On Trump, Pain & Hope In The Waves
by Laura Taylor
I truly hate when people ask me where I was when Trump got elected. To be honest, the entire election had served as a bizarre soundtrack to the unravelling of my own life. I vaguely remember some discussions in tutorials or chat with the night-nurses about how nuts the whole thing was, but that’s really it. On November 9, I had woken up to Snapchat running a poll on just how much Hilary Clinton would win by (grim), as my boyfriend was waking up from spinal surgery. We had been watching the results come in on the hospital TV: nurses, doctors, everyone came to a halt to watch what honestly felt like the end of the world as America declared Donald Trump president.
And at exactly that point, somewhat ominously, my phone rang and I got told some news, the kind that splits you in two. The ins and outs of that time aren’t mine to be set loose in the world; but let’s just say in the space of a year, my very established and sheltered life had been almost strategically demolished from most angles, and this latest blow crumbled what little sense of security I had left.
And like that, the world went into slow-motion, and all I could do was run (in hindsight I’m super intrigued by my very literal flight reaction, I think this is how I have responded to a lot of trauma over my life, feeling a need to get out, to touch something that is real, normally the ocean). Down the seven flights of stairs, out the front doors, across the carpark, through the grass and into the Domain, running and running and running until eventually I collapsed under a tree. I think I stayed there until it was dark, rolling over and over in my mind “this all just can’t be happening”.
That was the day that I lost my sense of home. The world grieved Trump and I was grieving the last pillar of stability I had banked on. A counsellor once told me there’s only so much uncertainty a human can take, and I had absolutely reached capacity. I began what would be a two years of transient living; shrunk my life down to three suitcases, sat my final exams while visiting my boyfriend daily in the neurosurgical unit, all the while battling a solid dose of chronic anxiety. To say that it was a testing space would be an understatement.
These are kind of extreme examples, but at the heart of it is this process of losing yourself to actually find yourself. I believe it’s in that space, when you get picked up from A to B, have your bones crushed in the process and have to rebuild your base from scratch that you see things, for a minute, as they truly are. To get floored off the top of the wave, taste the salt in your nostrils and then finally, finally gasp air and feel the relief of the sun on your skin. When we are uprooted into liminal places of discomfort and uncertainty, all the bullshit is stripped away and we shift our value from the celebration of promotions and life-style blocks to, as Nouwen says, “the gift of life that has revealed itself in the midst of all the losses”.
Sometimes during those two years in hospital when I needed a break, I’d go to the big floor-to-ceiling windows on Level Eight and watch the traffic below on Park Road. The cars would build up around 7pm, and I would watch people sitting bumper to bumper, little gold and red lights nudging each other. It would ground me to think the world was still flickering out there, people on their way home, their body temperature not controlled by a building-wide system and with more than a choice of Subway or hospital slush for dinner awaiting them. Planning things for their weekend, for Easter, heck, being able to have plans in general. But the strange thing was, I both envied and empathised with them. I longed for the normalcy of their lives, but felt they were also somehow missing out on the intangible rawness that seemed to present only in the face of heart-wrenching pain. Now I know, as C.S. Lewis superbly describes, “it is often in places of discomfort our little happinesses start to resemble broken toys”, that the veil is lifted - whether it be illness, grief, or simply a shifting of space. Getting uprooted popped my head above the water, and I knew that something had cracked in me. That I wouldn’t be able to just float anymore.
Last summer, a group of girls and I would cram some boards into a car, drive to a town and paddle for hours - they were the best days. One week we took off for Raglan, and covered in salt with crispy hair in the last of the days’ light we played 36 Questions to Make You Fall In Love. For those unacquainted, the 36 Q’s were developed by Arthur Aron who claimed that asked consecutively, they could produce the depth and vulnerability capable of breeding love (for those who are not seeking such depth, or cannot find a stranger willing to engage, it also makes for brilliant dinner party chat).
We embarked on the questions, starting off with sharing who we would most like to share a meal with, or whether we would rather forever have the mind or body of a 30 year old, but quickly, as we got deeper down the list (and our bottles of wine), we teetered on the precipice of more daring questions – like our worst ever memory. And just like that, in the garden of that pub in Raglan, something changed between us all. I got a glimpse at the way our experiences of pain united us, but more surprisingly had undoubtedly affected our individual perspectives on life. Our worst memories we would not repeat in a hurry for sure, but in context they had all unequivocally shaped who we were. And not because we were drawn in to or defined by the suffering, but because in the face of it we had gotten glimpses of ourselves, and the love that was present there.
Now it’s been a couple of years since my uprooting. I’ve jumped in my car and joined the masses back in a world with weekend getaways and dinner plans. But in journeying from A to B, in the process of loss and leaning into love, I found that I had grown a new part of my heart. This part that has raw, unfinished edges. This part that had to grow up fast, willingly stretched, and still bears the marks of it. This part that sometimes surprises me and groans with the grief of that which cannot be put into words. This part that in a place of safety, loves deeply and vastly. This part that with ease can hold those around her, but is slowly learning how to hold herself. This part that is scarred and scared and at times flicks into old, familiar rhythms, but is resilient. This part that longs to bring people together and create space for intimacy. This part that sees the beauty in grit, and is learning to be bold and dream again. This part that seeks leaning into love above all, especially in the waves.