November 10, 2016
There’s a scene in Neil Gaiman’s novel, Neverwhere whose poignancy resonates with me now, after the 2016 presidential election here in the United States.
Two of the characters, ‘Richard’ and ‘Door’ have passed through the Angelus to meet with the angel Islington. Why they are there—the purpose of their journey, which involved seeking Islington’s help—is not relevant here but something that took place with them is. It’s a part that touched me deeply given present circumstances in America. A simple moment when Islington serves Richard and Door some wine. I’ll share a piece here from the narrative—paraphrased—to try and show how extraordinary that wine was:
The angel Islington lifted the bottle: it looked like a decanter. Richard wondered if it was made of glass; it refracted and reflected the candlelight so strangely. Perhaps it was some kind of crystal or a single, huge, diamond. The wine inside glowed as if it were made of light.
“This wine,” said Islington, “is the last bottle of its kind.” He stated reverently, almost lovingly and began to pour the luminous liquid into glasses, like a priest performing a ritual. “When one tastes it,” Islington said wistfully, “I like to imagine that one is actually tasting the sunlight of bygone days.”
Richard and Door lifted their wine glasses. “It’s amazing,” said Richard. “And magical,” said Door sipping the liquid light. “I’ve never tasted anything like it.”
“And you never will again,” said Islington. “There is no more wine from Atlantis.”
There’s more to the scene but in the span of a single page of narrative Neil Gaiman’s skillful writing conveyed how distinct Atlantis must have been: a wondrous city of enlightenment and beauty. And how sad it was to muse on its passing and that it no longer existed.
I felt it, too—that sense of loss—as I read Neil’s words. They wrapped around me and connected with what I’d yet to articulate about the election. My thoughts shifted from Atlantis to what has happened in America. A place that many—not just its citizens but people around the world—see as a wondrous land where hope lives and enlightenment exists (though there have been, still are, battles to make and keep it so).
I—through eyes, much different from two days ago—view America as Islington must have thought of Atlantis. Now, after this tragedy of the democratic process, I feel I’ve lost something and already long for its return. And it’s been only one day. It’s horrible, and I cannot yet fully comprehend the magnitude of the mistake this election will prove to be and its impact on how other nations see America. And then there will be the economic consequences that remain to be seen and felt.
The conversation with my two youngest daughters, Amelia and Bonnie, yesterday morning was difficult as I worked through explaining the results of the election, what it means, how it happened and so on. They had seen and heard Trump for over a year and were revolted/repulsed by him as a human being and by his treatment and opinion of women, his message of fear and hate. Explaining to my daughters how my country—our country—could elect a man like Trump is possibly the hardest thing I’ve had to do as a father. I told them our individual goal as Americans remains to be kind, compassionate and respectful (to those who deserve it) citizens and to believe in what’s right and follow that path. And to continue to be against what’s wrong.
And there is so much of it—what’s wrong—that Trump personifies, as do many of his supporters that spew hate—their fear created and fed by others—fueled by their unacknowledged ignorance. Or worse… their motivation to vote for him was self-interest or a willingness to condone electing a man like Trump just because of his ‘Republican’ label and him saying that he’ll do the things they want (perhaps even the dark—damning—things they would never dream of vocalizing themselves) that are counter to the principles America was founded on.
It’s unfortunate that not enough who oppose Trump’s world of paranoia fed ‘groupthink’ rallied to ensure a better outcome for this election. But what makes America great still exists in the people that did not and do not support what Trump espouses. They did not and won’t fall prey to his twisting and perversion of the truth and facts… his (and his supporters) hate and fear mongering.
So… ‘there is no more wine from Atlantis,’ for now.
I plan to follow the advice I gave my two youngest daughters, I will not change and remain steadfast in being kind, doing good and opposing those who do not believe in equality, civility, and respect for all who deserve it.
“These are the times that try men’s souls.” –Thomas Paine
This simple quotation is from Founding Father Thomas Paine’s The American Crisis. Throughout most of Paine’s life, his writings inspired passion. He communicated the ideas of the Revolution to common farmers as easily as to intellectuals, creating prose that stirred the hearts of the fledgling United States. He had a grand vision for society: he was staunchly anti-slavery, and he was one of the first to advocate a world peace organization and social security for the poor and elderly.
I hope that those of us—not just Americans but those around the world—who are disheartened at the recent election results, can take strength from past experience in overcoming adversity and bad decisions thrust upon us. We’ll keep pushing on and hope changes can be made in congressional elections in two years and then in 2020, kick Trump’s ass out of the White House.
That’s how we bring back the wonder of Atlantis and strengthen a light only temporarily dimmed.