I spent a Saturday this month at the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., and I arrived home feeling heartbroken. It was the last way I expected to feel.
I had spent the morning sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with my 16-year-old daughter, Katherine, whose silent tears on election night in 2016 had marked the beginning of this national nightmare for me. She had insisted we drive from Charlotte to D.C. this year so that we could “protest in front of the president’s house.”
We arrived early enough to hear all of the inspiring speakers; we relished the creativity of the posters and slogans; we watched with gratification as the area surrounding the reflecting pool filled with crowds. Just being among so many like-minded people was comforting. As I overheard one woman say, “I love being here today. It makes me feel less alone.”
I wanted to be with people who shared my anger. Because I have been so angry about Donald Trump this past year. I have been angry at my country for electing this man, angry at my neighbors who support him, angry at the wealthy who sacrificed our country and its goodness for tax breaks, angry at the coal miners who believed his promises.
My fury has been bottomless. I drink my morning coffee from a cup that says, “I hate to wake up when Donald Trump is President.” My husband and I, while reading the latest Trump news, routinely turn to each other and mutter, “I just hate him so much.” The constancy of my outrage has been exhausting, yet I have not yet found a way to quell it - nearly each day has brought a new reason to stoke the fire. But a day with my daughter, communing with the angry and the aggrieved, seemed a good way to try.
After the march, Katherine and I hit the road in the late afternoon, feeling good; we had done our part to express our outrage. We were about 90 minutes south of D.C. when I heard a terrible popping sound. I assumed I had blown a tire and headed toward the nearest exit. The popping was followed by screeching - were we now driving on metal? Luckily, there was a gas station right off the exit and I pulled in.
Before I could do anything but park my grey Prius, a man rushed over. He looked like a mechanic in his well-worn overalls. “I heard you coming down that road,” he said. Before I could say much he started surveying the situation. He didn’t so much offer to help us as get right to work.
It turned out that I hadn’t blown a tire; a huge piece of plastic underneath the front bumper had come loose, causing the screeching as it scraped along the road. After determining that he couldn’t cut the plastic off, he ran over to his car to grab some zip ties so that he could secure the piece back in place.
He did all of this so quickly that I didn’t have time to grab the prominent RESIST sticker on the side of my car, which suddenly felt needlessly alienating. As this man lay on the ground underneath my car with his miracle zip ties, I asked if he thought they would hold for four more hours of driving.
“Just ask any redneck like me what you can do with zip ties - well, zip ties and duct tape. You can solve almost any car problem. You’ll get home safe,” he said, turning to his teenage son, who had been standing nearby. “You can say that again,” his son agreed.
The whole interaction lasted 10 minutes, tops. But that good Samaritan - I never learned his name - was a man of his word: Katherine and I made it home safely.
Our encounter changed the day for me. While I tried to dive back into my liberal podcast, my mind kept being pulled back to the gas station. I couldn’t stop thinking about the man who called himself a “redneck” - the man who came to our rescue. I don’t know his politics, but I sized him up as a Trump voter, just as he likely drew inferences from my Prius and RESIST sticker. But for a moment, we were just two people and the exchange was kindness (his) and gratitude (mine).
As I drove home, I felt the full extent to which Trump has actually diminished my own desire to be kind. He is keeping me so outraged that I hold ill will toward others on a daily basis. Trump is not just ruining our nation, he is ruining me. By the end of the drive, I felt heartbroken.
When my husband and I first moved to Charlotte eight years ago, I liked to tell people that our neighborhood represented the best impulses of America. In our little two-block craftsman-home development, we had gay and straight families and people of every political persuasion from liberal to moderate Republican to Tea Party, and we all got along. We held porch parties in the summer time and a progressive dinner during Christmas. It wasn’t perfect, but for the most part it worked. We put being a cohesive neighborhood above politics.
But this year, I realize, I have retreated from my porch. President Trump upended civility and decency in our country from the day he declared his candidacy with a speech that included a reference to “Mexican rapists.” Trump seems determined to divide us along racial and ethnic and gender lines. And his cruelty and mendacity demand outrage and the most vigorous resistance a nation can muster.
And yet the experience with the man at the side of the road felt humbling. It reminded me that we are all just people trying to get home safe. And that we need each other. It felt like a sign, that maybe if we treat one another with the kindness and gratitude that is so absent from our president and his policies, putting our most loving selves forward, this moment can transform into something more bearable?
I want to come away from the march with that very simple lesson, but it begs this question: How do we hold onto the fire and the outrage that fuels our resistance to all of the cruelty that Trump is unleashing, but also embrace the world with more love?
I wish I knew the answer.
Ruth Mayer is a development and communications consultant in Charlotte. She wrote this for the Charlotte Observer.