Crossing a great divide of any sort is a monumental task and can often be a cataclysmic one as well. Earth-shattering. Soul shaking. Mind-blowing. Such a divide was recently crossed last week and thankfully we are still standing. The great experiment of Democracy was tested these past few months in a way it has not been for many generations. The foundations of all we felt to be true and good and real were crumbling in a way never seen in a very long time. Maybe centuries. It was a wake-up call. It was an Epiphany.
Webster’s Dictionary describes “epiphany” as “an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure; a revealing scene or moment” (Merriam-Webster, 2021). In the Christian religion, the Epiphany is celebrated 12 days after Christmas on the 12th day of Christmas, January 6th. Also known as Three Kings Day or Day of the Magi, it is the day Christians believe three wise men finally reached a certain baby in a manger in Bethlehem after following a bright star in the east that led them to that very spot. But on January 6, 2021, a different kind of epiphany was happening not only in this country but all over the world to those who witnessed those events, watching in horror and fascination and to be honest, for many, with glee. This great country, a beacon of hope and opportunity for so many in the world for over 200 years, was under attack by its own citizens.
In 1967, Stephen Stills wrote a song called “For What It’s Worth” (check it out here) about the Vietnam war protests. Sung by the group, Buffalo Springfield, the song’s most famous line “It’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound, Everybody look what’s going down,” was as relevant in 2021 as it was in 1967. What exactly was going down? Even as events unfolded we were in disbelief. This didn’t happen here. This happened in other countries whose governments were unstable, whose citizens were rebellious and whose dictators wrested power from others by force. Oh…wait…
In the aftermath of the insurrection, when we all started to realize that the overthrow was not successful and that, although Lady Liberty was bruised and battered, she was still standing, it was most gratifying to see the swift reaction to the event by those in power, by those poised to take over power, by businesses and law enforcement and by millions of citizens who denounced the event as going against all the good and great beliefs we stand for. They all had had an Epiphany too. Yet, the days following January 6th found many of us anxious and nervous. Was this over? Would January 20th happen without a hitch? What exactly was going down?
It was with a huge sigh of relief that we crossed the great divide on the 20th. It was ultimately a beautiful day, topped by an appeal from a man who most likely thought it was his time to put his feet up after decades of service but has fully realized that now is actually his time. That day felt like a balm, like a blanket of peace fell over the land, that mutual respect had come back into the narrative, that truth and science were actually acknowledged. But the lessons of the Epiphany could not be starker, nor have they gone away. In the attempt for justice and responsibility for actions taken on that day, it is very clear that fear is a huge motivator. So is ambition. So is greed. And the hate and lies and mistrust cannot disappear after one glorious day of recognition.
I think a lot about the past year, the current days marking the anniversaries of the first cases of the virus that has plunged us into this devastating pandemic. The fear, the misinformation, the deaths. The loss of jobs and homes and way of life. Masks and science rallying points to divide us even more. The hard fought presidential election that brought so much ugliness to light. I think about telling my grandson in the future just what the world was like when he came into being. He will study this year in his history books and search “COVID-19 pandemic” and “2020 election” on his phone. He will not remember a world where a woman was not a Vice President and maybe by the time he is old enough to know, President. He might wonder why we could not have been more or done more as a nation and why certain things were allowed even when we knew they were wrong. Maybe by then I will have some answers for him.
If my grandson were to ask me today, I think I could tell him with complete honesty that I believe we will be alright. Yes, we have crossed a great divide like many of our ancestors before us. We have come to the other side where a tenuous peace and calm reside. There is so much work to be done but it is heartening to see a man committed to getting things moving and not just swirling. A man raised in a blue-collar family, rolling up his shirtsleeves as he encourages us all to do the same. A man calling for unity even as the divisions between us are deep and wide. I believe it is in us to do the work that must be done. We just need to start by being nice to each other.