It has taken me a week to process the Women’s March. Yes, in this high-speed world I remain impossibly slow. But in this case, and from my big picture perspective of a culture on the edge of change for the better (and it is), I think that’s not a bad thing.
I had my hesitations about being part of what promised to be a big moment. But most of them stemmed, I admit, from what-ifs – worries that, even if they were valid, should simply not have been entertained.
Every what-if was a strain of one disease: fear.
There was the initial concern, related to my experience at Richmond’s March on Monument (my first such march since college), that it would be too overwhelming to handle. (Overwhelming, the Washington one certainly was.)
There was the sense that something scary or violent could happen. (Though it didn’t, there had been violence in DC the day before; the spectre was all too real.)
And then there was the worry that maybe it wouldn’t mean quite what I thought it would. That it would ring insincere, or hollow, somehow.
The latter proved to be entirely wrong, and that, I think, speaks volumes.
Here are two truths about, at least, my own experience.
First: it was incomprehensibly encouraging and eye-opening. It was the togetherness that made it so. Moments of despair over others’ suffering leads me, as it does so many of us, to feel utterly alone. This protest proved that this is not so: we are not alone. None of us is alone. No matter the struggle, no matter the suffering. It cannot be said enough.
When we feel alone, many of us (myself included) continue to isolate ourselves, for – of course – fear of others knowing how strong we are not. But there is another story we can choose to tell ourselves. That story is: when we feel alone, we decide that the medicine is love and understanding. We come alongside one another to prove that you don’t have to be alone. Then we get to stand in a shared strength that says: your sadness, confusion, and grief are mine, too. No matter what the issue at hand is. Even if there is no issue at all.
Which brings me to the second truth: the march was very physically (and at times, emotionally) uncomfortable.
I live in a highly walkable city that’s not very densely populated, in a life that rarely requires driving a car or using mass transit. Never before have I stood on a metro train so tightly packed as those we rode this weekend, or in a crowd with as little space to move. It is difficult to describe how little, but imagine being able to stand without putting weight on your feet, and you’ll get a vague idea.
Panic was my first instinct. There was so much heat and so little air. There were so many people. A disaster could be imminent, with so many people. The thought of how do I get away floated through my mind.
But then I remembered: of course. This is the point. And I, for one, have some work to do when it comes to getting this kind of uncomfortable.
Too many people – too many women – have had to live this way, in systems and structures and even families packed so tight that they can barely breathe or be. Too many people – women and men alike – have been wrongfully kept in quarters like this before, too – be it on a slave ship or concentration camp – with no choice but to keep going until they could no longer.
In short: on Saturday in DC, we were all exposed to some very extreme empathy, if we so chose to let the experience affect us.
There were, unfortunately, a few individuals nearby who were not ready to do that. There were complaints. There was a palpable dismay. It was disheartening, for a few moments. But I understand them; I do. I was there not so long ago.
But the thing is, there are costs to comfort. And to this woman, it is too late to continue to be afraid of getting uncomfortable. There are too many people who will suffer otherwise.
And frankly, more intense than the discomfort – more beautiful, and more freeing – is this sense of pride that I carry with me as I return to my regularly scheduled life. It’s strange, that this pride is so foreign and new. It feels as odd a fit as a style of overcoat I’ve never worn before. But this sense is that I am proud to be a woman.
It’s unreal. What if we were all so joyous? What if we decided that we are proud of each other?
Maybe this is where we go from here.