Within the last month, I had my right knee opened up to have old bone cut away to make room for a brand new titanium hinge.
I’ve spent the last three weeks trying to heal, with months of work to follow.
Forever in search of a metaphor, it occurs to me that healing is something our country must learn to do after this election day.
So what can a bad knee teach a person?
First, healing is not easy. There is pain, and no amount of oxycodone will make you forget the 24 staples in your knee. But as time passes, so does the memory of the intense post-op pain, the minor indignities of a hospital stay and the sleepless nights.
The raw harshness of the experience fades with time. Such is the beauty of healing.
Secondly, as anyone with a new knee will tell you, healing requires patience. Lots and lots of patience. Humans have a longing to heal. We can’t help ourselves. But be it a broken heart, a broken knee, or a broken country, we want things to get better fast. But healing doesn’t happen that way, which frustrates us. Long after the surgery, I will have a limp. Likewise, it will take our country a while to return to a semblance of normalcy and civility.
Another aspect of healing is that you have to be careful. If you don’t create the correct environment for healing, infection can take hold. Or, you may fall and re-injure the wounded area, thus making things worse than they were before.
Healing also makes you vulnerable. Someone has to help you get a glass of water or a bowl of soup. They may have to steady you with a hand on your elbow, lest you stumble. The most challenging aspect of that vulnerability is actually admitting that you are wounded and you need the help, and then accepting it with gratitude rather than anger at your circumstances.
And the most important aspect of healing?
Wanting to heal.
In my case, I needed to heal a right knee that stood by me for six decades. I had to confront the fact that the knee could no longer serve me in its injured state, so an action like surgery had to be taken.
But now, with the worst over, I have a clear understanding of what I need to do to get better.
So how does a nation heal?
First, admit that we are wounded and vulnerable. That we have been through a traumatic experience.
And then we have to decide if we want to heal. If we need to heal.
In recent years, the first thing the opposing party has resorted to after an election loss is to immediately invalidate the elected official, and in doing so, the voice of the people. State Dems did it to Scott Walker. The Republicans tried for eight years to do it to Barack Obama.
And no doubt this culture of invalidation will continue when either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump takes office.
What we must hope for is a new president who can help us heal rather than inflict more pain on an electorate that has felt too much anger and hatred. Great presidents rise above the anger and move to help all heal. Abraham Lincoln and the Reconstruction spring to mind as does Ike’s Grand Plan and the Marshall Plan.
But we shouldn’t wait for the new president to act. We should start with each other. We can create an environment in which to heal. Which means watching our words and foregoing unhealthy rhetoric like “libtards” or “rethuglicans.” These words heal nothing, and push us apart.
In fact, it would be great if we all could avoid the topic of politics altogether for a few months, and let things cool down to a manageable level. We could pledge to each other that when we feel like talking about politics, we will discuss the Packers instead.
But there is another way to look at things. And that is this: The president doesn’t matter. The people matter. We simply need to take care of each other. Our country has withstood bad presidents before and we will again.
If we give ourselves time, the limp will recede and the scar will become less visible.
And then we can hold the same hope as a country that anyone who has had to rebuild their body maintains: Despite the pain, time and indignity, somehow we will be better off than we were before.
And the experience will make us stronger for having endured it.
And that one morning we will awaken, and our limp will be gone.