Americans are anxious. In the wake of two recent terrorist attacks in Europe and a contentious presidential election, stress levels are understandably high. In fact, a recent study by the American Psychological Association found that the current political climate is a “very or somewhat significant source of stress" for a majority of Americans.
It’s a logical response to a world of breathless twenty-four hour news coverage and social media debate. I feel it myself. As a parent of two small children, I want to model healthy and compassionate civic engagement… but I’m finding it a challenge to stay politically engaged without succumbing to petty partisanship.
Dorothy Day, the famed activist of the Catholic Worker Movement, once said “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”
After working in Washington, I find myself reminded of this quote repeatedly as I encounter my new neighbors and friends back here in Vermont. On a daily basis, I’m struck by the empathy and humanity I witness in my community. At school drop-off, the farmers marker, and interfaith services… my family has been overwhelmed by the generosity of spirit from people of every ideology. Here, we are still neighbors first. Here, a person can talk about the rainy spring we’ve been having with anyone – whether or not we agree on Brexit and Obamacare. And it isn’t because Vermonters are quiet about their politics. In fact, we’re quite brazen. But it’s something of a feat to be both brazen and compassionate.
There are still moments when our national divisions can feel intractable, but to a great extent, I find a salve in my own community, an antidote to the “long loneliness” that Dorothy Day described.
On a recent drive from Burlington to the Northeast Kingdom, along lush rolling hills, I passed Buddhist prayer flags, rainbow flags, Black Lives Matter signs, Phil Scott for Governor banners, and Donald Trump signs. They were all separated by just a few curves of the road, and many were just a stone’s throw from one another.
And I thought, “These are my people… all of them.”