One of the remarkable aspects of our democracy is how, after a grueling presidential race, the losing candidate makes a concession speech and there is a gracious transition of power. The incoming President then acknowledges the attributes of his competitor in the Presidential race.
This tradition starts the process of healing and accepting the inevitability of the outcome. I know many of my friends would have loved to hear their ex-husbands give a concession speech after their divorces.
"My Dear Wife," it would go. “We have battled and disagreed on many subjects. Sometimes it got very personal and insensitive. Feelings were hurt. We created fear and animosity. Injustices were felt as was an economic downturn. We are no longer man and wife. But we are still parents. We must remember — as Barack Obama said in his acceptance speech, ‘We are not enemies, but friends. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.’ ”
Indeed. We may have broken up but we are simultaneously rebuilding a new family unit. In fact — as John McCain said — “Join me in finding ways to come together to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences and help leave our children and grandchildren stronger.”
Wouldn’t that be nice? An olive branch, a speech or a built-in-tradition where ex-husband and ex-wife vowed to make efforts to support each other in their lives ahead.
In any marriage, in any election, there is a winner and a loser. Even in an amicable divorce, someone feels more disappointment, someone is more elated.
How does one deal with disappointment?
In his book Overcoming Life’s Disappointments, Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People invokes the wisdom of Moses. He writes about how the first tablets of the Ten Commandments were broken and then a new set was made. These tablets he says are a metaphor for life, since the second set was built on the reality of experience rather than on innocent hopes and dreams.
He suggests that how we look at someone determines our acceptance of them. “Can you look at someone as the Biblical [priest] would look at a man with leprosy and see his healthy parts along with loathsome defects?”
What he is saying is that it is important to nurture our ability to forgive slights and injuries and not spend more time looking back at the past than you do contemplating the future.
He acknowledges, thankfully, that sometimes the break or disappointment is so severe that it never heals and there are permanent scars. “But much of the time the fracture heals and the leg is actually stronger than it was before,” he says. “There is a distinction between injuries to our soul which cannot be repaired and injuries to our sensibilities which may hurt but will heal.”
The pain is not what leads us to heal, but the fact that we are opening our heart to it. I believe that, when you are fractured, that is when the light can shine in. Deep down as Shimon Peres once said, all pessimists want to be proven wrong.
However, there is a time that should be allowed to mourn any disappointment. In an election, it is less than three months before the new President takes the oath of office. For marriages, it usually takes longer before it is possible to find the new normal, the new rhythm in daily life.
“The graceful exit means leaving what is over without denying its validity or its past importance in our lives,” columnist Ellen Goodman once wrote. It also means that moving forward one learns to agree to disagree. That acceptance becomes the sturdy leg of a chair; it allows balance along with the equal weights of hope, experience, and reflection.