On Sadness and Moments of Grace


Sam, on Wednesday, when the shock of the election was just starting to sink in: “It’s your Friday this week.”
Me: “What the hell am I going to write about? I feel like I’m flayed — I don’t have anything thoughtful to say about being fit and whole.”
Sam: “Write about what to do when you’re sad.”

There are lots of people talking this week about how important it is to “lose and win gracefully.” I think most people who call themselves feminists – or progressives or whatever term you want — know that this sadness isn’t about winning or losing.  It’s about the way this particular contest has created fear, has unleashed permission for bigotry. Tracy captured one way of approaching this in her post on intersectionality.

What I focus on is a bit different — it’s what’s sometimes called “the communication perspective,” and it means looking as much at how you interact as what you say. The way Trump talks and interacts gives permission for for people to talk about women as having no value except as sexual objects, to blame “outsiders” for everything that is wrong, to airily curtail reproductive, gender and sexual orientation rights that we’ve all fought for, to completely dismiss globalization, science and knowledge.

When Trump — and his defenders — dismiss outright misogyny as boys being boys, it opens up the possibility that it’s okay — maybe a little vulgar, but not WRONG — to talk like that. When the leader thinks name-calling (Crooked Hillary, nasty woman, Mexicans are rapists and criminals) is just a normal part of interacting, it sets up name-calling as something that’s a-ok in everyday discourse.  And combine that with a stack of racist and xenophobic claims, and you get college students yelling “cotton picker” at an African American student, people yelling at a Muslim man to “go home Apu” and people leaving notes on gay couples’ cars to burn in hell.   Did Trump “tell them” to do that? Of course not.  Did his discourse make it permissible?  Absolutely.

The talk about graceful losers misses the key point:  it’s hard to find grace from inside fear.

My mentor, Barnett Pearce, died five years ago last Saturday.  He could have predicted the way this election has unfolded — he was writing about and trying to change the polarization of the discourse on the”moral majority” 30 years ago. He could have predicted this, but he still would have been shaken by it, hated it. But he also taught me something very important about looking for “moments of grace,” those tiny episodes that create connection, shared understanding. We can’t resolve deep complexities, can’t fix this fear and sadness, but we can share moments of grace, pause, dwell in the mystery of being human.

Earlier this week, I did a focus group that included a woman — a newcomer to Canada — wearing a hijab, with a daughter who has physical conditions that make communication and movement profoundly difficult. This mother talked about her plan to take her daughter to cut a Christmas tree, creating a new kind of experience of what it means to be a Canadian. A moment of grace.

I got a coffee in a hospital I work in early this morning, and someone had printed out two paragraphs from Hillary’s concession speech, the part about “let us not lose heart,” and taped up several copies down a hallway near a main entrance.  A moment of grace.

On Monday night, I got to cuddle my good friend’s premature twins for the first time. Felix fell asleep in my neck. A moment of grace.

For the past two days, I’ve been looking more deeply into people’s eyes, searching their faces, looking past what I usually see and finding vulnerability, rawness.  Moments of grace.

My incredibly strong, usually resilient friend in Chicago, completely shaken by this election result, spoke out in a very vulnerable way to her Republican relatives about the harm and pain she’d faced as a lesbian growing up in the midwest, asking them to think about the consequences of their choice.  Honest, generously vulnerable, open.  A moment of grace.

I was at a huge fundraising lunch today for women’s health. Singer Jully Black brought her 80 year old mother up on stage, thanked her talked about the realities of feeding her 9 children on $1.65/hr as an immigrant, led all 800 of us in singing something about traveling forward together.  A moment of grace.

Hillary’s speech, her unbelievable strength and resilience, her encouragement to young girls to keep going.  My tears.  A moment of grace.

As I was writing this, I heard that Leonard Cohen had died — “my” artist, the one who first taught me about the sublime pain of longing for spiritual connection, for soul-shattering love, for mystery. Being reminded of that.  A moment of grace.

Hillary went for a long walk today.  Last night I booked a spontaneous trip to California to spend the weekend with my best friend, who is also shattered this week. She also learned from Barnett.  We’ll walk on the beach and breathe the sea and remember that love and connection and strength will see us all through.

This week, it’s hard to be human.

But it’s also glorious.


Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who works as a consultant and educator in the space of strategic system change in academic healthcare in Toronto, focusing on creating sustainable, socially accountable healthcare communities. She also co-leads an all-volunteer learning and development project for orphaned and vulnerable youth in Uganda called Nikibasika.  Her other blog is

8 thoughts on “On Sadness and Moments of Grace

  1. Cate, your words are a gift. They direct our attention to opportunities for human connection, which, as you say, are moments of grace. We need them, but as you show us, they are abundant if we just look (and also work to create some on our own). Thank you.

  2. Cate, I love this post so much. I like the way it redirects our attention to the quality of the immediate. The experience of moments of grace can come at any time if we pay attention. Thank you for the reminder.

  3. Oh gosh cate; thank you so so much.

    I’ve been seeing and feeling anger and aggression around me since Tuesday night; thanks to this I’ll now look harder for the grace.

    (Which, btw, just autocorrected to ‘grave’…)

  4. Great piece! Down here at the other end of the world there are many of us feeling shaken too.

    Linked to this rise of the right, it’s become commonplace to criticise political correctness but I’d like to reclaim that term as an effort to elevate language and behaviour to a place where it does no harm, especially as the attempts of so many to make the world a kinder and more accepting place for everyone has currently been trumped and trampled by an ungrounded, confused and undeservedly powerful man. Here’s to the efforts of those with wiser heads and kinder hearts to provide this improbable president with responsible counsel.

    I’m mourning the wonderful Leonard Cohen too but congratulate him for his timely departure from the table after a life lived with considerable grace. He left lyrics it might pay a president-to-be to listen to. I understand it was a week a lot of Americans wanted ‘out of the game… the sweetness restored’. Vale, Leonard. :j

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