Glorious Lives

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The most remarkable people in history have always been those who based their lives on principles. In the pursuit of integrity, generosity, courage they often found themselves standing all alone, but in the end they found success not so much because they were honored by others, but because they honored the ideas that existed in their hearts. Men and women like Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, and Mother Teresa were guided by the overwhelming belief that what they were doing was right and just. The focus of their lives was not easy or popular but they persisted in following the voice that whispered inside their souls.

It often appears difficult to find such imminent people in today’s world in which most people find comfort and shelter in joining a crowd. So many fear speaking out lest they lose their power or positions. They base their actions on polls and contests of purported admiration. They so want to be liked that they set aside the very essence of who they are for the fleeting elixir of feeling loved or appreciated. It’s difficult for us to teach our children of the dangers of such behavior when the messages and examples they see tell them that winning is more important than living for a set of values. How can we show them how to be moral when they see so much immorality being accepted in the name of seizing power? It is not so easy in a world that rewards winning and turns its back on those perceived as losers. Life becomes a constant game of striving to be number one, and unfortunately as adults we consciously or unconsciously tell our young again and again that there is no place for those who simply try.

I’m quite impressed by a young man who once played football for the University of Houston. Case Keenum was a good college quarterback but everyone seemed to agree that he was too small and that his skills were too average to make it in the heady world of professional football. Case was a nice guy, but it seemed unlikely that he would ever have much of a career in the NFL. Amazingly somebody forgot to send that message to Case. He was never willing to give up even when it appeared that he had reached the end of his dreams of making a career out of football. He worked for the Houston Texans for a time but once that team found a better substitute he was once again looking for a job. This year he is currently having a winning season with the Minnesota Vikings. I suspect that he is doing as well as he is because he was guided by a persistence that would not allow him to give up. and his willingness to make the team better has made him a good person to have around. Case is one of those people who has much to teach kids who are looking for an amazing role model.

As adults we need to be constantly on the lookout for individuals who have done things that will show our children how truly great individuals behave. Whether we agree with all of his political beliefs, everyone of us should be able to admit that John McCain is one of those people who has been guided by a moral compass founded on unbelievable courage. Whether as a prisoner of war or a leader he consistently does what he believes to be good for his country. He has often found himself being harassed either by Vietcong captors or his fellow lawmakers, but he has the fortitude to ignore the sound and fury and endure the pain all for the sake of doing what he believes is correct. We should all admire him even if we don’t agree with him. We should also use him as an example for our young who often face situations in which they must stand apart from the taunts of their peers.

When I was young I read a series of books that told the stories of individuals who faced defining moments and chose to take the high road rather than turning away from their own principles. I loved all of those profiles of remarkable people and I attempted to model my own life around their characteristics even though I understood that they were exceptional and I was a bit more ordinary. Whenever I faced difficult decisions I dod my best to truly stand for something rather than following the status quo. I learned to judge myself not so much on rewards or the opinions of others, but on how well I had adhered to my core beliefs.

Winning and being popular can be a fleeting thing. The very people who love someone one moment may turn on them the next. Opinions are fickle and when a life is based on them it can be as unsteady as shifting sands. Most of our big disappointments all too often come from the realization that someone whom we wanted to impress has moved on to the next big thing. If we are less concerned with how others rank us and more with how well we have followed our principles, we will feel personal success which is far more satisfying.

When we are working with our children it is important to help them to find the basic principles that are most important to them. Competition is not an inherently bad thing but it is far more powerful to compete with oneself than to constantly be worried about how one is doing vis a vis everyone else. Aim for a few more points on the next essay. Try to shave some time off of that one mile run. Determine to help someone in need on a given day. Remember to be honest and steadfast. Developing good habits is powerful and leads to becoming a better person bit by bit until the moral values become an integral part of our natures.

There are heroic acts happening all around us. Talk with your children about them. Help them to define what makes certain people seem so outstanding. They will soon realize that what differentiates J.J. Watt as an amazing person is his effort and his generosity of spirit. We love Mattress Mack because he has a kind heart which also happens to make him a very successful businessman. A favorite teacher is usually a person who has put forth a bit more inspiration and sensitivity than the average educator. That neighbor who always seems to be helping everyone else is special because he/she has taken the time to be so. Greatness doesn’t just happen. It takes hard work and a steadfast adherence to fundamental truths.

We owe it to our young to help them to be their very best. Winning prizes is glorious, but sometimes the real hero is the person who ran the race even though he was in pain. The person who refuses to give up is a rockstar win, lose or draw. Someone who faces the wrath of a group to adhere to truths is as mighty as the greatest heroes of all time. Teach your children these glorious ideas and theirs will be glorious lives.

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Being What We Want Our Children To Be

kids-learn-from-adultsUntil last week I really had no idea who Harvey Weinstein was. I’ve seen and enjoyed a number of movies that his film company produced, but never really paid attention to who was responsible for them. I thought that some movies like Pulp Fiction were the products of unadulterated genius and others not so much. I didn’t realize that it was because of Weinstein’s efforts that Shakespeare In Love won the best picture Oscar when it was up against movie gold like Saving Private Ryan and Elizabeth both of which were far superior to the winner in every imaginable way. I’ve since learned that Weinstein was masterful at garnering votes for movies produced by his studio. With his business acumen he made a name for himself and was quite the powerful man, not just in Hollywood but in political circles as well. In just a little more than a week his reputation and possibly his empire have come tumbling down. It appears that he has been taking advantage of his power by sexually harassing and maybe even attacking  young women who fell victim to his advances out of fear of destroying their careers if they came forward with accusations. The old stories of producers and directors having casting couches abound in the history of movie land and appear to be alive and well to this day.

I can’t say that I am all that surprised. I find the Hollywood scene to be so artificial. Let’s face it. Matt Damon is not really Jason Bourne anymore than any of the actors are the characters that they play. We tend to be star struck and to idolize them to the point of taking them more seriously than we ought. At the end of the day they are as human and imperfect as we are. Take away the lights, makeup, and film editing and they are often rather ordinary. The same goes for their thoughts and beliefs. As my mother always said, they have no more insight into how we should think than anybody else. In fact, it is generally in the most ordinary of circumstances that we find the most remarkable people.

Think about the totality of your life and you will be able to recall a cast of characters whom you have known who will never receive rewards or accolades, but whose ways of living were worthy of the pages of books or even the bright lights of the big screen. I recall teachers, neighbors, relatives whose impact on my development was positive and inspirational. There were so many of them, and they were oh so real. They were truly as courageous, generous and loving as they seemed to be. There was no trickery or illusion. They were the real deal, hard working people who quietly showed me how to become a responsible person in my own right. I watched them with the critical eye of a child and then a teenager and learned from them by example. I’ve never needed the moral dictums of movie stars or directors, because ordinary people have always been around to show me how to behave and treat others.

It is often said that children will do whatever they see the adults around them doing. I feel certain that that is true, because I often find myself emulating the behaviors of people that I admired long ago in my little corner of the world. My mother demonstrated unconditional love and acceptance each and every day of her life. Even when I was grown I often felt humbled by the generosity and selflessness that she demonstrated day after day without any thought of receiving thanks or praise. I had some incredible teachers who with their examples literally taught me how to be a good educator. Not any of the professional development that I have taken has ever been more effective than watching those inspiring mentors who encouraged me to love knowledge. I learned well what works in a classroom and what doesn’t from them. From my childhood neighbors I came to understand that we all live in a village in which we are keepers of one another. It is our duty to protect the people around us as much as we protect our own.

Perhaps more than anything I recall what I learned about being a woman, and those lessons were continually conveyed to me by other women who demonstrated strength and dignity in everything that they did. They showed me how to respect and protect myself. They made me aware of how to keep myself safe, and most importantly how to refuse unwanted sexual advances. I learned how to be aware of my surroundings and when to know that I might be in danger. They repeatedly helped me to understand my own importance in the world and let me know that I need never do anything that makes me uncomfortable. They gave me the tools that I have used to achieve an equal footing with my male counterparts without ever having to surrender my principles.

I feel for women who have been subjected to unwanted sexual harassment. My mother was a particularly beautiful woman and men were quite attracted to her. Sometimes they crossed lines in their behavior toward her, especially after she became a widow. She never allowed herself to be lured by promises or power, not even when she was struggling to keep up with the finances of leading a family alone. Still, she always felt such anger and humiliation whenever men attempted to take advantage of her. They always seemed to insinuate that she had somehow asked for the unwanted actions.

Why anyone would treat another human in such a vile way is beyond my comprehension, and yet we hear of such disturbing behavior again and again. Sadly it is not unique to men. It is sick and disgusting and yet we all too often see it happening and say nothing because we are frightened or simply don’t want to get involved. It’s up to each of us to not only be unafraid to report such things, but we have to get past the idea that certain people bring such incidents on themselves. We have a tendency to blame the victims of sexual violence more than we should. What’s even worse is when we assume that people from certain backgrounds are more likely to be lying whenever they step forward with stories of abuse. We need to listen to anyone with a story of sexual violence and then seek the facts that will ultimately reveal the truth. By the same token we need to be careful not to find someone guilty before we have all of the evidence that we need.

It is always shocking to learn that someone whom we trusted is not the person we thought him/her to be. What is especially sad is when many people know of abuse but look the other way. I tip my hat to anyone who has the courage to speak the truth no matter how powerful the offender may be. As a society we have to insist that nobody be given a pass regardless of who they are. Common decency and fairness requires us to be honest in dealing with abuse because our children are indeed watching. The messages that we send, the hypocrisies that we accept will mold their futures. We need to be certain that what they are seeing and hearing reflects the way we want them to one day be. The only way to curb the kind of behaviors that lead to powerful people believing that they can harm people with impunity is to bring what they have done into the daylight, and demonstrate that we will not tolerate such indecency from anyone. Right now we seem to have a long way to go before we set aside all of our false posturing and stand up for what is just.

The Hero We Need

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What the world needs now is love, sweet love

It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of

What the world needs now is love, sweet love,

No not just for some but for everyone.

We live in a confusing world these days. We dream of seeing stories and images of great love in our midst. We know it’s there. We’ve witnessed it in our families and with our friends, but we long to see a public figure who demonstrates a level of generosity and concern for mankind that seems to typify the kind of self sacrificing for which we are desperately searching. We witnessed acts of great love and heroism when my city of Houston was inundated with water. Images of strangers helping strangers inspired and uplifted us, sustaining our hope that mankind is still at the end of the day a force for great good in this world. We innately believe that underneath the rhetoric and divisiveness that has been tearing away at society there is a common yearning for decency and compassion. We just need that one person who has the capacity to represent each of us as a beacon of light in a world that has gone dark far too often of late. I believe that I have found him right here in the place where I live, and he is no doubt in my mind the real deal.

Who would have thought that a furniture salesman who jumped up and down on a mattress frenetically waving wads of cash would one day become one of the most beloved individuals in the city. Mattress Mack as all of us in Houston know him set up a furniture store in North Houston and garnered our attention with television commercials that appeared to have been filmed by amateurs. He made bold claims about his wares and the savings that he offered, but mostly he caught our attention with his cheesy spots that tickled our funny bones and our curiosity. “Who was this character?” we wondered even as we smiled at his antics. Over time his modest business thrived, becoming a local empire. When other furniture stores closed, Mack’s Gallery Furniture continued to thrive with retailing innovations like same day delivery. Soon enough we all understood that Jim Mcingvale was no joke, but rather a business genius whose sales acumen had made him a wealthy man. Even better was the realization that Mack was more than just an entrepreneur. He was also a humanitarian with a heart even bigger than his massive store.

Mattress Mack as we lovingly and respectfully call him slowly but surely began to show up all over town doing good works. He provided scholarships to students and hauled truckloads of free furniture to people who were devastated by personal tragedies. He remodeled teachers’ lounges and honored first responders and veterans. He seemed to be everywhere donating his time, talent and goodwill to the people of Houston. No request was too large, no task too difficult to handle. Mack was a fireball of energy and good intentions. We all cheered his success as his philanthropy became more and more legendary in our town. We began to collectively love this man whose heart appeared to be limitlessly huge. Before long he had opened multiple stores and his television spots took on a professional patina but the essence of Mack remained as down home and unpretentious as ever.

Mack let us into his most private world, sharing the personal journey of his family in caring for a daughter who is afflicted with a mental illness. He wanted us to understand how to see the signs of trouble and to know that there is help for those who are affected with various disorders of the mind as well as their families. He was not afraid to show his emotions and let us see his very human side. We learned about the courage that it took for him to take the risks that eventually lead to victories over his own struggles with confidence. He visited schools and spoke to students about taking charge of their lives. He encouraged them to go after their dreams and told them how to create plans that would make things happen.

We saw Mack everywhere spreading joy and hope in Houston and we really did love him, but we had no idea that we had not yet even tapped the surface of his remarkable character. It was not until the rains of hurricane Harvey began falling unrelentingly on our city that we began to truly understand that the inspiration for which we had been searching had been with us all along and his name was Jim Mcingvale, our Mattress Mack.

There was so much desperation when the homes in Houston began to flood. The waters were in the yard one minute and then gushing through walls the next, filling the rooms so quickly that there was little time for thoughts other than baling out to find safety. People understood that they had to flee with little more than the clothes on their backs or they might be hopelessly trapped in very dangerous situations. Many of those whose homes had been so rapidly rendered unsafe lived near the original Gallery Furniture store, and remembering Mack’s history of generosity they turned to him for help because they had no other place to go. Like the Good Samaritan, Mack invited them into his store. He gave them shelter from the storm and turned his place of business into a safe haven where they would have beds on which to find the comfort of sleep. He allowed them to relax in the recliners that he so often featured in his adds. He requested their presence at the solid wood tables for which he was famous where he sated their hunger with food and love. Before long the word was out that Mack had opened his stores for shelter from the storm, all because he understood that it was his duty as a fellow human to render aid in a time of great distress.

Now that the waters have receded and people are attempting to return to normal Mack is making another in his long line of incredible offers of good works. For the next twenty weeks he will provide an entire house of furniture and mattresses to individuals who lost everything in the floods. He is requesting that members of the community nominate worthy candidates for his largesse. What he hasn’t boasted about is the fact that he has already very quietly been donating items from his store. There is no telling what the true extent of his charitable nature has been.

Jim Mcingvale is the good soul for whom we have been waiting. He is the man who has been a bright light in a world that might otherwise have seemed so dark. He demonstrates the goodness of the human heart day in and day out and we love him. Mack himself will tell you that he is not a hero or a perfect man, but what he is to all of us is a representation of the most positive values that we all seek and cherish. He embodies the qualities of the kind of person that we want to be. We are so glad that he is among us, showing us how to be compassionate and what it means to live a life of purpose. Jim Mcingvale, aka Mattress Mack, is our hero.

How Do We Talk To The Children?

landscape-1445910041-g-talk-555173815We turn on the television to watch a couple of football teams duke it out on the gridiron and before the first play begins we see many of our heroes kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem. It angers some of us, and others appreciate that every citizen enjoys the freedom to protest. We begin a national discussion that sometimes devolves into an argument about how we should react to this development. Our president insinuates himself into the commentary using a pejorative to address the athletes that he finds offensive and suggesting that those who dare to insult the country should be fired. We line up to take sides. Some turn off their televisions and vow to never watch the NFL again. Others celebrate the rights of Americans to exercise their freedom of speech regardless of whether or not we agree with their sentiments. Many simply shake their heads and attempt to ignore the whole thing. In the midst of all the brouhaha we wonder what we should tell our children. How should we explain to them what is happening?

We live in a country that was founded with a rebellion against the perceived tyranny of a government that had lost touch with the needs of the people. At first there were merely demonstrations of dissatisfaction with the ever growing demands and limitations being placed on the colonists in America by a king and parliament too removed from the realities of daily living in the strange faraway place that seemed so rough and wild. Eventually the whispers and grumbles took on a more daring turn with rebels pouring tea into the Boston Harbor and concerns becoming more and more vocal and strident. Then came the shot heard round the world, the volley that began a war for liberty. It was a treasonous time when the leaders of the revolution risked death by hanging to create a nation far different from anything the world had ever before seen.

Perhaps it was a fluke that the ragtag band of revolutionaries somehow managed to defeat the most powerful nation in the world at that time. Whatever the case they found themselves freed from the dictates of a government that had often ruled without consideration of the people, ordinary citizens who had insisted that they it was their birth right to have a voice in how they were to be treated. The new nation needed a Constitution, a set of rules to guide the decision making and management of a disparate group of people. The document that they created was at once both brilliant and imperfect, but it held the seeds for eventually moving toward a more inclusive and more perfect union. More than two hundred years later we still have work to do. We have had to face the hypocrisy of having been a democracy that allowed humans to be held as slaves and denied that women had the same rights as men. It took us perhaps to bit too long to remedy those situations, but we eventually managed to become more inclusive. In the meantime the residue of problems not adequately addressed from our government’s beginnings continue to demand attention, and so we have protests from some of our star athletes. Just what is it that they want?

If we begin with the individual who first remained seated during the playing of the national anthem we find that he was concerned that there is still racism in our country. He believed that in spite of a civil war, a civil rights movement, and civil rights legislation there are still too many people in our country who do not receive the same level of equality as those who have held the privileges of liberty from the beginning days of our nation. He worried that many whose ancestors were once slaves are more likely to be brutalized or even murdered by law enforcement officers. He wanted to bring attention to these issues and so he remained seated. After a discussion with a member of the army after his first demonstration he changed his tactic to going down on one knee out of deference to those who have served our country in the military. His point was not to show a lack of respect for our flag, our national anthem or our veterans, but to shine a light on issues that he felt we need to address as a nation.

This athlete’s cause had lost its energy to a large extent until President Trump made remarks at a political rally in Alabama that some felt were out of line and threatening. He called out any athletes who demonstrate their dissatisfaction by taking a knee and referred to them as “sons of bitches” who should be fired from their jobs. His remarks were well received by some citizens and abhorred by others. A national disagreement has ensued resulting in ever more professional athletes joining in the revolt by kneeling in solidarity with teammates who had been quietly protesting. So what is really going on here? Who is being patriotic and who is treasonous? How should we respond?

Let us start with a bit of the history of our national anthem and our pledge of allegiance. First it must be noted that we did not have a national anthem until March 3, 1931, when Herbert Hoover signed a law deeming The Star Spangled Banner to be our national song to be sung at official gatherings. Several other tunes had been in the running and the winner was selected by a rather narrow margin. We might just as well have been singing America the Beautiful, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, Yankee Doodle, Hail Columbia, or My Country Tis of Thee all of which were finalists in a contest that began with a cartoon from Robert Ripley of Believe It or Not fame. It seems that on November 3, 1929, Mr. Ripley registered his amazement that the United States was one of the few countries in the world that did not have an official anthem. He urged his readers to write Congress asking the lawmakers to rectify this omission. More than five million people sent letters and the search for a fitting song ensued. Even after the decision was finalized there were many who were gravely disappointed by the ultimate choice and others who felt that if the Founding Fathers had wanted to formalize an anthem with all of its ritualistic insinuations they would have done so. Since that had not happened many took it to be a sign that the founders did not approve of such things. Nonetheless we had an official anthem and slowly but surely it became a fixture of American life.

The Pledge of Allegiance to the flag did not happen until 1942, when some citizens began to worry that the large numbers of immigrants who had come to this country might not understand the true nature of our nation. It was used mainly as an educational tool for children rather than a symbol of patriotism. The original version was written by a socialist newspaper editor and did not contain the words “under God.” That phrase was added in the nineteen fifties, so the history of pledges and anthems is a rather recent cultural phenomenon. Many religious groups exempted themselves from participating in such rituals because they felt that they should only swear their loyalty to God and not to a country.

So here we are today taking sides or ignoring the dust up altogether when the truth is that we can’t be certain that those who wrote our Constitution ever intended for our country to enshrine such symbols as indicators of patriotism or a lack of it. The protestors themselves insist that their intention was never to be disrespectful but to take advantage of their rights of freedom of speech as it was written in the First Amendment. Perhaps when discussing all of this with our children we would do well to attempt to determine how our leaders have interpreted that right over the history of the United States. So forthwith are a few quotes of merit. I will let the words of the individuals speak for themselves.

If the freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter. —-George Washington

Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom and no such thing as public liberty, without freedom of speech. —-Benjamin Franklin

To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we stand by the President right or wrong is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American people. —-Theodore Roosevelt

Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear. —-Harry Truman

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. —-Elie Wiesel

Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. —-John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Read to your children. Look up ideas together. Discuss issues from both sides. Dialogue with them without rhetoric or preconceived notions. Teach your children to open their minds to new possibilities. That is what they need. That is how to talk with them about what they see happening.

Big Girls Do Cry

woman-cryingI didn’t cry much when my father died, not because I had no emotions but rather because I somehow believed that I needed to stay strong for my mother and my brothers. I don’t think that it was particularly healthy of me to prevent the natural feelings that were causing me so much internal pain from becoming public. For a great deal of my life I have tended to be stoic. I’ve often put forth a strong face when what I really wanted to do was allow myself to sob. Over time I realized that tears and sadness are a natural aspect of our humanity that is to be celebrated rather than hidden. We are made to react to hurt and loss and pain with a release of our real feelings. Big girls really do cry and it is not just an okay thing to do, but a therapeutic release. When our minds and bodies urge us to set our tears free, we should feel comfortable responding to the instinct.

Of late I have been crying a great deal, but still not so much in front of other people. I’m in the process of becoming able to do that. It have been through a difficult three months as have so many. I find myself reliving the moment when my husband had his stroke, and I cry, mostly because I am relieved that he is still alive and thriving. I have cried almost every single day for the last month because invariably I see or hear something related to the horrible flood in my city, and I sense the struggles that so many are still enduring and will face for months to come. I can hardly watch the news reports of the conditions in Puerto Rico, a place that I recall being so friendly and beautiful. The images that flash across the screen are heartbreaking, and I feel helpless, so I cry. I have cried for my friends whose loved ones so recently died, as well as for those who are reliving anniversaries of their losses. I cried for my father-in-law who had an accident that has left him barely able to move. I shed twelve hours of tears while watching the Ken Burns series on Vietnam that ran for the last two weeks on PBS. The memories of that era of my life are still raw with emotion and the poignancy of the presentation brought long past feelings to the surface once again. I have cried for the state of our country today which seems as divided and angry and confused as it did back then. Problems that I believed to have been solved were evidently just festering beneath the surface. All of it has made me feel weary because I know of no magical solutions to make things better, and so I cry.

I am by nature a peacemaker. I have always wanted to help people to get along. I have loved living the role of a supporter, a motivator, an inspirer. I feel uncomfortable when people are angry and fighting. I suppose that this is because I learned so long ago that our lives are quite fragile. We simply do not know from one moment to the next how much more time we have on this earth, and so I believe that we must make the best of however many hours that we have. My heroes have been individuals like my Uncle William who was the epitome of kindness. I would be quite surprised to learn of even a single time when he purposely set out to hurt someone. He was a man who mostly set aside his own thoughts and did his very best to consider the wants and needs and dreams of everyone else around him. He was always willing to listen and to love. In that regard as a child I viewed him as the strongest person that I ever knew, and even as I have grown older I still think of him that way.

I remember our neighbor Mr. Barry whom everyone seemed to regard as a living saint. There was nothing wimpy about him. He had served in the Navy during World War II. He managed a large bank for years. He knew how to get things done, but he always accomplished them with an eye toward being sympathetic and good. He was one of those people who noticed the individual who was unseen by everyone else. He didn’t know it, but he was the male role model that I needed after my own father died.

There is a tendency these days to admire people who possess what I call a false bravado, individuals who bully, blame others for their mistakes and take pride in demeaning those who do not agree with them. I personally find such folks to be offensive and weak. They remind me of a student that I once had who found joy in hurting other kids. When he went after a blind girl in order to increase his own popularity I put him down with a vengeance that I have never used on another student before or after. I was unwilling to allow him to parade like a champion when what he had done was so vile and cowardly. For that reason I have cried a  great deal of late, because our society appears to be mesmerized by those who behave the ugliest. It is something that I can’t understand.

Social media was a lifesaver during our Houston floods. I kept my sanity because I was able to stay in touch with friends and family members during the long days and nights when the waters filled our streets and homes. Unfortunately there is a negative aspect of that same wondrous means of communication that is hacking away at our decency. I suppose that it is simply too easy these days to dash off a quick and dirty reply to any person or situation that offends us. When we don’t have to look someone in the eye it is more likely that we will be willing to vent in ways that are hurtful. Too often we forget to think about how our comments may affect someone else. Too many among us don’t take the time to consider the impact of their words. When I see the fighting that ensues among people who were once friends and family members it make me cry. There is simply no reason for any of us to be hateful and yet even some of our leaders are not able to control their basest tendencies.

I am weary of hearing epithets of snowflakes, commies, ingrates, sons of bitches, entitled kids, abominable people, fascists, racists, homophobes, rednecks, ignoramuses. I listen as we devour one another with words and accusations that often have little or no basis in fact, and yet we speak as though they are gospel. I grow tired of seeing memes and tweets that trivialize serious situations or poke fun at entire groups of people. We seem intent on boiling a pot of furor, and so I cry.

I remember a time when I went on a civil rights tour with my students. We sat in the church in Birmingham where little girls were murdered because of hate. We crossed a bridge in Selma were fire hoses and snarling dogs had once been let lose on protestors whose only crime was asking for the same rights as their white counterparts. I walked down the street toward the capitol building in Montgomery and remembered the hateful rhetoric of  George Wallace. I cried as I looked at my students and remembered the violence and racism that I had witnessed when I was young. I stood in Dr. King’s kitchen and ran my hand across the very table where he sat and prayed for God’s guidance. I cried as I thought of his courage and wisdom and I knew that he too would always be one of my heroes.

I cry when I think of Jesus and the lessons He taught us, the sacrifices that He made. I wonder why it seems so difficult for us humans to follow His very simple message of love whether we believe He was God or not. What is it in our natures that makes us complicate and misinterpret His teachings? Why did we not learn how horrific hate can become from His death on the cross? What prevents us from being like my uncle or the man who was my neighbor?

As I grow older I find that I remember the kindnesses that were extended to me and I cry tears of joy and gratitude when I recall the people who touched my heart so beautifully. I also think of the ugly things that I have witnessed. They make me cry as well. I had hoped that we would be evolving toward a better way of living with one another by now. Unfortunately we are instead being taunted to take the low road, to dialogue with our fellow men and women with rancor rather than understanding. We give power to the rabble rousers instead of ignoring them and siding with those who would challenge us to bring out the good that resides in our souls. The fact that this is happening makes me cry.

I would so much rather cry over a beautiful sunrise or sunset. I want to shed tears when I see people helping people. I want to release those positive emotions when I watch a toddler so innocently embracing the world. I would prefer feeling a heave in my heart from listening to music or sharing a wonderful time with friends and family. I know that there will be uncontrollable events like natural disasters and deaths, but I am so tired of seeing the kind made by people. It really is up to all of us to begin to demonstrate the kind of understanding that was the hallmark of Uncle William’s and Mr. Barry’s lives. Those two men were so loved because they never hesitated to love. Perhaps the most telling story about my uncle came when he was delivering mail along the route that had been his for years. He came upon the mother of a notorious serial killer and the emotion that he felt for her was unadulterated love. He spoke of how sad it must have been for her to lose her only son under such circumstances. He did not judge the woman nor consider that she might have somehow been responsible for how her son had become. Instead he simply cared for her and worried about how she would be now that her son was condemned to prison for life. My uncle taught me how to love. I’m still trying to be as good as he always was and while I am learning I sometimes cry.