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The recent riots in Washington D.C. have left me shaken.

I have found myself glued to the news wondering what’s going to happen next. Seeing American citizens hanging rock climber-style off the Senate balcony and kicking back behind a congresswoman’s desk brought about feelings of surrealism and dread. And knowing five people died as a result of this rampage left me with a lingering sadness.

I know I’m not alone. I see people who align themselves with both political parties denouncing these latest developments. I found myself nodding my head as I read statements from former presidents George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter. Carter called the riots “a national tragedy,” and I wholeheartedly agree. I actually first saw the statements on Facebook, and friends whose politics have historically differed from mine had posted them.

This fact gave me a great deal of hope. I wrote a few weeks ago about the importance of seeing beyond our neighbors’ political preferences, and the fact that I now find myself in such staunch agreement with people who likely voted differently from me gave the distinct feeling that our bedrock as Americans is still intact.

Carter’s release also said, “I know that we the people can unite to walk back from this precipice,” and I agree. As horrifying as it is to see a building that represents our democracy defaced and lawmakers ushered out of their workspaces for their own safety, I still believe, at our core, we stand united.

I realize a good portion of Americans still feel the election was unfair and that the result might not be legitimate. Another large portion has accepted the result and is ready to move on. The latter group has significant representation from both major political parties now.

No matter where you fall on the matter, I think it’s safe to say American voters are coming away from this election year with wounds that need to heal, and that process should be our focus now. The stress of discord before and after the most unusual presidential election I can remember was crushing enough, but it’s been compounded by almost a year of living in the shadow of a deadly pandemic. We have quite the task ahead of us.

And what does healing look like?

Lately, I’ve heard a lot about the role that gratitude plays in that process. Maybe there’s solace in gratitude for the right to have voted this past election cycle and the knowledge that we’ll get to do it again.

And I think validation is important. Maybe we can learn to validate ourselves in our views. We have a right to our feelings about the election results, no matter where we stand. It’s what we do with those feelings — the actions we take and how they affect others — that we need to be mindful of moving forward.

And where we seek healing may look different for each of us. Some will find solace in their church sanctuaries listening to messages from spiritual leaders. Others might heal in the presence of trusted friends.

I think the next few months might even be a good time to reconnect with folks of differing political views who we might have stepped back from recently. I certainly don’t encourage you to engage in political debate with someone who you know feels differently from you as I feel our minds are made up. But what about reconnecting over coffee or a walk (with social distancing practices in place) with a friend who voted differently and agreeing to stick with the multitude of other things going on in your lives — family, hobbies, etc. …?

This election was divisive, but it doesn’t have to define us moving forward. We can still gather with loved ones knowing they support “that other party” and respect their right to an opinion while maintaining our own views.

The healing and building process is entirely up to us, and it’s entirely for us. We may admire the candidates we voted for, but most of us will never meet them. We must make sure we have each other, and I think we’re capable of moving forward from this election together.

We are Americans, and at some level, we are still united.

Elizabeth Crumbly is a newspaper veteran and freelance writer. She lives in rural Northwest Georgia where she teaches riding lessons, writes and raises her family. She is a former editor of The Catoosa County News. You can correspond with her at www.collective-ink.com.

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