I spent election night alone in a Raleigh hotel. An interview didn’t turn out the way I hoped it would. The rest of the night didn’t turn out the way I hoped it would, either.
I got up this morning, checked the TV — yep, it happened. Texted my wife. Signed onto the computer and refreshed Twitter way too many times. At some point I had to get my eyes off the screens. I went for a walk. The air was cool enough for a jacket, but the breeze felt good and clean.
A few blocks away I found a diner called Big Ed’s and sat down for a late breakfast. The waitress brought coffee and I started to check my phone but instead I looked around. Nobody was weeping. Nobody was gloating, either. People were talking about the election, of course, but they were also making weekend plans and talking about basketball season. One older man sat with three younger ones. They were at the next table, so I could overhear that the younger guys were part of some work-release program. They passed around their phones, sharing pictures of their kids.
The waitresses were quiet but cheerful. They had to get up early this morning to go to work. That’s what most of the rest of us did, too — got up and went to work, or raked the leaves, or checked in with our mamas. Our American lives will change in profound ways because of what happened Tuesday, but down at street level, for most of us, we will do what we always do, because it’s what we have to do to keep going.
I have friends and family members who wanted this day to happen. They include people of faith who voted for the most un-Christian candidate I can remember, and women who voted for the most anti-woman candidate I can remember. That is their right. I have contradictions, too. All I’ll say for now is that we’ll keep talking, and in a year or two it’ll be interesting to see what they think about the deal they made.
Every time there’s an election result I don’t like, or some movement that makes no sense to me, I think of Tommy Lee Jones in the first Men in Black movie: “A person is smart. People are dumb.” But that doesn’t go quite far enough. A person is smart. People are dumb. The country is even smarter. Our country has taken a thousand blows. People from outside have hurt us, but we have hurt one another even more. We have survived it all because our system is terribly flawed but basically good, and our people are terribly flawed but basically good. That’s a lesson some of us find hard to believe right now. But history bears it out. It is a stronger and deeper truth than any count of electoral votes.
On my walk back I stopped at a street corner to wait for the light. A young woman walked up and asked if I knew how to get to Salisbury Street. I started to explain but then I remembered I had a map of downtown in my pocket — one of those little sheets they give you when you check in. I didn’t need it. I handed it to her and she smiled and headed down the block in the cool fresh morning.
You might feel lost right now. There is always a map. There is always a way.