As I walked my Carolina Wild Dog Max this morning, I passed one of my Trump neighbors walking his Dachshund mix. Behind him was an overweight tomcat along for the morning constitutional.

“He doesn’t need a leash yet,” I remarked.

“No, not yet,” the guy said.

We smiled and walked on, and I thought about my old cat Morgan, who disappeared last fall. All that was left was his collar, lying on the lawn of our next-door neighbor (a Hungarian immigrant and anti-Trumper, like me).

“I’m very sorry,” Laszlo said when he brought me the collar.

Poor Morgan. I miss him every day, and on mornings like this I’m reminded of two things:

Morgan used to follow us down the street, too, and as long as we stayed close to the house, we let him have his fun. But if we were walking past safe neighborhood boundaries, I’d pick him up and take him back inside the house where he’d be safe from our wandering. I tried so hard to protect him.

The second thing I thought of was the strange and often comforting way we southerners grieve, seek consolation, and reach out to each other in uncomfortable, intimate times.

For instance, a week or two after the 2016 election, another Trump supporter up the street from me helped his across-the-street neighbor, a Bernie Sanders fan, corral her dog Zelda who had gleefully torn up the street from her usually fenced-in back yard. Watching the two of them work together while I restrained Max, I wondered if pets aren’t the ticket to political harmony in America.

Yet another Trump supporter who lives three houses down from me was as grief-stricken as my family was a few years back when our old cat Alice died.

“I hadn’t seen her in a few weeks,” this neighbor said. “She used to come to my back porch, and I’d give her leftover chicken. I even bought a bag of Meow Mix for her. I sure loved her.”

Later that day, I found a photo of Alice from her plumper years and took it to him.

He thanked me, tears streaming down his face. I should have hugged him and wonder now if it’s not too late.

#

When my mother passed away last summer, it was sudden and quick. She was eighty-five and in reasonably good health. She had had one heart attack fifteen years earlier, and had just seemingly beat lung cancer through a radiated zap of the afflicted right lung.

“Sometimes what radiation does is appear to kill the cancer, when really the cells just migrate to an another organ,” our oncologist said.

Like the liver.

From diagnosis, two days after my birthday, to death took exactly eleven days. My mother’s one wish, or at least the one I remember best, is that she live long enough to see Trump impeached, or if not that, then voted out of office. My mother: a lifelong Alabama Democrat who hated George Wallace and was as gleeful as I’d ever seen her when Doug Jones defeated Roy Moore for Alabama’s Jeff Sessions-vacated Senate seat in December of 2017. If only…

As I was walking today, I learned that Robert Mueller will testify before Gerald Nadler’s House committee next month in an open hearing. I thought of my mother, who would have said,

“Oh boy, they’re gonna get that sorry you-know-what now!”

She would have liked it if Adam Schiff were on the committee, too, because the California Democrat was her guy, the man she hoped would run for President.

At her funeral—and this is where Southern politics, family, grieving, and consolation get even further confused—was an outpouring of not only her old Alabama friends, but some of my old friends from there, and from my adopted state of South Carolina. Two couples in particular drove the five plus hours that morning and arrived by noon, for the luncheon for mourners hosted by my mother’s Methodist church.

Two couples that in so many ways couldn’t be more different.

I married a Persian woman who immigrated to the US when she was sixteen. We met in Knoxville, and after we married, we moved to the upstate of South Carolina. My wife longed for a true Persian friend, and one day as she was shopping for swimming tubes with our daughters at Toys R Us, she heard another woman speaking Farsi to her two daughters. My wife took a chance. That was twenty years ago, and this woman and her husband have become family to us. We just returned from a trip together to Italy, and I would travel anywhere with these people—not something I’d say about everyone; even my own biological family weren’t traveling picnics.

On my mother’s funeral day, though, there our Persian friends were, greeting, comforting, not only my wife, daughters, and me, but also the other mourners in our immediate circle, as if we all lived in this little Alabama town together. They drove back to South Carolina after the service, and I thought about how many other friends would have done that for their loved ones. I wondered whether I would have done so for them?

On a parallel journey, but unbeknownst to our Persian friends, another couple from the upstate drove down, too. They’re my Alabama football pals, and we watch most fall games together. Unlike our Persian friends, this couple supports Trump, or at least they voted for him in 2016. They liked his business acumen and some of the cabinet members like Rex Tillerson that Trump initially named. Two years in, they still liked the President:

“Leaving aside the morals, look at the economy! What’s not to like?”

I have a hard time striding into uncomfortable moments, though given that this couple are both ardent Christians, I wonder how they can so easily leave aside Trump’s lack of morals.

And yet.

I stand in the church sanctuary, offering my part of Mom’s eulogy, and I gaze over the crowd. My family, my friends, all eyes on me with care, with love, understanding and sharing my grief. I know that politics do not finesse or trump love. But why does it take death to help me regain my perspective on who, and what, matters in my life?

As one of her last requests, my mother—who knew about my Trump friends and didn’t care when it came to loving them—asked that our good friend Sallie play John Lennon’s “Imagine” on the saxophone for the service. Sallie is an accomplished musician, and so not only honored my mother’s wishes, but also caused us all, including herself, to weep during the song. Along with the weeping, though, I thought about this drama of ours, the play of words amidst a people who didn’t always see each other, much less “the world, as one”:

“Imagine there’s no heaven…”

I had other things to imagine, then, too.

And now.

Maybe instead of the heated and often meaningless debates over whose candidate can save us, we ought to behave as if we’re grieving all the time—with each other, for each other. Maybe then, our differences would evaporate and we would see who we truly are: beings who enjoy walking their pets, who stop everything for a chat, who help each other when our dogs run joyously down our mutual streets.

 

Terry Barr is the author of Don’t Date Baptists and Other Warnings from My Alabama Mother and We Might As Well Eat: How to Survive Tornados, Alabama Football, and Your Southern Family (Third Lung Press). His work has appeared in Cleaning Up Glitter, storySouth, The New Southern Fugitives, Hippocampus, Call Me [Brackets], Under the Sun, Coachella Review, Flying South, Rougarou, and Eclectica. He lives in Greenville, SC, with his family.
Photo by Nina Strehl on Unsplash
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