This election rattled me more than I’d like to admit. But I got up the next day and went to work, because what else was there to do?
Since November, I have felt it in waves, in small moments, in seismic shifts. I’ve paid close attention to others’ reactions too. It only makes sense that the impact of this inauguration will touch us all, in a myriad of deeply personal ways. Ultimately, I can only speak for myself and my growing sense that the shifting political and social tides influence the way I see myself and the ways I wish to be seen.
To be clear, the daily realities of my life haven’t t really changed all that much over the last few months, and for that I am grateful. But, all the same, something has shifted. Something deep in my bones, in my body, in my awareness says that this is different.
I’m midway through a yearlong postgraduate training in trauma and the creative arts and it’s helping me understand my own experiences in a new way. I know that I hold trauma memories in my bones, in my body, in my history and in the ancestral stories of those who came before me.
I was teased a lot as a child – I was different, I was an “exotic face”, and that was hard. I had a funny name, a hairy upper lip, a Dad with an accent. For years, I just wanted to be like everyone else – have a name people could pronounce, a face that didn’t stand out, a heritage that was simple. I just wanted to fit in.
Aspects of those experiences have been coming up since the election. I don’t consider myself traumatized (I have never considered myself a trauma survivor), but at the core of my life experience is an experience of being an outsider, of being unique, of being different in some way, and that leaves an imprint.
As a child and as a teenager, I did what I could to downplay my uniqueness. I would often call my father “Dad” instead of “Papa” around my friends – to his credit, he never asked why. When I could, I avoided explaining about my Holocaust survivor grandfather, my triple citizenships, the fact that I was born “here”, then lived “there” for a bit and then came back “here.”
But as I got older, I grew into myself. I grew to love my exotic name, my dark eyes, my unique look. And maybe there’s a part of me that really loves that. I got so used to being the only Jew, the only one with a parent not US-born.
Over the years, diversity became the new normal. I easily shifted from being one of a few to being one of many – I can’t remember the last time I heard the name “Maya” called on the street and it was actually for me.
But now something has shifted. The diversity that I and so many other New Yorkers grew so accustomed to seems to have a different texture. Now, I feel that shift and I know that I want to be seen, and I wonder what that means.
The trauma that my grandfather endured resonates in my bones. The echoes of “Never Again” echo in my head. I know I am privileged, and can hide my differentness to a fairly large extent. But would continuing to hide really make sense ? For my work? For the world? For me?
Seeing and being seen are two different things – equally hard, equally raw. I hold one in each hand, and tentatively step forward. I do not know what to do, which always scares me. But I know, deeply, that to do nothing would be wrong.
So I allow myself to feel scared when sirens rush past, and to notice my body. To make eye contact with strangers on a NYC street and smile. Do these action seem too small, too inconsequential when I’m trying to find ways to respond to post-election America and how the diverse society I value seems to be eroding?
To let myself be more present, and less removed from everyday interactions is actually quite powerful. I can let myself be seen now. I must let myself be seen now.
Right now, my response to our changing society is to make deep and intimate connection with myself and others. Tomorrow it will mean something else, but right now, it’s enough to see and be seen.
Editors' Note: We're continuing the conversation about how to respond to our changing world in our brand new podcast, The Practice of Being Seen, which is set to launch January 25. Find us on iTunes or your favorite podcasting platform on 1/25 and learn more at www.practiceofbeingseen.com.