Living A Good Life

Gym-equipment-pic.jpgI’m relatively healthy given my age. I’m more likely to need dental work than any type of medical procedure. I take vitamins and a medication for GERD which is produced in my case by a hiatal hernia and a very narrow esophagus. My grandmother once told me that everyone in her family lived to an old age, but eventually died of “gut” trouble. So far I seem to be proving her theory to be correct, but a few years back I decided that it might be a good idea to have a Primary Care Physician, someone who would coordinate all of my issues in one place. I had no idea where to start in choosing someone, so I asked my husband’s and mother’s cardiologist to suggest a few outstanding physicians that he knew. I decided on a fairly young doctor with high marks and a most interesting name. I mean who would not be intrigued by a name like “Septimus?” I figured that at the very least I would have no difficulty recalling such a moniker, and besides I had to meet this person with such a regal sounding handle.

I’ve been with Dr Septimus ever since, and it’s a good thing because he is exactly the kind of person that I was seeking. He is very serious, hardly cracking a smile or a joke, but he knows his stuff and he’s inclined to share it all with me. He is unwilling to overlook any little aspect of my health, including my exercise regimen. In that regard he has recently demanded that I join a gym and work out at least five times a week. Luckily my new Medicare Advantage Plan includes membership at a variety of places. Dr. Septimus felt that I would feel the most comfortable at the YMCA, where I might avoid the muscle bound devotees and be around folks more like myself. After reviewing several possibilities I found myself agreeing with him, and so I joined a couple of weeks ago. I have to say that it has been a grand experience. Even the personal trainers are not intimidating.

The local YMCA is a short drive from my home and everyone there is quite friendly. I received a personal training session and a fellow up as part of my membership. A very nice woman told me which machines to use in the beginning and how to set them to my personal specifications. At first I felt a bit odd because the truth is that I am a virtual blob of flab. My initial encounters with the weight machines proved how much I needed them. I had to keep reminding myself that nobody was watching me, and I thought of a business proposal that some of my former students once suggested which involved creating a special exercise space for very unfit individuals. I was thinking how nice it would have been to be surrounded by a bunch of blobs like me, but then where is the motivation in that?

Once I got over my self consciousness and nerves I realized that all of us are in the process of improving ourselves. There are young folks who are amazingly fit and people older than myself who are barely able to move. The point is that all of us are after the same essential goal. The trainer told me that I would see results more quickly than I thought, and she was quite right. The first thing I noticed was how much more energy I have. I am no longer experiencing that afternoon let down that made me want to take a quick nap each day. Instead I am moving so constantly that achieving ten thousand steps a day has become a piece of cake. I get more done in a few hours than I ever imagined would be possible. The only difficulty that I have experienced has been working the gym time around all of the other appointments that I have. I don’t like to go there when it is really crowded, but I suppose that I will learn how to balance all of my demands eventually.

So far I’ve managed about an hour and fifteen minutes of exercise five days each week. The chest press that seemed so difficult initially is already reaching a point of comfort that tells me that I may need to increase the weight. I’ve begun to overcome the elliptical machine which originally ate my lunch. I dream of wearing summer clothes with a bit more pride, and I suspect that I will be successful in that regard as long as I keep up the routine. I’m thankful for Dr. Septimus because he is not about to let me off of the hook. I can’t get anything past him. He monitors me like a hawk and gives me the kind of evil eye that a parent or teacher might invoke whenever he realizes that I am slacking.

I don’t know why we humans allow ourselves to become so unhealthy. I guess there are just too many temptations urging us to cheat. I’ll be the first to admit that given the choice between a big bowl of chips and cheese dip versus a big juicy apple I would tend toward the worst of the two. I have to work hard to stay within the most reasonable eating norms, but I have been quite diligent in that regard. The result has been that when I do fall off of the wagon I feel rather sick. My body just doesn’t like me when I feed it junk food anymore. It has adjusted to a routine of fruits and vegetables made with spices but no salt or added sugars. I’ve become such a regular at Sprouts, the Farmer’s Market and the produce section of HEB that Quicken notes my expansive use of finances for good food.

I find myself wondering how the very poor are able to fund healthy food, when I realize how much more it costs to invest in it. I think of their inability to join a gym, and feel a bit guilty that I have privileges that they don’t. I remember my mom putting back apples because she had estimated how much she had to spend and didn’t have enough. I feel so fortunate to have a doctor who cares enough about my welfare to push me to exercise and eat well. I am lucky to have a medical plan that pays for him and my gym membership. I have enough retirement income to bring fresh vegetables into my home. I have everything that I need to feel younger than I am because I am living a good life. I need to remind myself of the next time that I begin to falter.

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I’m So Mitt Romney

binders-made-800x800I bought my husband an Apple watch after he had his stroke, and he uses every possible feature that it allows. He thought of returning the favor by gifting me with one for Christmas, but soon enough realized that I would probably only get as far as telling time with it. He knows that I am technologically literate only to a point beyond which I’m just not willing to make the effort. For the most part I’m often still as old school as Mitt Romney with his binders. In fact, I decided to write about this after getting all tingly with excitement over finding a spiral notebook with three sections for taking notes. It’s a way of keeping track of what to remember, what to buy, and what I plan to do. I find as I get older that I need these kinds of reminders, and unlike my spouse who simply records his notes on his watch with his voice, I need a hardcopy to go with my visual learning style. I keep my scribbles on a table in my bedroom and refer to them periodically for ideas. Somehow my system seems easier and quicker than having to go through the motions of finding that information on a watch with print so small that I need 300+ reading glasses to see the letters.

I often laugh at myself and think of a time long ago when I was young. My mind was so sharp that I didn’t even need a calendar to recall appointments. Everything that I needed to know or remember was all in my very clear head. I look back at a time when I had to hold my laughter when I witnessed my father-in-law performing his daily ritual upon arriving home from work. He would walk to the kitchen table and immediately begin withdrawing slips of paper from the breast pocket of his shirt. Each paper contained something that he had thought about during the day that he wanted to remember. At the time I could not imagine becoming so absent minded that I would ever need such a system, but the need for ways of keeping track of all of the thoughts that race through my head soon enough became overwhelming, and I began to rely on planners and calendars that I carried in my purse.

These days I don’t have nearly as many appointments or goals as I did when I still had children and was working, but I continue to need a way of keeping track. I have surrendered to using Google Calendar because I can enter engagements quickly and also see what other members of my family are doing at a glance. I also keep track of my calorie consumption and exercise each day with an app that serves mostly as a kind of policing mechanism to keep me from over indulging. It chides me when I consume too much fat or sugar and threatens to starve me if I eat an item that leaves me without enough calories for dinner.

When I was still teaching my husband custom designed a grade book for me using a spreadsheet. I was one of the very first teachers in my school to use such a thing. I had to get permission from the principal to turn in printouts rather than the hand written calculations in the old style journals. I felt like a real trendsetter even though I did little more than plug in the numbers and then let the computer do the rest of the work. My program was so well attuned to my specific needs that I actually resented having to change over to the one that the school district eventually required all of us to use.

Perhaps the aspect of technology that I most enjoy is the word processor. Typing was always so difficult for me. It would take me longer to type a paper than to write it by hand. I labored over so many assignments not because I lacked ideas, but because I was a horrible typist. My final products were dotted with so much white out that I lost points for lack of neatness. God only knows how much I might have been to accomplish if I had been able to type on a computer keyboard instead of my mom’s electric typewriter with several keys that stuck.

I love emails and texts. In fact it was email that saved my bacon once when I was working on my graduate degree. I had completed all of the required hours, or so I thought, and was ready to graduate at the end of the summer until a counselor informed me that I needed one more class. Regardless of how I demonstrated that her math was faulty she refused to listen. I suppose that I became a bit overwrought and frightened her because she suddenly suggested that I get one of my professors to sponsor me in an independent study. She told me that I had exactly two days to make the arrangement. I frantically attempted to call my teachers with no luck. Then I recalled the professor who had required us to use email, a new idea that was still mainly the purview of universities back then. I sent him a message begging him to help me out. I mentioned that I would be taking a final exam the following day and joked that “if there is a God” he would answer my plea. While I was taking the test I heard a voice calling my name and saying,”God has arrived.” He helped me set up a program that evening and three weeks later I had completed the study. I became a fan of email from that point forward, and have never turned back.

I set timers with Amazon’s Alexa and request musical selections from her. She turns lights on and off by command and schedule and I have grown rather fond of her, especially when I didn’t have to squeeze behind my Christmas tree to plug and unplug the lights each day. Siri is another very dear friend of mine. She has taken me to exotic places that I might otherwise have never found. Now and again my southern accent confuses her, but mostly she is my constant guide. I am confident that she will get me safely to my destination no matter how far away it may be.

Still there is something about my hand written notes that is more reassuring than messages on a screen. I can place asterisks next them or cross them out when I change my mind. I can pull them from my pocket or my purse as I walk through the grocery store. I feel a sense of accomplishment when I crumple up a”To Do” list because I have completed all of the tasks. There is an aspect so wonderfully personal about seeing notes in my own handwriting. Perhaps it is the joy of being literate, a treasure that neither of my grandmothers ever knew. Being able to not just think, but also to record my ideas with my signature flourishes makes them feel more important, so I suppose that I will stick with my little notebooks and handwritten lists until something convinces me that there is a better way.

i’ve often thought that I might have enjoyed being an archeologist. I am fascinated by hieroglyphs and ancient paintings on the walls of caves. I wonder what we have today that will be as lasting as those ancient attempts to record daily life. Our paper eventually turns to dust. Our machines become outmoded and then seem to be more like inanimate bricks than keepers of our deepest thoughts. What will people of the future think of us, and how primitive will our efforts appear to be? The technology that we use today grows outdated so quickly. That watch that my husband wears is already becoming obsolete. We have to keep up with times that are moving faster and faster. Sometimes it’s just easier and more comforting to stick with the old familiar ways. Mitt Romney and I are about the same age. We like our binders and our notebooks. They have served us well. It’s not that we are against progress, we just see no point in getting rid of a good thing.

Opening Our Ears, Eyes and Mouths

flat,800x800,070,fThere is a video of four little babies loving and hugging one another that has gone viral. It is a precious demonstration of the innocence that is in our human natures that sometimes becomes twisted and ugly in some of our fellow humans as they grow into adults. I suspect that the clip is popular because it reminds us of how we dream for the world to be, devoid of bigotry and hatefulness. Sadly we know that no matter how hard we wish for such a reality, it will probably never completely occur, but what if we did indeed have a way of extending the goodness that lies in our hearts just a bit more? Would we do our best to make such a thing happen or would we choose instead to take an easier path in life?

We have seen instances of people throughout history who have decided to be the change they desired to see in the world. They did not turn away from challenges to demonstrate love and justice, and often they were ridiculed and even persecuted for their courage. Jesus showed us the way and the truth about how we should all live, and for his efforts he was nailed to a cross and killed as though he was a common criminal. Abraham Lincoln held fast to a belief in the dignity of all men and was murdered. So too did Gandhi die because of his determination to speak for those without a voice. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lead his people to their rights as humans and citizens of this country all the while understanding how dangerous it was to do so. The greatest individuals of all time have overcome their fears to stand up for goodness, but there have also been instances when those unknown to us have been unafraid to be noble. Every single day someone somewhere is facing down evil and moving the dial just a bit closer to the kind of loving perfection that we all wish to see.

I find it heartbreaking when we witness hurtful behaviors and we simply allow them to happen. We turn our backs, close our doors, draw the blinds, pretend that we did not see or hear the transgressions. We do not wish to invoke the ire of the people around us. We don’t want to make waves, and so we remain quiet, making excuses for those who embarrass or hurt others with their actions. These days we even invoke the premise that the end justifies the means, even as those means are truly vile. We advocate strength in numbers and informally join groups even when those groups do things that we know are wrong. We don’t wish to be shunned, so we allow the infractions to occur, pretending that they really aren’t so bad even when we know that they are.

It is when the vast majority of us close our eyes and put our fingers in our ears in the face of a wrong that evil takes root among us. The leap from being a highly educated and cultured society to gassing innocents for simply being of a certain kind is not all that great, and when it happens we realize that we have lost control of a situation that might have been stopped if only we had been forthright in the beginning. History has taught us time and again that the line between civilization and anarchy is often very fine, and bullies will take advantage of our failure to enforce it.

I have tried to give the president of our country the benefit of the doubt. I have wanted to believe that perhaps his comments have been sensationalized by a press that does not like him, but far too often he gives me little reason to support him in his baseless tirades against certain groups of people. I’ve thought that perhaps he does not know how to properly voice his ideas properly because his vocabulary and knowledge seems so limited, but now I simply think that he is in truth a very mean spirited person, a bully, and a bigot. What bothers me even more than the horrible things that he says is that there are actually those who applaud his ugly ideas, and sadly some who dislike what he says but are unwilling to say so.

The most recent example of this came from a discussion of how to deal with immigration, a topic that has brought out some of the most egregious comments from the president. The fact that he used a guttural term like “shithole” to describe certain countries was not as horrible as the inference that it would be preferable to limit immigration to those who come from so called better places. The meaning behind such statements is appalling knowing that there was once a time when my own grandparents and mother were thought to be unworthy of citizenship in this country by prejudiced individuals who called them dirty and ignorant. They came from a part of eastern Europe that has historically been thought to be home to lazy people not worthy of admiration or respect. My mother never fully forgot the sting of the insults and rocks hurled at her for no reason other than her heritage. It is painful to me to consider that the leader of our country would still be categorizing people based on their nation of origin, economic state, or educational opportunities rather than seeing each of us as equal in the eyes of God. I had thought and hoped that such thinking was a thing of the past, but I have learned that I was wrong.

What truly worries me is that so few of the men and women in the Republican party have remembered the model of Abraham Lincoln and risked their careers to say and do what is right. Some who have no trouble standing up to the wrongful thinking of Democrats seem to have become sheep with regard to President Trump. If they actually agree with his sentiments, then they are a very cold hearted group that has forgotten what this country was supposed to represent to the oppressed peoples of the world. The message that they are sending is not one about protecting the American people and our way of life, but one of exclusion and prejudice. No matter how the president’s remarks are parsed or what exact words he used it comes back to the idea that we don’t want to provide opportunities and safety for citizens who do not fit a certain profile, and I have to strongly disagree with that kind of thinking.

I have written my two Senators and urged them to step forward and demand that the president cease and desist his campaign of disgusting pronouncements, but I have little faith that they will even read my comments much less act on them. In the meantime we are hurting and demeaning individuals who like my grandparents only want a chance at a fair shake.

This country was not founded by the squires and noblemen of Europe, but by the second sons, the downtrodden, the persecuted, those who realized that their home countries held little promise for them. Over time they came to our shores one by one eager to make something of themselves, and many did just that Their resumes would not have been likely to enchant someone based on merit, but they proved themselves when given a chance. This has been the exceptional story of our nation. This is what has made us great to this very day, not some imagined vision of isolation and unwillingness to learn from one another.

We cannot build walls around ourselves and expect to thrive and find happiness. It didn’t work when kings built moats and stone structures and it won’t work now. The world is a vibrant place with ideas pulsing in every corner. A truly visionary leader understands that we have a place in the larger community, not if we hold sway over everyone else, but by becoming part of the conversations about what each of us has to offer. We were at our best when we saw ourselves as helpers rather than dominators. We changed the world with our goodness, not our brute strength. Every time we have become confused about our role it has gone badly, and right now our president seems to think that a he alone knows how to keep our country safe. History shows us the folly of such thinking, We can’t keep looking away. It’s time for all good men and women to come to the aid of our country. We have to open our eyes, our ears, and our mouths.

A Real Prince Charming

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He was a man who never met a stranger, someone with a smile so big that he instantly lit up a room. He liked to laugh and being around him always felt so comfortable. He was a very handsome man who stayed perennially fit with his devotion to exercise and athletics. He was a brilliant man with a degree in Chemistry who headed a laboratory for decades. He loved his beautiful wife and his two daughters. He was a Godly man who gave enthusiastically of his time and talents to his church. He was a friend who died quietly and peacefully last week. Those of us who knew Ed Millin have beautiful memories of him that we will treasure for the remainder of our days.

Ed Millin was from New York and he bore the characteristic accent of people from there even after living and working for decades in Texas. He came south for work and found love with a very sweet and pretty girl named Judy. Together they built a home and a family and along the way my husband Mike and I met the two of them. We enjoyed many wonderful times together at parties, gatherings and dinners. Ed was easy to get to know, because he was always open and inviting. He loved to tell stories and to listen with an intentness that meant that he really cared about what people were saying. He had a knack for making everyone feel good about themselves, and an evening spent with him was always relaxing and fun.

Ed was a runner who might be found racing around a track or through the streets all of the time. He was a high energy individual who worked all day long at his lab, and then played a rousing round of tennis or pickle ball. He was always in great shape and seemed more like a someone half his age. In fact he never seemed to grow older the way the rest of us did. His secret to what seemed like never ending youthfulness was certainly because of all of his physical activity, but it was also his big grin and the fact that he never took life too seriously that appeared to contribute to his good health.

Years ago I taught one of Ed’s daughters in a religious education class at our church. I had a the ridiculous idea of inviting the parents to attend one of the sessions so they might witness what their children were doing. The problem was that I was working with seventh graders, and anyone with even an ounce of experience with that age group understands that they are easily embarrassed, particularly when it comes to their parents. None of the other moms and dads came, most likely because their children had asked them not to do so, but Ed arrived with his always friendly demeanor and eagerness. When his daughter saw him she turned fifty shades of red and bolted from the room. Ed was dumbfounded, but rather quickly flashed a knowing grin as he realized that showing up had been a breach of teenage etiquette. Without missing a beat he made a quick exit and never mentioned the affair again. I can only imagine what the conversation at home with his child must have been, but I always believed that Ed handled it with finesse. He was a great student of human nature.

Because I thought that Ed was ageless it was particularly shocking when I sadly learned that he was afflicted with an early onset of Alzheimer’s disease. He slowly drifted into a state of confusion and became more and more of a recluse under the loving care of his wife Judy and his daughters. I missed seeing him and enjoying his warm personality. Eventually many members of the group with whom we had enjoyed such wonderful times together began to grow ill and die. Judy and I began to see each other far too often at funerals, but Ed hung in there even though his mind became more and more clouded with the passage of time.

Nobody should ever have to endure the slow deterioration that Ed endured, but it was especially poignant given his former vibrancy. I suppose that there is some consolation in knowing that he had lived life with a vengeance, and put every bit of his being into all of the minutes before illness ultimately took its toll. I suspect that we will all remember him running like the wind, chasing after a tennis ball, and always always grinning with a kind of joy that was infectious.

Ed was blessed to have the most remarkable partner. Judy was devoted to him and rarely complained about her role as his caretaker for so many difficult years. She demonstrated the kind of love that is the stuff of romantic novels even as her handsome man became less and less focused. The two of them were known in their circles of church and work and neighborhood as a generous and compassionate team, always together and doing so much good.

Ed’s daughters are as beautiful and good natured as he was. They returned the love that he had given them a thousandfold. I’m sure that they will hold fast to the wonderful memories that they shared with their remarkable father. He blessed them in ways that few ever enjoy.

Some people have a charisma that is difficult to explain. That was Ed Millin. All I have to do is think of his name and I can see him once again looking so dashing, laughing so heartily and enjoying every person and every situation with a kind of rare innocence. He was a very good man who led a very good life. I suppose that he’s running in heaven and maybe even challenging St. Peter to a quick game of tennis. No doubt he has enchanted them already because Ed Millin was a real life Prince Charming.

The Face That We Must See

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Two hundred thousand is a number, twenty percent of a million. It’s an amount that is difficult to imagine, a little less than half the number of people who fit into Kyle Field, the stadium at Texas A&M University. If dollar bills representing this amount were stacked one on top of another they would be around ninety thousand feet high, forty five times higher than the largest building in the world. In other words the more we think about it, the more we realize that two hundred thousand is a very large number, and yet it still doesn’t quite register when a headline announces that two hundred thousand immigrants from El Salvador are quite suddenly in danger of losing the protection which has allowed them to live legally in the United States since the early nineteen nineties. A number does not really tell a story or reveal a human face, and yet with a flick of the pen an entire group of people has been lumped together in a move that does not take their individual struggles and successes into account.

Back in 1991, President George H.W. Bush gave citizens of El Salvador who were living in the United States temporary protective status after a devastating earthquake hit their native country. Every eighteen months the immigrants were required to pay hundreds of dollars in fees to maintain their work authorization. Most of them gladly performed the the required registrations rather than facing the growing violence and poverty in their home country. In the process the vast majority have become thoroughly integrated into the communities in which they live. They have held down jobs, purchased homes and raised families. They have been Americanized in almost every since other than becoming citizens and earning the right to vote. For the most part they began to take their status for granted as Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama continued their protective status, particularly in the face of the rise of dangerous gangs in El Salvador like MS13. The people thought that they would be safe here, and they built their lives around that belief. Now the Trump administration has suddenly announced that they will no longer enjoy protected status, throwing into question what will eventually happen to them unless Congress somehow provides them with a reprieve via immigration reform.

Most people don’t pay much attention to such actions because they do not affect them in any personal way, but I happen to know a lovely family whose lives have already been touched  by this decision, and I am both fearful and heartbroken that they must endure the uncertainty that lies ahead. They are literally at the mercy of lawmakers who have no idea just how wonderful they actually are, and I worry that it will be more important to members of Congress to take a hard line to impress voters than to do the right thing. Friends of mine are in trouble and few people in the United States even care or want to know about them. It is a situation that makes me immeasurably sad, not just for this wonderful family but for the character of our country which has grown so seemingly cold hearted.

I learned of these Salvadorans when their daughter attended the high school where I was working. She was the eldest in her family, a young woman determined to take full advantage of the sacrifices that her parents had made to insure that she would have a good life. They had left their homeland behind in the hopes of protecting their child from the horrors that were unfolding there. They found solace in Houston, Texas and began working hard to prove themselves and to be role models for their children. They were quite successful in their quest to be the kind of people that we all hope to be. They attended church regularly and inculcated a strong value system in their children. They emphasized the need for education and encouraged their young ones to work hard. They paid their bills and saved their money and eventually became owners of a lovely home where their extended family lived together in great harmony.

Their daughter, who was one of my students and has over time become a dear friend, lived every single day with determination and gratitude. She earned a high school diploma with honors, demonstrating extraordinary leadership skills. She was selected to attend a youth conference in Washington D.C. where she shone so brightly that she was interviewed by NPR. She spoke with the grace and wisdom of the maturity that her parents had helped her to achieve. She went on to attend the prestigious Bauer School of Business at the University of Houston where she continued to demonstrate her exceptional attitude and abilities. She headed student organizations and maintained exemplary grades, eventually being highlighted as one of the premier students at the school. All the while her parents reregistered every eighteen months and did all that was asked of them. They were good people who more than deserved the protection that the government gave them. They and their children contributed to the welfare of our city, our state and our nation in extraordinary ways, and they were proud of their accomplishments.

This past December the young lady graduated from the University of Houston with honors. I was there to watch her walk across the stage and I rejoiced with her and her parents. I attended a gala at her home to celebrate her accomplishment with her many friends. Her boyfriend surprised her with a proposal of marriage on that evening, and it seemed as though all of the hopes and dreams that the family ever had were coming true. It was the happiest of times for all of us until news of the suspension of their protective status was announced. Now for the first time they are very afraid of what will happen to them. They wonder if all of their hard work will only lead them back to a place from which they fled. They worry that they will somehow be split apart. The situation has become an uncertain nightmare for them, and I find myself feeling so helpless. I want to do something for them, but have no idea what that might be. I feel their pain intensely and I grow more and more angry that they must endure this at all.

They are but a few of those two hundred thousand people who never thought that they would one day find themselves in such a situation of uncertainty. They are our students, our neighbors, members of our churches, hardworking employees, people about whom we truly care, and we want everyone else to really know them as we do. It is only when they become flesh and blood and real that it is so apparent that we cannot let them down. We must help them to stay in the place that is now most truly their home. We must ease their concerns and embrace them as the incredible people that they are. To do less is a travesty of the highest order.

I honestly don’t know what will happen. I cry at the though of somehow losing them. I pray with a sense of desperation that our lawmakers will find a sense of decency and fairness in their hearts and save them. My voice is so small, but I want to shout loudly from atop that ninety thousand foot platform of dollar bills that represents people like them. I want all of the world to understand the importance of demonstrating our collective compassion by reaching out to them in kindness. I want the uncaring attitudes that have made them so insecure to evaporate. I want all of us to think about who we are as people and to remember how many of us came from ancestors not so different from the members of this family and the other thousands who truly believed that they had found comfort in our midst. I want them to feel welcomed once again. I want their status to allow them to be one of us. I want everyone to see the face that we all must see.