’t want to think about you, riding in that armored black car, sitting next to him. I don’t want to watch as the nation willfully hands itself over to fire and brimstone. To Hysteria. Anger. Anxiety. Depression. Danger. Fear.
And, dammit, I don’t want to cry.
But I realized that when our country needs us, we can’t just look away. We can’t just stare at the ceiling. We have to be tough enough to feel the things we feel. Because you can’t fight what you don’t know.
So, today, I will watch. For you. For me. For America. Because your watch is over, Mr. President. Now it’s our turn to inspire hope and change.
Tomorrow I will march. And rally. And raise hell. Because democracy is not a spectator sport. I’m out here looking for signs of hope, and if I can’t find any, then I have to be one myself.
And though the stakes are higher, I’m still fired up and ready to go.