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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Blink

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I’m a child running barefoot through the grass with beads of sweat running down my back. It never dawns on me that my idyllic life will one day change. I live in the moment and enjoy each new day. I blink, and I am a skinny little spit of a girl just starting high school and dreaming of teenage years with all of the good times portrayed in the movies that I so love. I find myself working hard to learn new things that challenge me in ways that are wonderful. I blink, and it is graduation day and I am heading to college little realizing that it will be many years before I see many of my classmates again. I blink, and I have met the man of my dreams. I fall deeply in love and marry long before I should. It’s war time and things are so uncertain. I know that I must grab the golden ring while I am able. I stand at the altar and pledge my undying love. I am filled with so many hopes and dreams.

I blink, and I am expecting my first child. Even though I am barely out of childhood myself I am so ecstatic about being a mother. I talk to my baby even before she is born. I am naive about how much responsibility my new role will entail. I just know that I already love her and I have not yet seen her face. I blink, and she is running barefoot through the grass. I chase after her laughing and feeling so glad that I have these moments with her. I blink, and another baby is on the way. I love that my family is growing and I can’t wait to see my new little girl. I blink, and we are moving into our first home with both of our daughters, a toddler and an infant. I immediately fall in love with my neighbors. Somehow I know that I will be friends with them forever even though forever seems so far away.

I blink, and my girls are heading off to school. I wonder where the time went and how they grew so quickly. They are sweet and bright and they make me proud but I miss them when the house becomes so quiet. I go back to school again and use my free time to study and earn a degree. I blink and my eldest is entering high school while I have been a teacher for many years. I love the times when we share weekends with the good friends that we have made from church and school and the neighborhood. There is never a dull moment. We are always buzzing about. It’s so much fun and it never occurs to me that it may one day change.

I blink, and daughter number one is heading to the University of Texas for college. I don’t quite yet realize that she will never again be a permanent resident of our home. I focus on the second girl and love having her friends practically living at our place. Life is good. Work is good. Family is fabulous. I blink, and my eldest is receiving her college degree while the youngest is graduating from high school. I can’t believe that they are grown. Where did the time go? Where are those precious little babies that I held in my arms? How I love the young women they have become. How I miss the infants that snuggled and cooed.

I blink, and my eldest is getting married and moving out of the city. My youngest is studying at Texas A&M University. The house is so quiet. I have my work. It sustains me. I decide to go back to school for an advanced degree. I need to fill the vacant hours. I am not yet accustomed to such a quiet house. I spend more time with my husband. We fall in love again and again.

I blink and I am a grandmother of a new baby boy. I fly to the faraway place where he and his parents live. He is an angel and I love him so. I like to sit for hours just holding him and watching him sleep in my arms. My youngest daughter is in love as well and will soon be engaged. How is it possible that I have reached a time when my girls will be so independent? I work and begin to enjoy my students even more than ever. They become my new children, my extended family.

I blink and I am at the wedding of my youngest. She is moving all the way to Chicago. I now have two grandchildren from my eldest. Both of them are beautiful little boys. They now live close enough that I get to visit them all of the time. Life is good. Work is good. I have so much fun with my friends. I take my good fortune for granted and then I blink.

My family grows and grows. A set of twin boys from my eldest daughter delight me. Another set of twins, a boy and girl, arrive to my youngest. Not long after a little boy rounds out the crew. I can’t even describe how much fun I am having. I am so happy that I want the world to stop spinning. I don’t want to blink, but I must.

Death comes to visit us. My mother-in-law dies so unexpectedly. Dear friends leave this earth. I turn to my work as a distraction. I spend time with my own mother and my grandchildren to protect me from the sadness that I am feeling. The cycle doesn’t want to stop. One after another I lose important people and then I blink, and my mother is gone as well. I look up and my grandchildren are all in school. They are not babies anymore. My daughters are fine women who help me in my grief. My husband remains my rock.

I blink, and I am a senior citizen, retired from my teaching days and spending time traveling and writing and enjoying hobbies. My grandchildren are in college, high school, and middle school. They won’t stop growing, but that is not so bad because I am so proud of each of them. I keep in touch with my former students who truly are like members of my extended family. I smile at the photos of their weddings and their children. I enjoy hearing about their jobs and knowing that they too are just fine. I get back together with long lost friends from high school. I am amazed at how easily we reconnect. They look the same to me even though their hair is sometimes grey and their faces wear the wrinkles of time. I know that if I blink there is no telling what changes will come, but I have learned that each phase of life has the power to be grand. My life is unfolding just as it was meant to be.

My husband is still my best friend. These days we are quietly in love. We share all of those moments that came in between our blinks. We know that even the hard times have had a way of making us stronger and bringing us closer together. We’ve learned to dream a bit less and just enjoy whatever is happening. We walk through the grass in our bare feet and are able to see all the way back to our own childhoods. We blink and the world is a wonderful place to be.

A Taste of Home

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Have you ever had a yearning for a particular something to eat only to have your hopes dashed because it wasn’t available? That happened to me and husband Mike last week. He’d visited one of his doctors and underwent a multitude of lab tests that required him to fast. He received positive news from his doctor regarding his progress in regaining his health, so we decided to celebrate by getting an omelet at The Union Kitchen on Bellaire Blvd., a favorite place to meet up with good friends for Sunday brunch. We were almost salivating as we contemplated the yumminess that was in store, and happily we got a nice table on the patio right away. The weather was quite lovely and it felt as though we were experiencing one of those picture perfect days in Houston, something for which we longed after being somewhat homebound for the past three months, not to mention having witnessed the horrors of hurricane Harvey. When we opened the menu and it became apparent that there was not an omelet to be found. A quick inquiry with the waiter revealed that breakfast items are part of the weekend brunch offerings but not the weekday fare. Mike’s disappointment was palatable.

I was willing to compromise by trying something else but Mike had his heart set on an omelet since he had missed having breakfast earlier in the day. Besides we had chosen this particular restaurant for a very specific reason. We had intended it to be yet another medical test on that day.  You see, from taking Plavix as a blood thinner after his stroke Mike had lost all sense of taste. His description of the sensation was that his tongue felt as though is was wrapped in plastic. Everything that he ate had the flavor of water crackers, blandness that had taken away all the joy of eating. He was able to discern textures but no flavors. Eating had become an exercise in getting proper nutrients but little more. When he reported this side effect to his neurologist the medication regimen was changed, but it had nonetheless taken quite a while for his tastebuds to become active again. Only days before had he begun to slowly enjoy the essences of food. Eating the omelet at The Union Kitchen was intended as a treat on many different levels because he had found that delicacy so enjoyable in the past when we had been there with very dear friends.

I suggested that we just leave since we had not yet ordered. I doubted that anyone would even notice our departure, but in that regard I was wrong. Mike was polite enough to inform the hostess that we had changed our minds and would not be staying. We had no sooner walked out the door than the manager, Rob Thomas, and the owner of the restaurant rushed outside to determine what might have happened to cause us to want to depart so suddenly. When I explained the situation they requested that we return to our table and insisted that it would be no problem whatsoever to prepare any kind of omelet that we desired. We smiled and sat down feeling rather special. We decided on a vegetarian omelet and waited with pleasant anticipation.

Mr. Thomas brought our food to us personally. He had included extras on the plate like freshly sliced avocado and roasted potatoes and peppers. The presentation of the meal was a work of art with a delightful color palate and an aroma that made us even more eager to eat. As expected the omelet was exceptional with the perfect pairing of onions, peppers, mushrooms, eggs and Swiss cheese. Best of all Mike was able to savor every lovely flavor because his tastebuds were as active as they had ever been. We relished the moment and marveled at the extraordinary service that Rob Thomas had insisted on providing us.

While we ate we watched Mr. Thomas visiting with the diners at every table, making unique orders become reality over and over again. Eventually he came to see if we had been satisfied with our meal, and we were able to tell him the entire story of Mike’s stroke and the journey that we had made in the ensuing weeks. We were no doubt a bit long winded and there were so many customers, but Mr. Thomas never once acted impatient to leave. He listened with great interest and sympathy even joking that as a restauranteur he would rather go blind than not be able to taste food. He also told us that because the Union Kitchen is a scratch kitchen he can alter most recipes and fulfill special requests with little or no problem. He noted that with several grocery stores in the area he would not be reluctant to run out to get whatever he needed in an emergency. Then he gave us his business card with his personal phone number, urging us to call him ahead of time if we wanted something unusual on one of our future visits. He even revealed that he has special pans in the kitchen marked with the names of customers with severe allergies. He uses them whenever they come so that the dishes he prepares for them will not be cross contaminated.

We laughed and joked and mentioned that we felt as though we were a bit like Jack Nicholson in the diner scene of Five Easy Pieces ordering dry toast. When we explained that classic bit of Hollywood brilliance he laughed and said that he was going to use it at his next meeting with the waiters. Then he began to wonder if Mike would also be able to taste something sweet and insisted that we choose from among the restaurant’s desserts for a treat that he was going to give us without cost. We’re suckers for bread pudding and the creme brûlée variety sounded particularly tempting, so we decided to forget the diet for a few minutes in the interest of experimenting. We were not disappointed in the least. Not only was Mike able to distinguish its delicate blend of sugars and spices, but it was also one of the best versions that we have ever eaten.

We left The Union Kitchen so full that we only ate raisin bran for dinner later that night. Most of our satisfaction though came from the superb customer service that Rob Thomas had provided. He had made us feel quite special on a day that was particularly important to us. We both agreed that we would make The Union Kitchen a regular outing. We still eschew salt and sugar and carbs at home, but even Mike’s doctor has told him that he doesn’t have to be a repentant monk all of the time. It really is okay to enjoy some remarkable tastiness now and again, and I can’t think of any place that I would rather go than The Union Kitchen, a place with wonderful food and even better friendliness. I’m so glad that Rob Thomas came after us. He managed to provide us with a brunch that we will probably never forget. He gave us a taste home and old fashioned service that is all too often missing in today’s hurried world. It was a five star experience. You should try it yourself sometimes. Just tell Rob that they guy who couldn’t taste sent you.

Fact or Opinion?

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I usually listen to the radio whenever I’m driving. Rather than being a distraction, it is a habit that keeps me more alert. I tend to prefer talk radio but I’ve grown weary of political tirades, so my go to station of late is NPR. I enjoy the informative programming through which I learn lots of interesting facts. A few evenings ago I was returning home when I happened upon a newscast from BBC that lasted for most of the forty five minutes that it took me to reach my destination. I found myself feeling enchanted by the way in which the reporting was done. Refreshingly it was simply a recitation of factual events with no hint of editorializing. The news stories moved along so quickly that the narrator was able to provide information on literally dozens of world events of which I had little or no prior knowledge. By the time I drove into my garage I felt rather knowledgeable about situations from Turkey to Kenya to Myanmar. I found myself wondering why our own national news programs spend so much time on far less important situations, and why the reporters feel the need to discuss and analyze what is happening rather than just telling us about the events of the day without commentary. There is a certain irony that British broadcasting was so succinct and fact filled while ours now seems intent on creating controversy and inciting emotional responses. Perhaps we have brought this trend on ourselves because at the end of the day news stations are businesses and businesses must make money which means that they need high ratings. In other words we are pandering to the state of broadcast journalism by tuning in and accepting the politicization.

It used to be that news stories were based on “Ws and an H,”  such as who, what, where, when and how. Opinions were the domain of editorial pages and programs. We expected to hear differing points of view on Meet the Press, but the nightly news was more often than not an exercise in providing only information. We thought of remarks intended to change our minds as being propaganda. Now we endure personal attitudes in virtually every version of the news perhaps with the exception of local programming which still tends to follow a fact driven format. It’s enough to drive us all mad and it tends to encourage the airing of controversial stories over those that simply provide needed information, and then allow each individual to add their own personal spin to what they have heard.

I really believe that we need to more carefully delineate fact from opinion. We teach children this important concept from the time that they are very young, but then as adults we fall into the trap of accepting someone else’s thinking as factual. As a society far too many of us are blurring the line between actual news and editorializing. This has created culture wars and idealogical divisions that are unnecessary and has led to a tendency to defend points of view with false narratives and soundbites. In other words we appear to be living in an epoch that actually trivializes the news and our politicians are taking full advantage of the situation.

I have listened to old school radio programming in which Edward R. Murrow used words to describe world situations. His elegant use of the English language was almost poetic, but it also provided vivid mental pictures of what was actually happening, not how he felt about what he was seeing or whether or not such things should have been happening. That was the right way to present the news. In fact it should always be up to the listener or viewer to fill in the blanks of feelings and emotions, not the person who is on the scene giving us an update.

I actually enjoy the kinds of programs that provide an editorial analysis of current events, especially those that strive to provide alternate points of view. They give us an opportunity to think critically as long as they are transparent and willing to give each side of an argument an uninterrupted platform. I don’t mind at all when the guests debate one another, but I prefer for the host to be a moderator, not someone who joins in the fray. All too often these venues devolve into efforts to change minds and to advocate for one side over the other. That’s when I tend to sigh and then tune out. I suppose that I’d prefer just watching something like a Lincoln Douglas debate to feeling as though my intelligence is being insulted by biased reporting.

It’s funny how we teach students how to spot propaganda and then we unwittingly fall for it time and time again. We expect politicians to engage in such shenanigans because it is the nature of the beast, but when those charged with providing us with the news twist information to fit personal agendas I cringe. I believe that most people have enough common sense to decide for themselves how to react to the events that take place each day. None of us need interpretations. When those things happen there should always be full disclosure that what is being reported is a personal opinion rather than a fact.

I doubt that things will change anytime soon, so I will have to find alternative methods of seeking the truth. I would love for our American newscasters to learn a bit from the BBC. I think we would all be the better for getting more information about not only local and national events, but also the goings on around the world. We really do need to know about the problems in Myanmar and the elections in Liberia. We don’t live on an island and what happens in lands far away will indeed have an effect on things here. Ours is a global economy and we share a political symbiosis with everyone. We really are better served when we are informed. While we may be all abuzz about athletes kneeling for the national anthem, we also need to understand what the effects of famine in another part of the world will be on all of us. The truth is that we are spending far too much time being manipulated into arguments with one another when far more pressing issues are facing us. While we are being mesmerized by indignation over an individual’s sexual sins, there are citizens among us who are struggling with real problems that the infighting is preventing us from solving. While the media and the politicians are stirring up our anger and emotions they get away with making us believe that there is always somebody else to blame for the inaction that leaves so many in a state of distress.

We’ve got real work to do and it will only be done when we learn the facts and then decide how to address them. We can no longer afford to be taken in by propaganda masquerading as truth. Perhaps its time to quit rewarding the news programming that has so lost its way by providing them with the ratings they so need. If we were to turn them off and then boost the viewership of those who follow the old school rules of reporting without all of the chattering and blathering, then the spin might end. Until we do this we will be subject to the fighting that is slowly but surely tearing us apart and preventing us from accomplishing anything.  I don’t know about you, but I for one have grown weary of being manipulated.

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.