Our black cat, Cesario, does not care that Mr. Trump has been elected President. He wants only to go outside, to get out of the house. He has always been an outdoor cat. He wants his old life back. But we learned yesterday that he has a heart condition that requires medicine three times a day; if we let him out, we will not be able to give him the medicine. His old life is over. This morning, in the quiet dark, he prowls the house, puzzled, angry. I stroke his glossy head. He glares at me. We both know he wants to go outside. Why am I not letting him? It’s been a strange twenty-four hours—the nation, our cat, heart conditions. We have a little kitten, too, Phebe. She is also an indoor cat—too young and small to take on the world--careless, we fear. So we are keeping her in until spring. She is delighted by Cesario’s captivity, wants only to be his friend. She leaps and feints and pounces, trying to engage him. He hisses, baleful. He is so much bigger than she, yet his is afraid of her—uninterested in her joy, her innocence.
Standing in front of my girls on the stage yesterday, I read from my carefully prepared script that congratulated the winners and offered strategies to those whose hearts lay elsewhere in the election. I watched girls all day embracing, weeping, averting their eyes. I felt tired, pretending an optimism I know I must model, but one that felt strained, as if I were acting the role of Head, rather than inhabiting it.
“What’s wrong with me?” I wondered, feeling muted, drained, teary. Our college daughter phoned, shares that her Feminist Theory professor has told her students that she has spent 35 years telling classes that women matter. “Ahh,” I sighed in recognition. “Me, too.” I am not a feminist theory professor. I am the head of a girls’ school; I have spent my life in girls’ schools, been shaped by them, by the fierce and formidable women that populated them, by good and generous men who joined those women in building essay by essay, problem set by problem set, a structure that convinced me I belonged, I was good enough, I had a place at the table, and a job to do in advocating for those more vulnerable than I. I learned to lead with optimism, with my whole heart, with authenticity. I chose a life as an educator in independent schools, and, long ago, when I was a young teacher, I fretted to my department chair, Judy, that I had chosen too easy a path, that I should have stuck to my guns and returned to the New Haven public schools, where I had cut my baby teeth as a student teacher.
“Annie,” she said, looking at me directly. “There are many paths. Here, you teach the girls that will have the access and the opportunity to make change. If you are not teaching them, if you are not sharing your ideals and your insistence that they make a difference, then who will?” That was a balm. I have liked my life, felt purposeful, certain, in fact, that we, as a nation, were moving forward. Part of me knows I need time to breathe. I need some more rest—the World Series plus the election drama has wreaked havoc with my sleep. I need to figure out how to offer to my girls and faculty offer the type of hope Judy offered me long ago—when I wore Laura Ashley dresses and white tights.
Cesario crouches, ready to spring. He is bewildered, cross. And I cannot explain this change in fortunes to him in a way he can understand. He is still who he was yesterday, but not. Me, too. Sometimes, change is thrust upon us, like it or not.
Mary Catherine Bateson, Margaret Mead’s daughter, talks about composing a life. I like the idea that we get to choose, that it is not all just random; rather, we have agency. That is what I have taught the girls, always.
“You are not a tumbleweed,” I exhort to a child in my office, who has made a mistake. “You always have a choice. It’s not the mistake that matters; it’s how you move forward from it that counts.”
I have a choice about how to move forward. I had hoped for a different outcome, one that more clearly demonstrated to my girls, my brown and black girls, my gay girls, my Muslim and Jewish girls, my immigrant girls that this country was committed to them, that they would be okay. They will be okay, I hope. They are strong and capable, feisty and resilient, amazing. It is a privilege to spend my life among them. But many of them are reeling, angry, let down.