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Building Bridges With Words

Il était une fois: once upon a time. This is the French “word of the day” that popped up in my email this morning. How quaint considering the outcome of the election. I have started to fill in the blank, as follows: Once upon a time women could not vote. Once upon a time slaves worked the fields and built the White House. Once upon a time, not so very long ago, gay marriage was against the law. Once upon a time, not so very long ago, interracial marriage was against the law. Once upon a time my refugee parents found safe haven in America.

And so on.

We all have our personal election stories to tell and many of them will continue to be troubled and troubling. For our personal health and well being, we have to regain our balance quickly. We all have friends, neighbors and family who have different religious beliefs, different politics, different priorities and challenges. Maybe they refused to vote, or voted for a third party on the ticket and this infuriated us. Maybe we stopped calling them and they stopped calling us, or we unfriended them on Facebook without warning or explanation.

As writers, it is our mandate to observe deeply and to build verbal bridges, not walls. Not to normalize the abnormal, I am not suggesting that. Nor to soften hardship or pretend all is okay when it is not okay. But to be able to continue a conversation, not to shut it down, that is what a writer must do, what we all must try to do in the coming months and years.

First things first, I wrote to my student, Valerie Pepe. For two years we worked on her book “Deformed; My Remarkable Life,” which has just been published. I knew a while ago that Valerie and I did not share the same politics; she supported Carson, I supported Bernie Sanders. I never discussed our choices, never brought it up, never responded to her stories about Carson. But, recently, we became Facebook friends. I usually keep my personal FB page private and suggest that my students “like” my Carol Bergman: Writer professional page. But sometimes these boundaries are permeable. My company had published Valerie’s book, we had worked together for more than two years, she is a mature and special person. I said yes.

I knew that I could hide my long post-election Facebook post from Valerie, but I decided not to do that. Instead, I sent her a private message:

"I don't allow many students to become my FB friend. You have been special. But we don't share the same politics. I have known this since you told me you supported Carson. You will read my post this morning and realize my dismay at the election results. I hope we will be able to talk about it."

Gracious as ever, Valerie wrote back to me immediately:

"Our Friendship comes first over anything political. Everyone has the right to believe in what they want. Miss you lots. I have a book signing tonight! All the best, Valerie"

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