Adjusting My Sails
And exploring my options
Where were you when you heard about JFK’s assassination? Or the 9-11 attacks? Almost everyone has some event embedded in their mind that changed their way of thinking or maybe their life. It was not the moment I heard about the 9-11 attacks that lingers in my psyche. Instead, it was a new feeling of patriotism that flourished over the following days. Never before had I felt such a deep-rooted sense of loyalty to my country, having taken being a US citizen for granted.
The emotions that grew in my heart stemmed from gathering in a park, standing with groups of total strangers and collectively mourning victims we had never met. All over the country, we waved our flags. We hugged and cried. Everyone was nicer, more caring, and much more understanding. We were truly the United States of America.
Then years later, it felt like one outrageous individual, all his followers, and countless politicians more concerned with retaining their status than serving their country stripped this feeling of unity apart.
The night of the 2016 presidential election, I went to bed with a sinking feeling. Enough results were in to let my gut know that Hilary was not going to win. When I awoke the following day, my instincts were confirmed.
The knot in my stomach was impossible to ignore. My level of angst was off the charts — if there is a chart for this sort of thing. How could this have happened? How bad is this going to be? Could this be a terrible dream? I was confused, scared and despondent. Pick any adjective along these lines, and I was feeling it. My whole world felt like it had been turned upside down.
I managed to get dressed and drive to work, but it was hard to focus. People in the office clustered together in small groups, talking in hushed tones. I searched out my co-worker’s faces. Was anyone else feeling what I was feeling? Being acutely aware that politics in the workplace is always a touchy subject, who could I safely talk to? Around noon I received an email from my rabbi, reminding me of the weekday meditation service. He was going to devote time for everyone to share and reflect on their emotions. A huge sense of relief washed over me — I had a place to talk. And I needed to talk.
One thought that kept creeping into my head was, how did some Jews know to leave before the Nazi’s started sending them to death camps? Promptly followed by, oh, Stephanie, you are just being extreme — that could never happen here.
I have voted liberal my whole life and have lived through several Republican presidencies, so I am accustomed to voting on the losing side. The feelings I experienced that day were very different than just the disappointment of not having my candidate win. The anxiety and concern I had was completely new, something I had never felt before. I sensed that this particular election was going to lead my country in a very different direction. And it all felt very, very wrong.
People who voted for “he-who-must-not-be-named” told me they thought his behaviour and comments were just campaign rhetoric. I was aghast. How could they be so blind, I wondered? I then realized the danger of living in my bubble of like-minded people. Of course, I knew that people disliked Hilary, but I honestly had no clue they hated her so much that they would vote for someone I viewed as narcissistic, bigoted, and extremely unqualified.
I tried to engage friends in conversations. How can you support a person who treats women like chattel? What is it about his platform that you find beneficial? Why do you think America is not already great?
I got answers like, “Can’t we just agree to disagree?” Sadly, no, I can’t do that. We are not talking about lemon pie vs cherry pie. We are talking about hugely differing moral compasses. People were changing. Mean and spiteful words spewed comfortably. Of course, it is much easier to say things online that you might not ever say to someone in person, but so much of the rhetoric became outright hateful. As quickly as it had blossomed, my sense of camaraderie and national pride began to erode.
As one day led into the next, my husband and I spent A LOT of time talking and trying to process our new reality. Luckily, we were both having the same feelings.
He said, almost off-handedly, “We could move to another country.”
“WHAT?” I replied in astonishment.
Then my mind started whirling. I have never lived outside of my native Texas, much less in another country. The thought of leaving the United States had never crossed my radar. But once he planted that seed, it took root and started to grow. Why not move to another country? I know it may sound far-fetched or over-reactionary, but I honestly feared my country was headed into an increasingly dangerous place for women’s rights, Jewish people, LGBTQ, and all minorities. Why not explore the idea of moving to another place to live, just in case?
But could I leave our family? Our friends? Everything familiar? Could I really do that?
Leaving my son would be the hardest part. He is an independent, married, and capable grown man, but what about those times he called and just wanted to come over? I wouldn’t be there. On the other hand, I could come back and visit as often as I wanted. I always have the option to move back. Who knows, maybe he would join us someday. There are many directions life can go — we never know what the future holds.
Again, thoughts crept into my head. This time it was about the difficult decisions parents made to place their children on the Kindertransport or those who handed toddlers off to relatives and friends in the quest to ensure their safety.
Rather than complaining or hoping things would get better, we made the tough decision to adjust our sails and explore options of where we could go.
Inevitably, once someone finds out I am from Texas, their first question is, “Why did you move to Montreal?” The short answer is, “Well, you follow the news, right?”
Emigrating is always hard. Emigrating when one does not have to (i.e. no necessity to flee) is almost equally hard. Canada is a great country for sure, but it is not Eden and we have our fair share of bigots, racists and fools. Some even run for government and get elected and legislate what language you should use. The US remains a wonderful country, it will find its way back to sanity. If I had to leave Canada, the US is where I would go. So there is no perfect choice but I welcome you just the same. Sorry our weather comes with the package.
A principled and gutsy move for sure. Reminds me of the draft dodgers who came to Canada in objection to the Vietnam War. A brave bunch , I have known several of them and they made a great contribution to their adoptive country.
Our daughter in law’s grandfather was a smallholder farmer in Ukraine at the time of Stalin’s collectivization drive. An official came to the village to explain to the farmers how wonderful this will be. The grandfather asked some questions and noticed that his name was being written down by one of the officers. That very night he, his wife and children packed up what they could and just left, walking north. They got to Sweden and then to Canada, took a land grant farm in northern Saskatchewan , farmed there and the family grew and prospered.