History Politics

Fourth of July, 2014. Corruptio optimi pessima.

imagesI’m a West Wing girl. I mean, I love The West Wing. I think it’s the finest show ever written for TV, bar none. I think Aaron Sorkin is a genius, and if I could have lunch with one person who is alive today, believe it or not, it would be him.

I love The West Wing because it has taught me more life lessons than anything I’ve ever watched. More than any piece of art. More than the movies. It’s The West Wing. I love that the characters are all flawed in many ways, yet spectacularly brilliant and caring in other ways. I love that we can forgive them their daily sins, the same way I would like my own to be forgiven. I love that they go in a room and say what they have to say and then leave. They never repeat themselves over and over again the way I do when I’m not watching.

So, it’s Fourth of July, and I wanted to write something about my love of America, and about my realization that we are not living in the best period of our history. We are living in a dark time from which we may not recover. Benjamin Franklin said the government can’t work if everyone in government doesn’t respect one another. I think we can all agree that right now, no one on either side of the political aisle, in the men’s and ladies rooms, or in the parking lots of the Capitol respect one another. In fact, I believe that many of them have no self respect, either. And, truth? What’s that in the beltway?

So, what to write about my country on her fabulous birthday? A call to action for myself and the rest of us comes to mind. So of course I turn to The West Wing, Season 5, Episode 14, An Khe. Leo McGarry, The President’s Chief of Staff, is a Vietnam War veteran. He was shot down and saved by his friend O’Neill, who carried him through the jungles for three days until they were rescued. Leo is loyal to “the finest man I have ever called a friend.” His friend is now the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company that makes things the government uses to do bad things in other places. Specifically helicopters. Leo finds out that his friend has crossed to the dark side and bribed someone to get a contract. I have just made a long, fabulous story short. You get the picture. O’Neill has let Leo down and Leo is stunned.

Fast-forward to Leo alone in his office after his friend confesses. Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s version of “My Country Tis of Thee” starts to play in the background, and the president comes in to see if Leo is all right. Leo begins to cry and tells the story of that long ago day when his amazing friend saved his life in the jungle. Then he explains that others died attempting to rescue them. He says that he and the fallen CEO had an obligation to those who went before — those who died — to lead lives on honor and service that would make those men proud of them. And the President quietly says, “Corruptio optimi pessima — Corruption of the best is the worst.”

Corruption of the best is the worst. Corruptio optimi pessima.

Today is the Fourth of July. We all have an obligation to start checking our facts before we republish the propaganda that clogs our inboxes and our minds. We have an obligation to respect other points of view — and to ask for the data to back up those points of view. And if we are to honor those who gave up so much for our freedoms, we must take action to ensure that every American can vote easily and have access to health care—and also that every American pays the taxes they are supposed to pay and works hard to better their lives and not just to get a free ride; these things and a host of others have gone by the wayside. We need to learn to take care of the environment, to understand the land the way those that were here first did. We are out of control as a nation, and this is a day on which we should take a moment away from fireworks and hot dogs and steaks and red, white, and blue linens, and commit to doing the right thing.

God Bless America.

Post Script:

The plot line about the defense contracting controversy is apparently based on a real life incident. A 2003 lease agreement of 100 Boeing K-767  tankers by the US Air Force led to the imprisonment of a Pentagon staffer and the forced resignation of Boeing CEO Phil Condit. The main opponent of the deal was Senator John McCain – from Arizone like the fictional Senator Hunt; in addition, Hunt has been presented on the show as a maverick who is amenable to bipartisan projects, not unlike Senator McCain. McCain, when informed about the West Wing episode, was amused.

Very little is revealed about the title of the episode – An Khe. The only reference to the name is in the opening scene, when Leo, as a Vietnam War fighter pilot, tells ground control that he is approaching An Khe. An Khe was an actual base camp in Vietnam during the war.

History Women

Meet Reggie, a Cryptologist During World War II

imgres-2Sometimes my work makes a lucky girl. I do strategic marketing, and we have a client — Extended Family, out of Portsmouth New Hampshire — that is launching something called Ageless Lifestyle, which is all about providing information so you can minimize the effects of age by adopting a lifestyle that allows your body to be its best self all through your seventies, eighties, and nineties. As someone who has been way too busy to chat with my body much over the past 60 years, I’ve found it to be an eye opener.

One of the things we are doing with them is setting up “Ageless Interviews.” These are interviews with people who have gone before us, one or two generations ahead, in which we learn something fabulous about their lives.

I met Reggie when we were working on this project, and she and I hit it off. I was graced by her presence. I was graced by her life, and the possibilities it suggested for my own life … and my daughter’s life, and her daughter’s life. She was a trailblazer. I just didn’t know about her.

Reggie graduated from Barnard College in 1942. Following graduation she went with two girlfriends to DC, where she worked in the Japanese Code Breaking Group. Oh, my goodness! I asked her when we first met if she had seen the message they sent us declaring war, and she said she’d seen a copy of it at the office. Of course she had, because we all have copies of things like that lying around our offices too. I couldn’t get enough of her. After the war she worked for Glamour magazine from 1946 until sometime in the early fifties. We will be posting videos of those stories as well. Reggie is in her nineties; she lives alone with the help of Extended Family, and she has so many stories to tell that I can’t wait to go back on my own and take her to lunch.

Take a look at the video of her describing her work in Washington during the war. It’s worth the three minutes. Trust me. (Yes, that’s my voice in the background asking her questions. Do I really sound like that?)

This experience made me pause for a moment. How many other stories are out there in our communities? Stories that should be told, that must be heard by us all? My grandparents were long gone before I hit my teens. My mother and father have both passed away within the last three years. My biggest regret is that I didn’t take more time to sit with them and hear their stories. If you are lucky enough to have people in your lives who have untold stories, take a moment. Make a lunch date. Ask the kinds of questions they will not answer without some prodding. Then e-mail me. I want to hear them all.


Books History Women

My Friend Maya

20130519-sss-maya-angelou-quotes-1-600x411I want to pay tribute to my friend, Maya Angelou. She passed away today, and I want to say a few things about her.

Maya was the first one to teach me about good energy. She believed that if you spent time lessening the worth of another by speaking ill of them then the negative energy would be part of you. When you entered her house, you were not allowed to speak of others unless it was positive, and off color jokes or political attacks were simply not permitted. On one occasion, in front of ten or so people, she walked up to someone, held out their coat, and said, “I think it’s time for you to leave now.” The person left, and the lesson was learned.

It wasn’t just that she believed in positive energy begetting positive energy that made me sit up and take notice of that experience. Perhaps more important to me was that she wasn’t afraid to speak her mind to anyone. Standing up for that in which she believed, regardless of the personal loss, was always worth it to her, and so it has become worth it to me. In the years since the incident, I have left behind more friends than I have made, and I don’t regret a one of them. I could walk up to someone and ask them to leave my house now. I hope I never will, but I think I could which is where the lesson and the growth of me as a person lives.

When she was seven she was raped. She told a group of people what happened, and they beat the man to death. She believed that it was her voice that did him in. She felt so guilty that she stopped speaking for five and a half years. Her grandmother told everyone she would speak when she was ready. And, she did. I am in awe. Five and a half years. You learn a lot in that much silence. Perhaps that is why words went from being a weapon inside her to her gift to the ages.

And, what a way she has with words. I’m not going to list all the Maya words that I have held dear over the years, but the quote I hear inside me the most, the one that has lifted guilt from me at my darkest times is “when you know better, you do better.” When you know better, you do better. I say it out loud and hope that I do offer my best, which is sometimes lacking in the brilliant potential that is mine. And, when I realize I haven’t, I regroup, and I do better. Try it, it’s better than confession.

20130519-sss-maya-angelou-quotes-3-600x411Then there was the time she said, “When people tell you who they are, believe them.” It made me realize that I wanted to start acting the way I want to be remembered. Oh what a gift my friend and mentor Maya has left behind for us all.

I have to add her poetry. She is the first poet in whose work I saw my own reflection. And, she is the first poet that woke up the cobwebbed inner shelves of my mind to the wonders of what I might become and what I have done. Take a moment to list to her Woman Phenomenally. Do yourself a favor.

And, her books. Have  you read, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings? I hope so, or maybe I hope not so you can read it for the first time now. The first time for something that amazing is always the best.

Maya is the first of my mentors to die because she was old and her life was lived to its natural conclusion. I think that makes it worse. That her time has come, rather than being snatched before she gave me all she had to give, means that she gave me all she had to give. I’m a greedy girl to want more when she gave so much. Shame on me. And, how to hold her close? To squeeze everything she had to offer – to respect her by listening to lessons over and over again? I will try to continue to go back to her lessons and the memories she left behind. Often.

I guess I should mention I didn’t personally know Maya Angelou. I know I write about her here as if I did, and that is a credit to her, not to me. She was a close friend to all that wanted to listen and to learn from her. So, I’m allowed to say she was my mentor, my teacher, and my friend. She would smile at that.



A Memory on Memorial Day

photo-1My stepfather was an Infantryman in the 11th Armored Division of the 3rd Army. We’re talking Patton’s army. He was awarded a Purple Heart after being injured in the Battle of the Bulge. He and I were not close, and while I knew he fought in the Battle of the Bulge, I never asked him about it. Like so many other missed moments, I’m so sorry I never did. My daughter Sarah did. And, she told me this story. I share it with you on Memorial Day with the hope it will move you to ask someone who has served our country to tell you their story before they are no longer able.

It was late on Christmas Eve, 1944, and George Ilse was lying on the ground with hundreds of others. He thought he was dying. I’m not sure what the injury was, but he was ‘tagged’ as not able to survive and left with whatever comfort they could give. He had a small compass with him that my daughter now has on a chain. He told her that his uncle gave him the compass for Christmas just before he was deployed. I have the Christmas Card that accompanied the gift and added it to this blog. It has the following message: To help you find your way home. Tom. According to George’s story, it had stopped working.

A man walked by, stopped, looked at him and said, “Are you George Ilse?” My stepfather said he was and it turned out to be a medic from George’s hometown. He knelt over George and worked on him. He saved his life. He told Sarah that he took the compass out of his pocket while the stars shone over the snow covered ground later that night so long ago, and it was working again. He told her in that moment he knew he’d make it home.

I’m sorry I never thanked you for your service George. I do it today, on Memorial Day, 2014, seventy years after that cold Christmas night. I will visit your grave today and say it out loud. Rest in peace.


Mandela’s Lesson of Forgiveness


I think Mandela’s genius was in his use of the high ground. Everything he accomplished comes from that platform. Others in history have returned from imprisonment and gone into politics, but none have done so while so publicly forgiving those who had hurt them. You may believe he did this out of some special goodness inside him that the rest of us do not possess, but I do not necessarily agree. I think he might have had ulterior motives. No matter. The results lifted everyone to their best selves, so who cares what private conversations Mandela might have had inside his own head to get us there? He is truly one of those men for the ages, and death doesn’t diminish him at all. It just gives those of us who have not paid him much mind a chance to take a few days, a week maybe, and delve into what he brought to us all and what we need to make sure he stays a part of us.

When Nelson Mandela went to visit the Queen of England, he was scheduled to have a half-hour audience with her. He stayed more than two hours. When he got into the car after the meeting, an aide asked him what she had said. He answered, “She said to call her Elizabeth.” Prior to this invitation to Mandela, only the Queen’s sister and her husband used her birth name when speaking with her. What did he say during that meeting that made her open herself up to him that way? And why did Mandela tell his aide what she said? If I were Mandela, I would have said it in order to brag, but he was not a braggart. So what was the purpose of letting that personal moment out into the light of public scrutiny? He used his high ground well; he used it for the calling for a better country, to make change to bring equality to a nation, and that makes him the best of us all.

We all know Mandela was imprisoned for twenty-seven years. No need to point out how very long a time that is, especially when he could have gotten out sooner by giving up his politics. For much of that time, he was allowed just one letter every six months and one visitor a year for half an hour. He went into prison a militant Marxist, but he came out as what I would call an individualist, a person whose politics depend on the situation and not doctrine. Because of this, he was criticized by all the various factions among those he led. He was accused of being too close to business and of being too liberal at the same time. He negotiated in secret; his fellow anti-apartheids had no knowledge of what he was doing. My point, you ask? He was a loner, following his instincts and the voice of his inner self, and that independence served him and the people of South Africa well. The movement kept him alive, kept his plight in front of the world, but when it came to his loyalty, it was to the voice inside him. Invictus.

Because he is gone and we Americans tend to see historical figures as all good or all bad, not much is being said about his family, and the price they paid for his choices. Those close to him say he didn’t consider himself to be the iconic success that we all did because he lost his family in the process. He couldn’t do both. Imagine being a child and knowing your dad could come home and be your dad if he wanted to, but he’d chosen to stay away over a point of principle. While we all celebrate and admire his courage, his family suffered the consequences of his actions and never really forgave him. Choices always involve giving something up to get something else, and there are many who would have chosen family. This doesn’t diminish what he was; it just makes him human. Isn’t it odd that he could forgive so easily while those around him, his family, could not? It’s one of those twisted fingers of fate. He paid a high price for the gifts to others.

I have examined Mandela’s enormous capacity for forgiveness this past week. He forgave those who guarded him while he was on Robin’s Island. They sat in the front row proudly when he was installed as President of South Africa. I have people to forgive in my life, and there are some whom I would like to forgive me. As I look at the sheer power of his forgiveness, I realize it has very little to do with those he is forgiving and everything to do with the power you have in forgiveness. You give it — or you take it away. It’s one-sided. The forgiven have zero power and you have it all. It’s a heady place to sit I now see. There is no other interaction that is so one-sided. I intend to tap into this new understanding I have of forgiveness and the gift to the forgiver. Thank you, Mandiba.

Did you know that Mandela had no tear ducts; they were removed during an operation for something or other? Yet he, more than probably any other politician, could make us all cry at the drop of a hat. We cried because we never looked at him without seeing what he gave up to get there. We cried because of that moral high ground he wore as if it were a cardigan sweater. We cried because he seemed so very gentle, even fragile. I didn’t cry when he died; I cried when he lived. What a tribute. I intend to read more about him over the coming months. I intend to keep Invictus, a poem I loved long before I knew he had taken it as his own, closer to me. Maybe I will hang it somewhere where I can read it now and again. And when I think of Mandiba, I will think we all have the capacity for his greatness if we listen to the voices inside ourselves and are willing to act on it at all costs.

Government History

Remembering John F. Kennedy

imagesSo it’s the anniversary week of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, and today I found myself pondering the fact that we make so much of the day he died, rather than celebrating his accomplishments on his birthday. Then I realized that it’s because we all remember — those of us over 55 — every moment of that day he was shot; we can feel the day in our own memories. I was in the sixth grade, and our principal called us to the auditorium and said, “Our President is dead. Everyone go home.” I walked home — a long way home, in the rain — and no one was there when I arrived. I sat alone on the steps of our house on that cold, gray afternoon and wondered if the world was coming to an end. I didn’t feel the enormity of it; I just watched everyone talking about the enormity of it. And then followed that long weekend when, for the first time in history, every TV program was preempted and we all watched the same images unfold over and over again. Then, two days after Kennedy was shot, Jack Ruby shot Oswald right there in front of us on live TV, and in the chaos that ensued, I knew nothing would ever be the same.

But Kennedy’s assassination was not an ending. It was the beginning for my generation. There was Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, civil rights marches gone awry, I Have A Dream speeches, Vietnam protests, friends getting drafted, and an entire subculture that stood up for what we believed in. Me? I was at the University of Nebraska standing up for nothing other than Cornhuskers every fall Saturday. I did work for Nixon’s reelection campaign, volunteering and feeling good about it. I think we can all agree that that endeavor didn’t turn out so well. I watched him resign at Crystal Lake Lodge, where I was a Dirty Dancing Waitress for the summer, and the crowd of liberal New Yorkers who came each year for their week at the Lodge cheered as if we’d won World War II. Me? I stood at the back of the room wondering at their pleasure. Our President had resigned on TV, in disgrace, and I felt disgraced too. I wondered what the rest of the world thought, (a world of which I knew little), and I was embarrassed.

In the midst of the political carnage of the sixties and seventies, I remember first hearing a song on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. The Smothers Brothers — Dick and Tommy — were like the Fred Rogers of comedy in the sixties, and for their time they were very, very funny. The laughs were usually at Tommy’s expense, but he didn’t seem to mind. They invited Dion to come on and sing Abraham Martin & John, the song that wrapped it up for all of us. The song was about the very public, very violent deaths of four great men, three of whom had been leaders of our day who inspired hope. Where had all these men gone? Abraham Lincoln. John Kennedy. Bobby Kennedy. Martin Luther King? Three of them dying on my teenage watch. Over the hill to where? And what happened to how they made us feel? It’s a song for the ages, and I hope those of you who do not remember those times will take a moment to listen. It will tell you of that time long, long ago, when Americans dreamed of an America that was just a bit better than it was at that time, and they were willing to give up things to get it.

John Kennedy should not be remembered for that day fifty years ago when shots rang out from the book depository in Dallas, but rather for his courage under fire during World War II, when he swam another man a half mile to safety in Japanese waters, despite a back injury that would plague him for the rest of his life. He should be remembered for starting the Peace Corps. For standing up for civil rights. For having the courage to own the responsibility for the terrible Bay of Pigs incident. For spurring us to greater heights in space. For taking Jackie to Paris and showing the world that we were no longer the new-world America with no taste, but a new, sophisticated America that could send our fashionable and fabulous first couple overseas with pride. For his “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” line, which I think should replace the Pledge of Allegiance in our schools. For being the first public man I can recall to be unashamed of his love for his small children, and the first one to celebrate Bring Your Children to Work Day. For saying, “Yes we can,” and then proving it. And last but not least, in my American sixth-grade girl’s opinion, for having great hair.

History Movies & TV

12 Years a Slave Movie Review

imgres-1It’s important to watch 12 Years a Slave. I get that. The cinematography truly is not to be believed, and the acting is phenomenal — although Brad Pitt has become so overexposed that you can only see him as himself, despite his acting skills. They would have to change his face to make us see him as anything other than Brad, the other half of Angelina. Sorry, but it’s true. Lupita Nyong’o is a rising star to watch. She is exceptional, not overplaying the role but hitting each abominable note with perfection.

Here is the problem: 12 Years a Slave has no plot other than “free black man is enslaved and then released after twelve years.” In the meantime he is brutally beaten and called upon to question everything that comprises his moral compass. While that may seem like an interesting story, it is not. It’s a subtitle for the movie, and when you can describe an entire movie in one sentence, they have left something out.

I imagine that this part of our sorry-ass history seems like enough for a few hours of sadness and shuddering at onscreen S&M, but it could have been ever so much more. We have no backstory for any of the characters. You have to tell why someone is the way they are to truly make a strong film, and 12 Years a Slave does not do it. Nope, we have no idea what Solomon’s life was like before he was taken, or what life lessons made Burch the callous man he became. Heck, we do not even see Patsey picking cotton, and we are not shown anything that might enable us to understand how she can pick twice as fast as her fellow slaves. Even the Mistresses need backstories. So many victims, not enough history.

It seems like sacrilege to negatively critique a movie that is so important to our history, and so clearly needed in the annals of cinema, but to truly show future generations what slavery was really like, you have do to more than beautifully film the worst our history has to offer. So go back and have someone do it right. Roots did it right, showing the family’s growth and the source of their strengths and weaknesses. Now it’s time to do it on the other side. You can’t water ski over these characters, brushing them lightly. You have to deep sea dive and really examine them to make it stick. And, it would be worth it.

See the movie. Just because we need reminding.

History Politics

Becoming An American Citizen

Louise after becoming an American citizen with her sons.
Louise after becoming an American citizen with her sons.

Becoming an American citizen is a big deal to me. I was born here, and it is perhaps the greatest gift given to me outside the fabulous daughter Sarah, whom I’m not allowed to write about. Did I tell you she started her job as a law clerk? If I were allowed to talk about her, I would tell you how very, very proud I am. But I’m not, so let me tell you about Louise, my cousin Cliff’s wife, who is from across the pond and turns on the accent when it suits her. She became an American citizen last week.

The journey required of prospective citizens is something we Americans need to revise. As she described her journey to the Red, White and Blue citizenship, I became more and more concerned that we have truly fallen to the lowest of the low in terms of standards. Let’s start with what they are required to learn about the history of this country. She was diligent. She took years to learn it all. She went to Boston to take the oral test, and a government employee asked her the following questions:

1. “What ocean is on the East Coast?”

Seriously? I started to feel troubled when I heard about that. Well, she lives on Cape Cod, so rest assured she got that one right.

2. “Have you every persecuted anyone?”

“No, but I’m not sure my kids would agree,” she replied. Tee hee.

“I would suggest you use yes or no when answering questions where possible,” her tester said.

“Got it.”

Okay, so far I cannot think of one good reason why she bothered to read the book at all.

3. “Name a state that borders Canada.”

I think she should have said, “Why?” But I say that because they can’t take my citizenship away from me for sarcasm, although there are those in the Senate who might try.

4. “Have you ever planned, or do you have plans, to overthrow a government?”

I’m starting to feel sick to my stomach now. Big time. Surely, if she had plans to overthrow a government, she would have said, “How did you know?” We all know that she would never have lied in her answer. I’m red-hot mad now. Yep, mad I tell you.

And then they asked my personal favorite, “Have you ever committed a crime for which you were not arrested?” We all know that if you got away with assassinating someone or other, you would give it up to this humorless stranger across from you to ensure that you’d be denied the citizenship you had studied for over the past two years. And, besides, who among us has not been caught in some felony or another? I mean… really?

He also asked her what the stars on the flag meant. Who cares?

That was it. Six questions. He told her she passed, and she asked incredulously if that was all she needed to answer. He explained to her that you only need to get six right and you pass, so why bother to ask any more. Why indeed? Correct me if I’m wrong, but six out of ten right is a ‘D’ in my book. You can be a D citizen. Not feeling good about this at all.

So then there was the swearing-in ceremony, which I was unable to attend because I was out of town on business. Good thing. I would have started screaming. First, it was taking place the week after the Boston bombings… in Boston, of all places. They had zero security for 1,800 new citizens pledging allegiance to our country, and their families. Maybe it’s just me, but I do think that after the anger expressed over the last week about the Tsarnaev brothers’ lack of commitment to their adopted country, one might have been concerned about the possibility of some skin-head jerk making his own Bostonian statement. Again, maybe it’s just me.

They told Louise and her family to get there at 11:30 AM. Others they met there had been told to come at 9:30. No matter. The judge doing the swearing in for 1,800 new citizens didn’t make it until 1:30 PM, which was no problem because most of those new citizens have waited years, so what’s another five hours of sitting and waiting for someone who was supposed to be there on time?

Here are my texts with Cousin Cliff, who was not out of town and did attend.

Ceremony delayed. Thousands of people and they’re letting little kids sing over the PA. Please kill me now.

I immediately responded:

Still wish I was there instead of the garment district in New York!

He answered:

No. You don’t. They have little kids actually singing to thousands of people to keep us entertained because they don’t have a judge to swear them in!!!!

I lied:

That’s so nice for everyone. How American! Stop it. This is really important!

He countered:

Oh god. I’ve never needed a drink before noon more in my life. In fact, I’d rather listen to you sing Barry Manilow.

For those of you who regularly follow my blog, I love Barry Manilow and tend to break into BM songs at times of stress. Since Cliff is family, he’s heard me do “Mandy” often. I finished it off, however. Enough is enough. This was so not about him.

Look, you ass. SHE is getting sworn in. Do not wreck this moment. Enough. Get it together. Think Statue of Liberty. Pull yourself together man. We are done here.

He didn’t answer after that.

The best, the absolute best, however, is that there were envelopes for our new American brethren, containing information on things like how to get your passport, how to register to vote, and generally about how to be an American. But alas, they only had 1,000 of these envelopes, so when they ran out, people started to get frightened, concerned that they were missing something they really needed, and panic started to ensue. The government knew how many people were being sworn in, or at least I hope they knew? Tell me they know. Did some not invited show up and become citizens without passing the test? Oh my.

Seriously, I am so saddened. So, very, very sad that we treat our new citizens with such disregard. And I’m so very, very angry that we do not take more seriously what a citizen needs to know about our history and laws before welcoming them into this club of all clubs. I had to know more to be a Pi Phi in college for God’s sake.

I’m sorry, Louise. I apologize to you and to the 1,799 others who were there last week. Shame on us… yet again.

History Politics Religion World

Finding Perspective.

I don’t know how to find perspective in wake of this most recent violence in Boston, just an hour from where I call home. Twelve years ago, I had perspective. I physically witnessed both planes fly into the Towers. I knew people who lost their lives. I heard first-hand personal stories from those I held dear. It was easier then. I was part of the fray, and I was honored to feel the pain from a place of true association. I was allowed to be in the inner circle of what was happening, and from that place, you have perspective. You are entitled to feelings of anger, grief, and sorrow.

But this time, it’s different. I didn’t know anyone who is in peril in a hospital anywhere. I don’t run; hell, I barely walk these days. I don’t follow marathons, nor did I know the history of the Boston Marathon until yesterday, a rich history that is now forever tainted. It’s been almost 24 hours since the bombs went off, and we have no idea who was involved. My gut — which has no right to have an opinion — says it was not international, but some messed up American person or persons who created this carnage on a local level, but will gain global notoriety because of it. But whatever comes from all this, I don’t feel I have a right to feel anything but a sense of voyeurism.

What do we do with what happened if we really have no personal association with it? A friend in Colorado sent me a picture of his snow-laden house this morning and said that more snow was on the way. I wanted to e-mail him back, “I don’t give a good God damn about snow, idiot, an eight-year-old boy was blown to bits after hugging his father who had just crossed the finish line, and you want to talk about snow? Who are you?” I have another friend who makes it all about her, even though she wasn’t there and knows no one who was affected. Perspective. Where do we Americans belong in these moments? How do we find perspective?

We are the only species that kills each other randomly for no reason. Okay, those who perpetrate these cowardly acts of terror will say there is a reason, but truth be told, there was no reason to kill that young boy, take away his sister’s limb, and put his mother in the Critical Care Unit of Mass General. No reason at all as far as I can tell. Why do we do that? What does it mean?

I search for answers at times like these, and I know that I will not find them. Gaining perspective, or finding a place to put feelings of grief, rage, and sorrow at times like these is impossible for me. Then time passes, feelings fade, and we move on with our lives with nothing much changed or gained. I have to believe there is something more here. I have to believe that we should be able to find something that helps put these kinds of events in perspective, or better yet, give us some tools to stop the next one.

I have to say that I strongly dislike (trying to keep the bad juju out of my life by using words like hate) the religious talk we hear at times like this. “God has a reason.” “At times like these, turn to God, who will give you strength and healing.” Seriously? If I were God, I’d shake my head and say, “You are on your own on this one people. Who have you become? This has nothing to do with me.” Yesterday, a dear friend of mine, with whom I share a love/hate relationship when it comes to religion and politics, said that the moral decline of the country was because families weren’t going to church. She would say that was not her point, but I would say it was. Perspective.

I want to go to sporting and other events with a song in my heart and no fear in my belly. My fabulous daughter, Sarah, graduated from Law School in Boston last year, and I wasn’t afraid for a moment. Should I have been? If she were graduating this year instead of last, would I worry whilst attending the festivities, listening to speeches designed to inspire? I think I would, and I’m sorry for those who will have to live with increased angst over the coming months and years until it all fades again with the novocaine of time.

I want to be able to put things like this into perspective. It seems like it would help me get through them. But for all my searching over the last few hours, I cannot.

History Movies & TV Politics

Movie Review: Lincoln

I believe that timing is everything. The release of Lincoln, and our ability to learn its lessons and see its truth, is based on the history now unfolding around us. It took Spielberg ten years to get it done. But if it had been done ten years ago, in the midst of Bush’s first term, it would never have had the impact that is having on us now. I remember that Obama took his wife and daughters to the Lincoln Memorial the night before he was sworn in for his first term. I have no idea what he said to them, but he was clearly connected to our sixteeth president, admired him, and needed to be close him to when he took the oath.

images-1Obama, like Lincoln, needs to stand up and lead at a time when the country is divided. The Tea Party will take down the government if they can in order to keep their agenda at the forefront. The silent Republicans are trying not to be noticed, and our President is trying to find his voice—and he doesn’t have a natural tendency to be pushy. I know he’s seen the movie more than once, and I can see it inspiring him to find the fortitude to forcefully make it all happen. Call me naïve, but I believe that this movie has helped him strengthen his hand in directing the government’s course. At least I hope so.

So what happened to honest Abe? Not so much, people. So much for that myth. He wasn’t honest with the people—he sent a note saying the Confederate leaders were not heading toward DC when they were, he called on his team to purchase votes, and he lied to his cabinet about his intentions. Oh, my. What’s a fourth grader to do with our vision of Honest Abe? But I like this new man, who like the rest of us, had good and bad in him, and—pay attention, this is the relevant point—he knew when it was time to allow Dishonest Abe to emerge. Is a man better because he only uses lies and manipulation when it’s for a cause he believes is the right one? Would that mean that waterboarding has a place? Was Little Bush (as I like to call him) not such a bad guy after all? Was Cheney any different from Lincoln? Should the last twenty thousand souls who died because Lincoln was willing to prolong the war to get the amendment passed meet him at the pearly gates and veto his entrance?

After seeing the movie, I felt like a dummy. I had no idea who the players were, which meant I had to come home to get the back story on them. I bought Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, even though I have vowed to never buy the work of a known plagiarizer; I made an exception in her case. Thaddeus Stevens? Preston Blair? Robert Latham? Even Seward, whose name would ring a bell if you pressed me, didn’t have a place in my history of the Lincoln presidency. The story was tough enough to tell without having to educate Christine about her sorry lack of knowledge of the era—I get that. But I needed more information to be able to put these men in context. Even Mary was mostly unknown to me, although I knew she was troubled. That’s the funny thing about Spielberg. He takes care of every single detail of your experience, but he didn’t give us enough history about some of the players to really convey what made them who they were, or the enormity of the tasks that confronted them.

Okay, let’s move on from my confessions about my lack of education, and my march down US Current Event and History Lane and get to the movie.

Lincoln will be one of those movies everyone watches at least once in their lifetime, like Gone with the Wind. It’s a period piece that leaves us proud of our heritage and in awe of those who came before us and what they accomplished. Steven Spielberg did an amazing job bringing to the screen a time that has been much overlooked. I know I may be alone in thinking this, but I think Spielberg’s brilliance—genius if you must—lies in his selection of topics, and not always in his storytelling. He finds the untold stories, like five pages in a Lincoln biography, and makes them into movies that bring something to light for us that we love learning. Schindler’s List, E.T., Even Jaws. He knows how take us on a journey we wouldn’t have taken, to tell a story on the screen that no one thought to tell, but sometimes I think he doesn’t think I’m a smart girl at all, and his presentation of Lincoln is one of those times.

I believe that Spielberg worries that his viewers won’t get it the way he does. He wants me to hear Lincoln’s words and not be distracted by whatever else is happening on the screen, so he lights only Lincoln when he’s talking. Lincoln is always center stage (or should I say screen). I saw Steven’s interview with Oprah, and when she said something about what the movie brought to her, he leaned forward, and you could feel his angst and his relief when he replied, “I’m so glad you got that, it was what I was striving for,” or something like that. And she puffed up with pride at his praise, like a student whose teacher has just told her she got the point of the difficult lecture he’d just finished.

I’m sorry Steven, and please do not think I am not grateful for your movies that bring so much to me, but I do think there is a flaw in many of them, and I have pledged to be authentic, so there you have it. I don’t think it makes the movies less important, just less well done.

Which, of course leads me to the actors. Sally Field should not have been in this movie, and she was always Sally Field on the screen. After reading a bit more about Mary Todd Lincoln, I can honestly say she did not nail Mary’s character. Drama on the screen she can do, but we still see Sally, and that is never a good thing. To be honest, I felt a bit the same way about Daniel Day-Lewis’s portrayal of Lincoln. His shuffling walk down the hallway was just a little too obvious—but that again was Spielberg, taking twenty seconds to show us the walk lest we not get that Lincoln was one tired soul. I think Lewis played Lincoln, I did not think as everyone else did, that he became Lincoln.

Oh my goodness, I feel like I’m trashing one of the best movies of the year! My apologies. It was great. Yes, it was.

Every citizen of the United States of America must see Lincoln. We must make sure our children see Lincoln. We must notice the white men in the senate and the danger of not having diverse representation in a diverse nation. We must realize that one must give to get, and that is especially true in government. We must recognize that voting for the good of a nation as a representative of its citizens is sometimes hard when it means the demise of your position in that nation. We must see that there has been so very much sacrifice in our country to get us to where we are today, and that we, this generation of Americans, have sacrificed virtually nothing, and we must be willing to change that.

This movie is a game changer for us all if we allow it to be. I plan on seeing it again with my daughter, who is a member of the generation that must stand tall where we did not. And, all these things – the past preying on the present and future through this movie, is why Lincoln is the best film of the year.