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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A No Gladiator Zone

gladiators-12I remember a time when I was in the eighth grade and my entire class was called together because the teachers and the principal of the school were displeased with our general behavior. I was honestly a very good girl, a student who always wanted to be respectful, obedient and pleasing to my elders. I did not understand why I was being subjected to what amounted to a harangue about how bad me and my peers were. About five minutes into the all encompassing lecture I stopped listening. The tongue lashing continued for quite some time but I was not interested in hearing any of it because I did not believe that it applied to me. Furthermore I left that assembly feeling intensely angry over the insults that had been hurled at me and my classmates, and I felt more attached to my fellow students than ever including those whom I knew had created the furor with their less than sterling actions. Lumping an entire group into one basket of stereotyping does that. It creates unified tribes that might otherwise not exist.

We humans are funny like that. We don’t like the idea of being misunderstood and viewed negatively by anyone who makes sweeping assumptions about us. When those things happen we get as angry as I did when the teachers subjected me to a lecture that I knew was unfair. Such situations all too often push people to react negatively or emotionally and to ally themselves with groups in which they might otherwise have had no interest. Thus it is with the political climate in the United States today. We can’t get anything done because we are too busy thoughtlessly bashing one another. Far too many of people are no longer interested in the least in listening to what the other side might have to say, because they feel that they have been insulted one time too many. Thus we find ourselves deadlocked, divided to the point of hatefulness. The situation is so bad that I sometimes find myself wondering if we will ever again be able to work together for the common good of our nation. Things look very bleak as of now, and those who lead us are not helping with the matter. No side is innocent in this war of words and ideas that more closely resembles the battle between the Hatfields and McCoys than rational political discourse. Until the yelling, accusatory and self righteous behaviors cease or at least subside we are in deep trouble.

At first glance we appear to have a vast gulf of disagreement between Republicans and Democrats, but that is an over simplification of the problem that contributes to much of the rancor. Within the Republican party there are multiple layers of thinking that range from the far right to stances that are much more liberal. The Democrats also have their differences, and battles for the heart of the party ensue between those on the far left and those who trend more toward the middle of the road. Unfortunately there is a tendency to simplify reality by assuming that there is one set of identical Republicans and one set of matching Democrats. So we find far too many people posing arguments that are filled with fixed images about each of the parties.

So how does this look in the real world? Well, if someone is thought to be a Republican they may be subject to taunts from progressives that classify them as rednecks, bigots, mean spirited, ignorant, racist, homophobic, religious zealots, gun toters, abominable, haters and so on. The people who so easily toss around these highly charged labels then wonder why individuals who tend to be more conservative are often unwilling to listen to them. It is actually human nature that they would be defensive, and ready to pick a fight at the first utterance of such words.

On the other side we have Democrats who are accused of being snowflakes, enablers, communists, overly sensitive, emotional, liars, unpatriotic, lazy, rude, too politically correct, overly liberal, crooks, and other pejoratives too inflammatory to print. Again, why would someone who has had to endure such wrath be the slightest bit interested in hearing what the other side has to say? Thus we reach the present state of impasse on so many issues that are important to the American people. With the “my way or the highway” attitude that is so persistent there is little chance that anything will be resolved. Sadly there are large numbers of people who demand all or nothing. Thus we are expected to join one side or another or be totally ostracized by almost everyone.

We have a health insurance system that is a mess. We know for a fact that the Affordable Care Act is riddled with problems, but there are solutions if only all interested parties were willing to sit at a bargaining table and consider the issues one by one. Our immigration system is broken and desperately needs fixing but the combatants on each extreme have planted their flags in the ground and seem unwilling to consider alternatives. We are expected to either cheer for a wall or open the borders without exceptions, when there are possibilities in the middle. We are concerned with gun violence in this country, but again little changes because neither side is willing to budge even a tiny bit. Instead we rant and rave and shout out slogans and soundbites. We either want to leave the country or desire to push out people who disagree. We are playing a zero sum game when what we need is a plan for win/win. In truth we are caught in the web of power grabs, victims of propaganda all the way around. We seem to be self righteously convinced that we are right and everyone else is wrong. We close our minds to any discussions that deviate from our own points of view and defend our stances with insults that only drive the other side farther and farther away.

It should be a given that we are all concerned with gun violence in our country. We all feel emotional about the unnecessary deaths of so many innocents. We all want the same thing which is to curb the trend of mass murder that only seems to grow. Our only differences are in how we think it is best to solve the problem. We never quite get started with any positive solutions because we would rather continue at a stalemate than consider the possibility that we might need a combination of the various ideas woven together by compromise. God forbid that we would actually have constructive bipartisan discussions. Those who even think of doing such things these days are deemed to be weak, traitors to some nebulous cause. We would rather do nothing than incrementally move toward agreement.

I hear good ideas from many points of view but they are being drowned out by the clatter of insults. I’ve been regularly attacked by both conservatives and liberals simply because I am willing to consider alternative solutions. I’ve been called wishy washy and naive for believing that we need to cool down long enough to just listen without thinking of what arguments we are going to present as soon as the other person is finished speaking. I’ve been on the receiving end of hateful retorts on many occasions when I have suggested gathering facts and then considering how they impact particular problems. I’d love to be able to brainstorm, but instead I constantly hear people voicing slogans rather than practical ideas for resolving our conflicts.

Ironically and perhaps thankfully I have heard some of the best analyses of our national problems from the young. They have not yet calcified their thinking. They are often far more open than their elders. They are willing to explore new possibilities. It gives me hope when I hear them very logically and accurately assessing the political landscape, but I’d hate to think that we will have to wait for them to become the leaders of the future for things to change.

I suspect that there are far more people who think like me than I have found of late. The squeaky wheels are getting the grease for now, but one day perhaps those of us who have grown weary of the gladiator fights will finally rise up and take the reigns of responsibility. I long for the day when we are once again willing to work together. We have to be a team and family, for if we aren’t our problems will only grow as will our rancor at one another. That would be a terrible shame because it was long ago predicted that the very nature of democracy itself would ultimately destroy it. In other words there have always been those who believe that mankind is not capable of being fully unselfish and willing to compromise to insure equality and justice for all. I pray that the naysayers are wrong. Let’s begin to create a no gladiator zone for resolving our differences. We have too much to lose to keep fighting.

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 To Be a Great Partner

our weddingOn this day forty nine years ago at 7:00 in the evening I kneeled at the altar of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church in Houston, Texas to pledge my love and commitment to my husband Mike. I find myself looking back over our many years together and remembering all of the times that we have shared. Not once has it ever crossed my mind to consider that my leap of faith in joining hands with Mike might have been anything but the most wonderful and important decision that I have ever made. On Mike’s seventieth birthday which occurred only a few days ago our eldest daughter compiled a list of reasons why each his children, grandchildren and I love him as much as much as we do. I find that those praises for him that came from each of us encapsulate the essence of how being married to him for forty nine years has been a glorious adventure that I pray with all of my heart will continue for many more years. They also serve as a guideline for anyone wishing to create a loving and exciting partnership with another human being. If someone were to follow Mike’s example even partially I suspect that he/she would find the kind of great happiness that I have enjoyed day after day for all of those forty nine years. So here are some of the descriptors of my loving spouse that are offered as a gift to all of my readers on this day when I feel as though I won the lottery of a lifetime. Enjoy learning how to provide unconditional love from my Mike who is a master of such things.

Mike is always supportive of anything we want to do and he is always ready to help when we need it. He wears crazy hats and is so hilarious that even when times are hard he is still super funny and cracks funny jokes. He gave us an appreciation of good music that endures to this day. He is a fitting patriarch for the family, moral and loving. He always makes us feel welcome. He has a calm presence. He appreciates history and perspective. He would always give smart, logical and sound advice whenever we came to him. He well known for giving great hugs. He is temperate. His conversations are always filled with wit and information. He let two fine young men date and marry his daughters. He is hardworking and loves his family unconditionally, seeing only the best in every member. He is tech savvy and knowledgable, kind and intellectual. He doesn’t always let it shine through, but he has a soft side like a teddy bear. His wise comments mean a lot to all of us and demonstrate how caring he is. In fact, he is kind hearted and sweet to everyone in his family and it makes us feel special. He is a history buff who demonstrates a desire to go deep into an interesting topic. He is the number one Women’s Lib advocate for his wife, daughters and granddaughter.  He makes us feel safe and secure and cheers us on in anything that we do and comes to all of our special events. He is generous and showed us how fun and amazing camping can be. He took his eldest daughter on a special journey to Chaco Canyon that the two of them will never forget. He understands that football is special and he tells really good jokes. He demonstrates subtle simple shows of affection, like wearing a brand new TAMU polo to a grandson’s graduation party. He often sacrifices his own needs for the rest of us. He is guileless and what you see in him is real. He maintains a calm and confident demeanor in difficult situations, even when he is in the midst of having a stroke. He’s grateful for what he has and generous to others. He can fix almost anything and enjoys doing it. He gives those around him unwavering trust and loyalty. He taught us all everything we know about interior illumination. He has a chill vibe. He brings unique perspectives and culture to the family and keeps things spiced up. He loves to play the guitar. He is reasonable whenever something is going on or if we have a conflict. He shares personal interests with us such as trains, models and history. He’s willing to do anything for our enjoyment. He warmly welcomed two young men as his sons-in-law. He too many talents to number. He is a kind man. He has filled our lives with beautiful moments and memories. His is known for just always being there. He loves his family.

So there you are, descriptions of the man that I love from those who know him best. How could our union not have worked? He took all of his vows so seriously and mostly showed all of us how to love. It has been a marvelous journey walking by his side and feeling that love that he is always so eager to share.

A Time For Understanding

puerto-rico-9-28-17-4I’m enrolled in a continuing education class at Rice University. The professor has spoken of the atmosphere in the United States just prior to Pearl Harbor. Much of the rest of the world was already engaged in conflict but most people in our country were intent on keeping peace and isolating ourselves from the disagreements. My teacher noted that the concerns about either Germany or Japan were most notable in parts of the country that were closest to possible invasions from those respective countries. The east coast was particularly observant of happenings in Europe, while the west coast was watching the Pacific nations. The big middle of the United States was almost blissfully unaware of the looming war in which our country would one day find itself. Such is the way in which we view events. Those of us who have more at stake in particular situations are more likely to have more interest and understanding of them.

I live in a part of the United States that is subject to hurricanes. Each year when the season for those storms arrives I am alert to every change in the ocean waters of the Caribbean, the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf. I have personally experienced the frightening and devastating effects of hurricanes on multiple occasions. Thus it is that I have a visceral understanding of what it is like to endure both the passage of a hurricane and its after effects. I have had my roof blown away, my fence flattened, my roads made impassible by rising waters, and the flow of power inside my home interrupted by downed lines. I know what it is like to wonder and worry how long it will take to repair the damage and return to normalcy. I have stood in long lines to get food from nearly empty shelves. I have seen my city broken and confused. Such events are difficult even in the best of circumstances when relief pours in quickly and repairs are tackled from volunteers from all parts of the world. When those things do not happen in a timely fashion people get sick. Some of them die. Frustrations and fears begin to form inside even the most calm among us. It is a scenario that I have seen firsthand. I am close enough to such situations to have an idea of how people feel about them.

My father-in-law was born and raised in Puerto Rico and I have learned a bit about that island from him. I know that the people there are citizens of the United States, something that many Americans don’t seem to realize. They serve in the military just as my father-in-law did in Korea. They are free to come and go from their island to the mainland of the United States. Puerto Rico is a territory rather than a state and as such the citizens do not have representation in Congress, but their rights are otherwise much like ours.

The people of Puerto Rico are industrious and generous. I have found them to be interesting and delightful. In my one visit to the island I marveled at the beauty of their land and the depth of their history. I also know that they are even more conscious of the possibility of hurricanes than I am. They build their homes out of cinderblock in anticipation of the arrival of the strong winds of those storms that seem to be almost magnetically attracted to their homeland that sits so precariously in the Caribbean. As with my city every new hurricane season brings the possibility that a storm will hit, and this year was no exception. Sadly the brunt of destruction that the people of Puerto Rico have had to bear has been, as in my city of Houston, more horrific than any in more than eighty years.

In September not one but two hurricanes passed over the island with unimaginable force. The second storm took aim for the center of the territory and left indescribable damage in its wake. Now the people of that island are suffering mightily with little hope for a speedy conclusion to the hurt and pain that has been inflicted on them. The category four winds destroyed buildings and took out power across the entire landscape. Without electricity, with roads damaged and impassable, and with shortages of virtually every major need from food to medicine, the citizens are beginning to panic. I for one intimately feel and appreciate their sense of anxiety because I have only lately lived through the worst flood in the history of our country. The uncertainties of such dilemmas are fraught with fears.

Some would have us believe that the Puerto Rican people are responsible for their own misfortune because they have accumulated debts and neglected the country’s infrastructure. I would argue that such discussions are meaningless, having little to do with what has happened. Our own country is hopelessly in debt and we know for a fact that our roads, bridges and power plants are outdated and in need of upgrades. Nonetheless, natural disasters over which we have no power will visit our towns and cities. When they do it is a waste of time to point fingers and attempt to determine guilt. Our only response should be to render aide as quickly as possible. Such emergencies are not political contests. Nor should they provide opportunities for airing personal grudges. The person who needs dialysis and cannot get it cares little for excuses. The individual who doesn’t know how to store medications that require refrigeration is not interested in debates. Those without water or food only want to know that their hunger and thirst will soon be satisfied. They really don’t care if their aide comes from Republicans or Democrats, governors or presidents. They only pray that someone will recognize their plight and take pity.

We are a generous nation. In fact we are a generous world. I have watched volunteers from all parts of the globe coming to my city to help people that they have never known and whom they will probably never see again. Their motives are kind and generous. They do not expect praise for their efforts. They just want to make life a bit better for those who have undergone terrible loss. So it should be in Puerto Rico.

I understand that it is a bit more difficult to transport workers and supplies to an island in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, but that challenge should not become an excuse for the chaos that continues to hamper the relief efforts that the Puerto Ricans so desperately need. There should be less talk and more action. That is what saved the day here in Houston, and it is what will get the people of Puerto Rico on a road to recovery more quickly. We also need sympathy and understanding from everyone. Memes and soundbites critiquing those who have been victimized by nature’s fury are the very last activities that should be engaging us. Prayers, supplies and action are the only things that will suffice. We need leaders who will manage the process with loving concern.

Long ago when my paternal grandfather was born his last name was Mack. Those who new me as a school girl will remember that my maiden name was Little. That is because my grandfather was orphaned as a young boy and had to choose a guardian to watch over him. He selected an uncle who was a graduate of West Point. That man was named Little. After a horrible hurricane devastated Puerto Rico near the beginning of the twentieth century he was given the job of managing the relief efforts. History says that his attempts were remarkably effective. My grandfather would have asserted that it was because the man who provided him with his care and his name was a noble and kind man of the highest character. He was successful in his mission because he approached it with kindness and leadership. That is the type of person that we need to put in charge right now, someone who will demonstrate genuine feelings for the people and who will not be afraid to do whatever it takes to get things done.

I pray for Puerto Rico and my heart hurts for its people. I hope that our leaders remember that the people there are just as entitled to our help as any other United States citizens are. We all need to push for the aide and the leadership that they need.