B. Shira Levine
Navigating new wilderness


I’m sitting here in front of my computer having a glass of red wine. You probably know why.  At the risk of acting the snowflake, a dramatization:

On November 8, 2016, I was on a client site 500 miles away from here, watching the screens at a casual dinner place with a co-worker and her family. They were not even a little nervous, which made me even more nervous.  I never took a Clinton victory for granted–at the same time, if I had ever allowed myself to actually imagine the experience of a Trump win, I would never have spent that night away from home. As the results started rolling in, my companions remained in denial; my alarm bells were going off by 8 PM when several swing states looked redder than I expected. When my uber-political brother responded to my frantic texts in agreement with me that it didn’t look good, I knew it was over. Later, my coworker’s family finally started to tip toward “it’s not the end of the world.” (I will spare you my response to that, but let’s just say it was a tad awkward when they dropped me off at my hotel.)

The next fraught hours I spent without hope but without closure, glued to the hotel room TV, eventually sedating myself and turning it off in a vain attempt to sleep.  I drifted off for about 30-40 minutes at some point, and then magically woke up to pick up my silent phone, seconds later receiving a dozen push notifications that Donald Trump had clinched the electoral college.

It took me about another hour to realize I wasn’t getting back to sleep that night–at which point I packed up and fled despite not being scheduled to leave for another day or two.  In the airport terminal during the wee hours of the morning, I sat on the floor, bleary-eyed and on the verge of tears. I searched faces for any sign of commiseration, coming up short. Business as usual, at least for everyone working or flying early November 9–though I imagine more people would have asked me if I was ok if they hadn’t suspected the reason. I began to profile people shamefully–a group who appeared to be of Trump’s core constituency was on my flight, and my stomach turned to be near them. I feared strangers as I never had before. I restrained myself from glaring at everyone for letting this happen, whether through supporting him, overlooking the horrible things about him, failing to show up at the polls, protest voting, not donating enough.

I somehow dragged myself in a corpselike state through the rest of the workday.  I then dragged myself through the next few months in a complete state of emergency, ringing alarm bells and breaking stuff all over the place, only to pass out in my soup for most of the 6th District race.

On June 20, 2017, I planned to attend the official Ossoff campaign watch party, but the universe had other plans. The sitter canceled. The rain put me a half-hour behind picking up the kids. The cold I’ve had for two weeks never went away, meaning standing up til the wee hours had the potential to be very unpleasant.

So! Instead of surrounding myself with tons of people until late in the night, I put myself to bed with some 9 PM Nyquil and turned off my phone. Sustained sleep eluded me. I woke up every hour or so, finally caving to my anxiety at about 4 AM to open CNN to the nauseating headline “Democrats 0-4 — how will they ever win?”

I again stayed awake, knowing better than to try to get back to sleep. This time, I woke up to live!  And what I mean by live is…  sorting a year’s worth of mail.

No seriously.  My husband and I had over a year of piled-up mail.

Between work calls and projects, I picked up envelope after envelope, coupon flyers, postcards, other random junk.  I called doctor’s offices to ask them if we had paid bills (we had, luckily).  I registered for a bunch of websites to get them to stop sending us paper mail. I sucked it up and figured out how to use my scanner app (TinyScan, which is amazing, by the way, and well worth paying for), took a bunch of pictures of kid artwork and bills and then threw them all away.  And by golly, there is no mail in my house, save a few stray items sorted and labeled, which I know exactly how and when to handle.  I sincerely believe what I said yesterday–Jon Ossoff won even though he lost–but man, a demonstrable victory in my life felt good, even if it was over a giant mountain of paper.

My husband often likes to allude to a “break in the clouds”–one of his songs even has that name.  It alludes in both word and tune to Noach’s story, reference the rainbow that symbolizes the serene aftermath of the flood’s destruction.  But raging storms are equally essential to our experience on this earth. The greater challenge is–whether presently or in hindsight–finding tiny, unexpected perforations where life peeks through the thickest of fog.

One of the items of child artwork I scanned and threw away--a joint effort by my three-year-old and me
One of the items of child artwork I scanned and threw away–a joint effort between my three-year-old and me

Life; November 9th’s urgent compulsion to return immediately to my husband and children–to come to terms with this next chapter, to figure out how to live through it and to take it on.

Life; words of empathy from a political opponent who respects my passion despite toiling intensely on behalf of his; fleeting glimpses into the divine energy beyond earthly separations.

Life; a few hours coaching my grandpa post-brain surgery, through grueling therapies to relearn mental and physical tasks we forget are blessings.

Life; celebrating my young cousin’s 21 brief years with us, carrying her with me on a photo card in my wallet that says “Wamola ni moja,” a Swahili-derived phrase that inspired her, meaning “in God’s eyes we are one.”

Life; digging myself out of a spiritual rut through filling a giant recycling bin.

Life; sipping wine at my desk during a nationwide conference call about strategies to march on for justice, readying myself with patience and faith for what’s next.

L’chaim to all of you divine souls–in God’s eyes we are one.

About the Author
B. Shira Levine writes about Jewish spirituality and observance, parenting, intersectionality, and the U.S. and Atlanta Jewish communities. Views are her own and not those of her employer, synagogues, or any other organization.
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