It's 7:45pm on November 9th and I am about to board a flight from Ahmedabad, India to Mumbai. Everyone around me is mingling with their loved ones donning bright smiles and sharing laughs. Children are chasing each other, giggling, and spirits generally are high.
It's almost my turn to board so I reach for my passport and boarding pass, as I have done one thousand times before, and notice myself placing my left palm over the front cover of my passport bearing the Great Seal of the United States with "United States of America" embossed in gold lettering, shielding it so no one can see. My eyes start to well up and I try to hold back tears, but a few find a way to trickle down my cheek. This feeling is so foreign and uncomfortable and I become paralyzed with emotion, but I continue my walk down the gangway, ashamed and confused.
In front of me is a group of Italian tourists, sharing memories from their time in India, from what I could make out of the little Italian I know. I contemplate quickly how I will respond if they ask me where I am from, "Do I tell them America? I can say Germany, I speak German! But what if they do too, my limited vocabulary and accent would immediately give it away that I am NOT German." Thankfully, they don't ask where I am from.
I finally get on the plane and make a mad dash for seat 9A, avoiding eye contact at all costs. As I get to my seat, I rummage through my carryon frantically looking for the light pink passport case I purchased six years ago in London, knowing it was in there somewhere but haven't used in many moons...
I pulled it quickly out of my bag, as I again hold my passport in my left hand over The Great Seal Of the United States. I quickly slip the passport into the case, now covering the front so no one can identify its home, toss it in my bag, and stow in the overhead bin.
I breathe a sigh of relief and sit down.
Next to me is a middle aged Indian man who smiles, nods, and says, "hi" and quietly asks where I am heading. Hesitant to answer, I quickly reply, "Mumbai, the same place as you!"
"Oh you are going to Mumbai, I thought you might be traveling onward." He says.
"Are you traveling onward?" I ask.
"Yes, I am going home to Chicago via Frankfurt."
"He's going to the US!" I think to myself.
Well, now is my chance to be honest. I hesitate slightly, but proceed to tell him I am actually connecting in Mumbai to catch a flight to New York.
"Very nice. New York is a great city." He utters.
Suddenly a powerful wave of emotion comes over me and I struggle yet again to fight back the tears, but muster up a smile and agree with the humble man, "New York is in fact the greatest city."
We remain silent for a few minutes and as we prepare for takeoff, he turns to me and says, "that was some election, wasn't it?"
There it is, the dreaded question.
Not knowing his political views, I didn't want to say anything overly opinionated so I keep my words to a minimum, "it sure was, and I am unsure what we as a nation are going to do."
He looks at me with a slight grin, "Oh we will be ok, it's definitely not the ideal outcome, but we will learn a lot from this. We've seen better days, but we always end up OK." He confidently voices.
In an instant, a sense of peace comes over me, a feeling I hadn't felt all day. I look at the man, smile, nod and agree.
I turned to the front of my seat bringing the conversation to a close, and in that moment, just as we were speeding down the runway, my mind, of which had been speeding with anxious thoughts all day, finally felt calm. The humble man next to me was exactly right, we are going to be OK.
I don't need to sulk in negative energy, I don't need to walk around paralyzed by emotion and confusion, and I definitely don't need to fake my nationality or be ashamed of my US passport. What I do need, however, is to take every single ounce of what I am feeling and channel that into positivity, love, and kindness, because that is what we are going to need a lot of. All of us are going to need to be our own light, the change we wish to see, do our small part to contribute to the greater good of humanity, now more than ever. Learn from the outcomes of today and fight to prevent volatility and hostility from ever making its way into the highest power of office again.
It's not going to be easy. We will have many moments of frustration the next four years, causing us to question the values and people of the country we call home, but I refuse to give up on home, I refuse to give up on America. Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal, I think everyone can at the very least come together and agree that the vitriol of the President-elect is not in fact Presidential at all, nor a reflection of "we the people", and we the people deserve better...So it's going to start with us.
We can't turn around and undo the polls of November 8th, but what we can do is move forward bigger, better, stronger. No matter what side of the fence you are on, we can all expect more from our leaders, no, we can DEMAND more. We can set examples of compassion and empathy. We can continuously teach our children acceptance and inclusion. We can fight for what's right, because no matter how dark the days, I still truly believe good always wins. And at a minimum, we can be kind and respectful humans to everyone, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other divisive label placed upon us.
Change starts NOW, and it starts with you.
Be hopeful, America. It's not over, it's only just begun.