Dear Sir

purple mountian

President Donald J. Trump                                                                                                            White House                                                                                                                      Washington D.C.                                                                                                                          United States of America

Dear Sir,

I am an American who loves this country with every fiber of my being even as I realize that it has problems which must be addressed. I am only a few years younger than you are. When we were  children the world was recovering from a terrible world war. Our elders had been heroes fighting in Europe and the Pacific for the very existence of democracy and justice. We grew up hearing of the horrors of autocratic leaders that lead to the murder of millions of innocent souls. What we heard less about was the unfair treatment of citizens in our own country whose ancestors had once been slaves. We were young and lived in a white bubble with our privilege of freedom to go wherever we wanted whenever we wanted. Only now and again did we witness hints of the inequities in our society and so in our minds the America of our youth was a beautiful thing, a safe and lovely world. We did not yet know of the injustices that some of our fellow citizens with darker skin were enduring even as we reveled in our own safety.

I was born and raised in Houston, Texas. My father was a college educated man who provided our family with luxuries that I took for granted until he died suddenly when I was only eight years old. I quickly learned what it was like to worry that my family’s most basic needs would be difficult to meet, but even in our greatly reduced economic situation I knew that we were better off than many Americans and so I began to better understand the plight of the poor and suffering.

I was mostly sheltered from the racism that existed nearby me. It was only when we would ride a bus downtown to enjoy a Saturday of shopping for sales in the basement of Foley’s department store that I saw the water fountains and restrooms marked with signs for “whites” and “coloreds.” I found myself wondering why the black people on the bus had to sit away from the rest of us. I knew them only from such brief encounters because they lived in neighborhoods segregated from mine. I only saw them when they came to clean the houses or work in the yards of white friends. Even as a child I felt an element of mystery and injustice in their situation but nobody really spoke of such things with little ones. They must have believed that we were too ignorant to see the evidence of prejudice that was so clear to me.

The first I heard of the civil rights movement was just before my father died. We had gone to visit my grandparents in Arkansas and there was talk of integrating the schools. My father and grandfather would sit on the front porch of the house discussing the pros and cons of the situation while I was shuttled away into the kitchen with my grandmother. I suppose they thought I was too young to hear about such things but I got enough information to begin to question so much about what we were doing to an entire group of people who had long suffered from abuse.

By the time I was in high school the civil rights marches, demonstrations and sit-ins were in full force. I watched the progress with great joy and anticipation even as I heard whispers from adults who were worried that the world as they had known it was about to change for the worst. There were great divisions in our country even as a sense of hopefulness began to spread from sea to shining sea.

In college my friend Claudia and I were active in the continuing civil rights movement. We marched and campaigned and lived in the hope that the stains of slavery and segregation would be eradicated forever. We listen to Mohammed Ali speak on our campus. He was still Cassius Clay back then and he would soon be expressing his right to freedom by refusing to submit to the military draft. It was his way of bringing attention to the inequities that were still holding our nation back from the greatness that had been the set forth in the ideals in our Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation. We were still struggling to achieve a goal that should have been insisted upon as far back as 1776 but was compromised to satisfy those who used slaves for their economic betterment.

I entered the adult world thinking that we had resolved the problems of our Black citizens. I went about living my life and created my own little bubble of satisfaction. The world seemed to be a very happy place for everyone. I welcomed Black children to my neighborhood and I taught them in the schools where I worked. I shared stories with my Black colleagues and entertained them in my home. It was not until a group of my Black students and I prepared for a school sponsored civil rights tour of the south that I began to hear of the inequities and fears that continued to stalk even the most highly educated and economically secure Black people that I know. In transparent conference after conference they related their experiences and I knew then that we had left so much work undone.

So here we are now in a state of unrest in the midst of a pandemic as people not just in the United States but across the globe insist that somehow we must begin the dialogue and the processes of eliminating racism that is still inherent within our systems. We know that we cannot dislodge discrimination in all individual hearts, but we can and should attempt to eradicate it from our public institutions. The Black Lives Matter movement is not about the exclusion of all other lives but an insistence that we once and for all must admit that too often Black lives do not matter as much as ours. When athletes take a knee during the National Anthem they are not attempting to dishonor veterans but rather to bring attention to the reality that we are often prone to look away when Black lives are undervalued. We do not see such incidents as our problem because after all we are good people who love everyone. Sadly by ignoring the situation we contribute to the abuse. Just as we would report adults who mistreat children, so too must we take action against people and systems that are cavalier with the lives of our Black citizens. 

Mr. President, the throngs of people in the street are generally peaceful and their cause is a beautiful thing. They are protesting for the very soul of this country and in many ways they are more intent on making America great that your supporters. They are not thugs or destroyers or looters. The millions of earnest souls across the country are risking their own safety in an attempt to rebuild and redefine the systems that continue to ignore the facts surrounding the history of slavery and segregation. They are drawing attention to the racism that continues in far too many corners of the country.

If you truly want to make America great then I implore you to set your divisive rhetoric aside and serve as a model of compassion and understanding. We are all hurting and we desperately need a leader who is willing to bring us together, not taunt us to fight one another. This is a powerful moment in our nation’s history when we might once and for all admit to the egregious mistakes of the past and move forward by repairing the institutions that continue to ignore the discrimination that breeds in their midst. Truly loving this country means that we will not enable its flaws to fester and grow. Loving the United States of America means coming together to repair the damage of four hundred years of looking the other way. What a glorious thing it would be for all of us to march into the Promised Land together at last. Seize the opportunity to listen and to hear the cries for what they truly are. 

Your sincerely,                                                                                                                                         A proud citizen of the United States of America


(Please Note: For those who may think that my naiveté knows no bounds, I do understand that this letter is a dream but it outlines realities and hopes that I do not think any of us can afford to ignore. We must move beyond sound bites and self interests and insist on doing the right thing. This must also include those in the halls of power. Let freedom ring.)


Learning From a Mother’s Love


Tomorrow would have been my mother’s ninety third birthday. She died only days before turning eighty three. After her death nine years ago my brothers and our families decided to meet each year at the Cracker Barrel restaurant in League City to celebrate her life. She often chose to dine there whenever we took her out of the solitude of her home. If it was a Friday she invariably adhered to the old fasting tradition of eating fish. She found great joy in the simplicity of the menu and the potpourri of candy and doodads offered in the country store that adjoins the dining room.

This year her medical doctor granddaughter advised us that we should not adhere to our tradition of convening together even though the restaurant will be open. She fears that such a large gathering would be unsafe for us, and I have to agree. My brothers and I are all of the age considered vulnerable to the worst effects of Covid 19 as are all but one of our spouses. This year we will have to remember our mother from our homes. Maybe we will set a Zoom conference just to “see” each other and share our stories of the remarkable woman who lead us through so many difficulties and taught us how to be empathetic and generous.

My mother always viewed life from a lens that was far bigger than her own seemingly simple existence. She had a poetic way of seeing the human experience. She was a woman of immense faith who quietly forged a powerful relationship with Jesus and his mother, Mary. Somehow the irony of her life and death has not been lost on me during these days of virus and struggle for justice. It is as though everything that she ever attempted to teach me has come together into a coherent sum of multiple parts. I have dreamed of her night after night as though she has been attempting to tell me something very important. As her birthday nears I have felt her presence in my very soul providing me with an understanding of the chaos that seems so rampant in the world. This daughter of immigrants who had bravely struggled through prejudice and poverty and illness for most of her life was still smiling even as she gasped for each precious breath in her final hours. It is in remembering the ending of her life that I have unlocked the message of hope that defined the many active years of her life.

Somehow thinking of my mother has helped me to make sense of the world’s present situation which is unlike anything that twenty first century humankind has ever experienced. It is as though God himself is sending us an important message that is difficult to hear but to which we must force ourselves to listen. What is happening is so much bigger than any one of us. It is a wake up call from the dreamy indifference that has defined our society for all too long. We are witnessing a virus that threatens our very ability to breathe. We have watched the murder of a man begging for the love and protection of his mother as he could not breathe. We have heard but all too often ignored the cries of those whose sexual orientations are different from our own as they have worried about losing their livelihoods. We have neglected the children who call themselves dreamers, immigrants like my mother who only want an opportunity to breathe freely.

All of these things have upended our lives at the same time. We don’t want to see them or hear them or think of them. We just want our lives back the way they were many weeks ago. It is too difficult to deal with all of it at once, to unravel the complexities of it. Surely if we simply ignore it all we will soon be our old selves going out to eat, watching ball games, celebrating with friends. Sadly, it is not a simple thing to put the pieces back together, to unsee what we have seen. To forget what we have heard. To pretend that all will be well if we just refuse to wear masks or speak of injustice.

How many of us have silently cried out for our mamas during the confusion of all that is happening in the world? How many of us have at times felt breathless as we search to make sense of a seemingly senseless time? Do we not realize that everything has meaning in the human experience? Nothing is to be ignored. There are important messages in the unfolding of our histories. It would behoove us to silence our hearts long enough to hear the whispers inside our souls, for surely as my mother so ardently believed, God or some force of life is trying to get our attention. We would be foolish not to consider what all of this might mean.

There are watershed moments in our individual lives and in the arc of history. They are often difficult to handle. They challenge us to think out of the box, to make uncomfortable changes. We are in the midst of what will either be a cataclysm or a redemption for humanity. How we accept our individual responsibilities for the welfare of the whole of the earth will determine our ultimate fate. Our focus cannot be inward at this time. It must be outward. It calls for soul searching and honesty, compassion and sacrifice and the kind of love that is bigger than our own selfish needs, a mother’s love.

We are all brothers and sisters regardless of the color of our skin, the countries in which we were born, the orientation of our sexuality, our economic status. We will overcome the virus and the inequities of our systems only if we work together, only if we are understanding and forgiving. We have run out of excuses for our unwillingness to love unconditionally. Nobody should have to die because our vanity does not allow us to wear a mask. Nobody should have to die because we have not been vigilant in eradicating prejudices. Nobody should have to live in a closet because we judge them to be deviant. Nobody should have be unwelcome in their quest to build a better life among us. These are systemic wrongs that we must right. The message of our need to do so is loud and clear if we are willing to hear it.

My mama was a kind hearted soul. She dissolved into tears at the thought of any person suffering. She would have given her last dollar to someone in need. She experienced insults and slights of her own and never lost her gentleness. In her honor I fight for those who have too long struggled in the shadows. I join them as a sister. We are all one team, one family and as my mother always reminded me  from Matthew 25: 40, “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” Let us learn from a mother’s love.

We Are Losing Some Good Ones


Life goes on even as we struggle through days of watching the virus find its way into every corner. We continue our routines even as we watch protesters crying out for justice. Birthdays come marking the completion of another year of life. Easter reminds us to be hopeful. Graduations in different forms than we are accustomed to seeing celebrate hard work and accomplishment. Our planet dutifully rotates on its axis bringing us new days and nights. We revolve around the sun moving from spring to summer just as though everything is as normal as can be. People whom we have loved and cherish die, some from Covid-19 and others from disease or accident.

We muddle along for the most part, adapting to our present situation, but death gives us pause. It is perhaps more difficult to accept than ever. It is a kind of insult added to our injury. Covid-19 forces us to endure it without the rituals or the comfort of hugs and human touch that we have come to expect in such moments. Of all the things that we miss about our days of isolation and uncertainty people are surely at the top of our list. Most of us are working so hard to keep the ones we love safe and virus free, so when one of them dies no matter the cause it is almost too much to bear. 

I have watched from inside my living room as people very special to me have endured the deaths of loved ones. I grieved for a teaching colleague who lost her beloved mother at the beginning of the pandemic, not from the disease itself but from the completion of a long life. My friend continues to long for the beautiful woman who taught her how to love and gave her a lifelong and beautiful relationship with God. So too does another friend long for her sister who left this world all too early only this week. A young man that I know is heartbroken over the death of a dear friend who will not be able to share the joys of senior year in high school with the rest of the class. 

I watched with great sorrow as two of my high school classmates and friends lost their beloved brother, John King. He had been sick for a very long time but he had overcome his disabilities again and again with a valiant spirit. He was a dedicated and admired teacher, a man who devoted forty eight years of his life to guiding the young into wisdom and grace. His students adored him just as his family did. He will be quietly laid to rest this week but his legacy will be celebrated for years to come by those who knew of his dedication to education and creating a better world. He was an optimist in a time of great cynicism and his example will live in all of  the hearts that he touched. 

A man who attended my high school while I was there has also died. I did not know him well but I knew of him. His name was Steve Waldner but his friends called him Wes. He was a member of one of those large Catholic families from the Baby Boom era. He lived across the street from Our Lady of Mt Carmel Catholic Church and School. He was a sweet and happy fellow, someone people called a nice guy. My husband, Mike, would eventually meet Steve and learn just how amazing he had turned out to be.

Mike was loaned out to the United Way one year as part of their program to use the talents of executives from businesses to help with the various causes that it supports. That’s when he met Steve who was the director of the Bay Area United Way. The two of them hit it off immediately. Both had attended Catholic schools and both were avid alumni of the University of Houston. Steve had first graduated from the University of St. Thomas and then earned a Master’s of Social Work at the University of Houston. He and Mike shared a love of Catholic education, the Basilian fathers, the University of Houston, and the work being done to help the less fortunate in our midst.

Mike learned of the devastating consequences of addiction and homelessness from Steve who worked tirelessly and compassionately to be of service to those who are often ignored and misunderstood. Mike was impressed with Steve’s optimism even in the face of human tragedy. Here was a man so incredibly devoted to the causes of those who were lost and broken. I began to learn so much about someone who had shared the hallways of my school with me without our ever getting to know each other. I was humbled by the stories of his work and his dedication.

Steve Waldner was eventually recognized for his contributions to the downtrodden of the city of Houston. The Department of Social Work at his alma mater, the University of Houston named him as one of their most outstanding graduates. He even taught classes for a time at the University of Houston campus at Clear Lake. He continued to give of his talents in work that focused on those with disabilities and disorders of the body and mind. Like his father before him he was dedicated to being a point of light in some of the darkest corners of our city.

John King and Steve Waldner will be missed for their magnificent contributions to the betterment of our world. In our dark days we long for such shining lights of selflessness and devotion. Both men used their time on this earth to touch the minds and hearts of countless individuals who became better for knowing them. We might all take a cue from them for leading our own lives.

It is difficult to lose good people anytime, but somehow it is doubly so in a moment like the present. It saddens us to know that we are losing the best among us when we need them so dearly. We will remember these good souls and use the models of their lives to guide us and we will comfort their loved ones who have been left behind. May these angels who dedicated themselves to love and service rest in peace.   

Take the Politics Out of Covid-19


Just when I thought I it might be safe to get out and about once again the numbers of Covid-19 cases in my part of Texas are continuing to rise. Our hospitals are filling at a frightening pace so quickly that our renowned Texas Children’s Hospital has agreed to provide medical services for adults. It is a disturbing situation that I saw coming but, I hoped against hope that I was wrong. Sadly the fight against the virus became political almost from the onset when it should have been a collective community and national effort to do whatever was needed to get things under control. While the doctors and nurses in my family and circle of friends were warning me to stay the course of precaution I saw the process devolve all around me. Now the predictions of the medical experts regarding the dangers of ignoring this deadly illness are coming true.

Many weeks ago the Harris County Judge, Lina Hidalgo and the Houston mayor, Sylvester Turner, mandated that all citizens wear masks in public places. They also created an overflow medical facility at the Reliant Center in the event that the local hospitals became overwhelmed. At the same time the Lieutenant Governor of our the state of Texas, Dan Patrick, was insisting that businesses needed to open up and that anyone who was afraid should just stay home. All the while President Trump refused to wear a mask to any of his briefings or appearances, boasting that he was not afraid. Never mind that he is quite possibly the most protected individual in the entire country considering that everyone who comes near him gets regularly tested. He continually bragged that he had lead the best response to the virus in the entire world and insisted that the growing numbers of cases were there only because of all the testing that was taking place for everyone else. Before long he had managed to turn the pandemic into an election issue rather than a national emergency, resulting in his followers ignoring much of the advice coming from medical experts.

Along the way Trump supporters in Houston launched a lawsuit against the mandate to wear masks. Before long wearing one had become more of a choice than a rule. The governor ignored the guidelines for reopening businesses that had been created by the CDC and the Covid 19 task force. Here in the Houston area people were hurling insults at Lina Hidalgo, calling her an “Hispanic Nazi” for daring to require citizens to wear masks. They criticized both her and the mayor for wasting taxpayer funds on an overflow hospital that they believed would likely never be used. They rushed back to normal as quickly as possible, crowding beaches and bars and tubing along the rivers in the Texas hill country. They were determined to get on with living and they spoke of their belief that all of us had been duped by a hoax designed to make our president and our state leaders look bad. They insisted that after the November elections were over the virus would miraculously disappear. They turned all of the efforts to control the virus into a political battle and created an unnecessary division between those who wanted to move more cautiously and those who laughed at the very idea that Covid 19 was any worse than the ordinary flu.

None of this ever needed to happen. The efforts to contain the spread of Covid 19 should have been a united goal devoid of even a taint of politics. We should have been working together as a nation, supporting any city, town or state that needed help. Our guidance should have erred on the side of caution. We should have been willing to see ourselves as one people with a common goal. Each individual should have been eager to make sacrifices and help in the effort. We should have listened to the medical experts and allowed them to guide all of our decisions. We should have been patient and willing to proceed forward with great care.

There will be those who will blame the resurgence on the protestors who have filled the streets night after night. There will be others who will say that it came from Memorial Day partying. There are claims that the increases are coming from migrant workers and people in meat packing plants. Others will point to political rallies in enclosed spaces. Some will simply hurl racist accusations at China, insulting our Asian Americans with taunts of “kung flu.” Sadly each of those explanations point to how broken we have become during all of this when we might have demonstrated more strength of character just as our parents and grandparents did during World War II. Somehow instead we are talking over one another and ignoring the realities of what we should be doing. This should always have been a medical issue rather than a political one. 

We will probably never know exactly why Covid 19 has refused to release the grip it has on our country. I don’t think that blaming it on any specific group serves to make things better. What I do believe is that every effort should be focused on what is good for the people of this country. It is not too late to focus on those who are sick and dying. We still have time to move beyond our differences and agree to do what is best for the protection of the many. If we continue to refuse to do this I fear for the toll that Covid 19 will take on all of us. If our leaders won’t lead us we need to take the reins and do the right thing without them. We must take the politics out of Covid-19.

Dreaming of an Even Greater Nation


The Supreme Court has ruled that President Trump cannot end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, better known as DACA. Individuals who were brought into the United States illegally by their parents when they were under the age of sixteen may apply for deferred deportation action on a two year renewable basis as long as they have no felonies or serious misdemeanors on their records. Those covered by DACA have become known as Dreamers, because of their hope to one day be allowed a path to citizenship and full participation in American democracy. Many of the dreamers have little or no knowledge of the countries in which they were born, instead growing up in the USA with a constant fear of being sent back to places that are foreign to them.

As a teacher I often encountered such students. I knew who they were because they had a different sort of identification number than their peers. Beyond that one defining characteristic they were literally no different from the others. In some cases they were more hard working and determined to demonstrate their worth to our country. When it came time for them to choose a college to attend they were often worried about studying outside of the state of Texas, fearing that the act of leaving might put them in jeopardy of being deported. With amazing courage and determination the vast majority of them created model lives for themselves, taking full advantage of opportunities by devotion to hard work and exemplary character. Still, the specter of losing those deferments always weighed heavily on them and even more so when President Trump threatened to take that away. The panic that they felt was palpably real.

One of my former students was a brilliant young man whose mother was pregnant with him when she crossed the border. But for a twist of fate he would have been born in the United States and automatically been a citizen of this country. Instead just before he was due to enter the world his grandmother died and his mother could not bear the idea of missing the funeral. She went back to her hometown where the stress of the situation caused her to give birth prematurely. When she subsequently snuck him into the United States once again he was an infant, a person who might have been but was not legal.

He grew up in Texas learning to speak impeccable English and demonstrating academic prowess in virtually every subject. By the time he was ready to graduate from high school he was a member of the National Honor Society, a National Merit Scholar and a dreamer. He had scholarship offers from notable universities across the country but he was still not legal. In an essay he wrote of the fears that haunted him if he were to ever be deported. He knew nothing of the place where he was born. He and his family had lost all contact with the people there. He often thought of how he had just missed being a citizen and he spoke of how uncertain his life had always been and the psychological pressures of always feeling in jeopardy.

Eventually he earned a degree, found a job and became a positive contributor to American society. He pays his taxes and contributes to the economy but the trauma of being illegal is a constant made worse by the enthusiasm with which some Americans insist that he should be sent back to the place from which he came.

I suppose that the Supreme Court decision will provide him and the thousands of other dreamers with a small measure of comfort, but the reality is that until these young people are protected by the force of law and provided a pathway to citizenship they will always live with a decided feeling of dread. They are in a kind of never ending twilight zone that makes planning for the future always feel tenuous. It is long past time for our Congress to demonstrate compassion for their plight and write laws that insure that they never again have to worry about being deported. Furthermore, that law must include a reasonable pathway to citizenship for them.

The dreamers have demonstrated their worth without question. Right now many of them are on the front lines with healthcare workers fighting to save the lives of those afflicted with Covid-19. They are teachers, engineers, social workers, scientists. Their contributions to the good of society are all the more incredible because they are positive producers even as they know that all that they have accomplished might have been taken away with the stroke of the president’s pen. In many ways they have worked harder and under more pressure than most of us would be able to withstand. To denigrate their efforts by calling them illegal is an absurdly simplistic evaluation of who they are.

I am happy with their victorious ruling from the Supreme Court but I urge all people of compassion to contact the members of the House of Representatives and the Senate to demand that a fair and just law be passed to give them not just protection but also the right to become citizens of our country. It is immoral to keep them waiting for a permanent solution.

We are presently engaged in searching for the soul of the United States of America. We are finally taking a hard and honest look at injustices. The dreamers must be part of our conversations about how to insure that fairness and equity are the the ideal standards to which we hold ourselves. This is a great country and we have an opportunity to make it ever better.