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To Be or Not To Be

If you were like me, you had to memorize one of Shakespeare’s soliloquies in your high school English class. I chose the one from Hamlet, which begins, “To be or not to be, that is the question.” But I never got into Shakespeare much. I preferred movie soliloquies, or monologues, as we sometimes call them.

I had to learn monologues back in high school for drama. One of my favorites was King Arthur’s from the film, Camelot (the one right after the King discovers the affair between Guinevere and Sir Lancelot), which begins:

“Proposition: If I could choose from every woman who breathes on the earth; the face I would most love—the smile, the touch, the heart, the voice, the laugh, the very soul itself, every detail and feature to the last strand of hair—it would all be Jenny’s [Guinevere’s].”

King Arthur then expresses his love for Lancelot, yet the two people he loves the most have betrayed him, so he demands a man’s vengeance. But he then realizes he is not a man; he is a king. And how can a civilized king destroy the things he loves most? He concludes: “WE ARE CIVILIZED! Resolved! We shall live through this together.” It is one of the most dramatic parts of the film.

And that is what monologues do. They heighten the tension, raise the stakes, and usually come as part of the conflict’s resolution. Thus, they are the most potent parts of the movie—which is why I love them.

Here are three of my favorite movie monologues. I chose these because of their relevance to our current times. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Speaking of being civilized, Tuesday, one of the most contentious elections in our nation’s history will thankfully end (hopefully!).  In this monologue from The American President,[i] President Andrew Shepard (played by Michael Douglas) states that being President of the United States is all about character. I agree. Or at least it should be. Regardless of your values or political leanings, please put away those biases for a moment as you watch this:

Did you catch these words? “We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them.” Instead, we have politicians who will do anything to get elected (or reelected). And how does a politician win elections? According to The American President, by taking a problem, making us afraid of it, and telling us who is to blame for it (their opponent). Wouldn’t it be nice if we had more leaders willing to tackle serious problems and fewer politicians interested in only preserving their jobs?

Both sides of the aisle are at fault. Joe Biden wants you to fear COVID-19 and blames President Trump for the situation we are in. In turn, President Trump blames China for the virus and wants you to fear impending economic collapse by blaming Mr. Biden for wanting to shut down the country. Are they not both real issues? Instead of blaming the other side, wouldn’t it be novel to hear more details about what one side or the other will do to fix both situations? COVID-19 is real and severe, but so is the loss of jobs and the mental and emotional toil we face by shutting down large segments of our economy and sheltering in place.

We can take almost any current issue in politics and see the same thing happening. Fear the problem, and point the finger of blame. If being the President of the United States is about character, our politicians should listen closely to the words of Jean Paul Richer: “A man never discloses his own character so clearly as when he describes another’s.”

Many of you have seen the #StandUnited ads by the major parties’ candidates for governor of Utah—Spencer Cox and Chris Petersen. If you haven’t seen it, here is a link to The Today Show’s report of it and an interview with the two candidates:

Wouldn’t it be a different (and better) election if all candidates took such an approach?

COVID-19 has changed all of our lives. The virus is the stated cause of almost 230,000 deaths (and counting) in America. I honor the thousands of men and women who have risked their own lives to care for others, who have treated patients, not just the disease, as said so well in this monologue from the film, Patch Adams[ii](played by Robin Williams):

Over 1700 healthcare workers have died from COVID-19, according to the National Nurses Union—many from a lack of personal protective equipment. It’s like sending soldiers off to war without ammunition. But most went to battle anyway, epitomizing these words from Mother Teresa: “It’s not how much you do; it’s how much love you put into doing that matters.” To honor those women and men who died while helping others to live, I offer these words of Francis of Assisi: “Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that you have received—only what you have given: a full heart, enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice, and courage.”

And speaking of those 230,000 deaths from COVID-19, here is one of my favorite monologues from Forrest Gump,[iii] as Forrest (played by Tom Hanks) mourns the loss of the love of his life, Jenny:

I agree with Forrest; dying is a part of life, but I sure wish it wasn’t. When a loved one dies, we wonder how our lives can continue, but somehow they do. One of the saddest parts of death for me is that the one who is gone cannot experience their loved ones growing older. When events occur—even simple ones—we pause and wish those we have lost were there to enjoy it with us. But maybe they are. And, like Forrest, we can always keep them with us in our hearts.  

We live in difficult times. But I am trying to remain optimistic. Humankind has survived dangerous times before, and we will do so again. And I see reasons to keep that optimism. For example, according to The Dallas Morning News, census statistics show that, in 1959, 22.4 percent of Americans, or 39.5 million Americans, lived below the poverty line. In 2019, those figures had dropped to 10.5 percent or 33.9 million Americans.  Thirty-four million people are 34 million too many, but at least the numbers are trending in the right direction. I wonder how COVID-19 might affect those numbers, but I am confident we will continue our progress if we choose leaders who find solutions, not blame, and a population that practices love like our healthcare workers.

I also have confidence in the rising generation. I read this morning of a 14-year-old girl from Frisco, Texas, who won the “America’s Top Young Scientist” award for discovering a potential treatment for COVID-19. And when asked what other projects she was interested in, she tells of learning classical Indian dance and starting Academy Aid, a non-profit to promote science and math opportunities in underrepresented groups of children. All this at the age of 14. Fourteen!

In closing, I offer this quote from Chuck Nolan (played by Tom Hanks) from the film, Cast Away: “I know what I have to do now; I’ve got to keep breathing because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?”

[i] The American President:

  • Production Company: Universal Pictures, Castle Rock Entertainment, and Wildwood Enterprises
  • Director: Rob Reiner
  • Screenwriter: Aaron Sorkin
  • Starring: Michael Douglas, Annette Benning, and Martin Sheen
  • Release date: November 17, 1995

[ii] Patch Adams:

  • Production Company: Universal Pictures, Blue Wolf Productions, and Farrell/Minoff
  • Director: Tom Shadyac
  • Screenwriter: Steve Oedekerk (based on the book by Patch Adams and Maureen Mylander)
  • Starring: Robin Williams, Daniel London, and Monica Potter
  • Release date: December 27, 1998

[iii] Forrest Gump

  • Production Company: Paramount Pictures
  • Director: Robert Zemeckis
  • Screenwriter: Eric Roth (based on the book by Winston Groom)
  • Starring: Tom Hanks, Robin Wright and Gary Sinise
  • Release date: November 11, 1994

The King is Dead! Long Live the King!

The title of this post comes from the tradition of announcing a king’s death and naming the successor taking his place. The phrase was first used in 1422 upon the death of King Charles VI of France and the ascension to the throne by his son, Charles VII. Today, I use the phrase to honor Chadwick Boseman, whose most famous film role was as Black Panther’s T’Challa, King of Wakanda, at Boseman’s passing last month from colon cancer at the young age of 43. But instead of being replaced by a new king, Boseman’s legacy will live on.

Chadwick Boseman once said, “Everyone is the hero of their own story. You should be the hero of your own story.” He certainly was the hero of his own story. He was also a hero to me because of the roles he played in film and the person he was.  

As anyone who knows me well will tell you, I am not a fan of superhero movies, even though I have seen at least a dozen of them. But I loved Boseman’s character, King T’Challa, in Black Panther,[i] because his moral strength equaled his physical strength. And he showed the world that superheroes come in all colors. Here is my favorite scene from Black Panther:

I first became familiar with Boseman when I watched his portrayal of Jackie Robinson in 42.[ii] Of course, Jackie Robinson was the first African American to play major league baseball. Sadly, baseball is as old as America, as colonists played variations of the game at the time of the American Revolution. Then, in September 1845, a group of New York businessmen formed a baseball club and codified the game’s basic rules that we know today. But it became a white man’s game for more than 80 years until April 15, 1947, when Jackie Robinson played his first game in the major leagues.[iii]

It took a person with the character of Jackie Robinson to be the first to break that color barrier. Branch Rickey, President and General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, wanted to sign a black player. But he needed someone with more than just a talent for the sport. Rickey wanted a player who could withstand the racial abuse that the first black player would face. Branch interviewed Robinson for over three hours, focusing on how Robinson would handle the racial slurs and actions of fans and other players that would come his way. Robinson responded, “Are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?” Rickey replied that he needed a Negro player “with guts enough not to fight back.” And so, Robinson bore the abuse mainly in silence—at least in public. Here is a scene from 42 that illustrates how hard that must have been on Robinson (played by Boseman):

Robinson went on play ten years in the majors, won Rookie of the Year in 1947, made the All-Star team six times, and won the Most Valuable Player award in 1949—the first black player to receive that honor. More importantly, young boys playing baseball of all colors idolized Robinson and dreamed of being like him.

I next saw Chadwick Boseman in the film, Marshall,[iv] the true story of a young Thurgood Marshall who later became the first black justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. The movie portrays Marshall’s representation of a black man accused of raping a white woman. Marshall, working for the NAACP, was relentless in defending his clients, but he was also uncompromising in searching for the truth. Or, as he says in the film, “I only represent innocent people accused because of their race.” Check out this scene:

As a law student, Thurgood Marshall became one of my heroes. He argued 32 cases before the Supreme Court, winning 29 of them. Boseman portrayed Marshall in the film exactly as I had imagined him.

Boseman’s latest movie is Da 5 Bloods,[v] directed by Spike Lee. In this film, four Vietnam War veterans return to that country fifty years later to bring home a chest of gold bars they had buried while there. They also went to recover the remains of their comrade, “Stormin’ Norman,” (played by Boseman), the fifth Blood, and the moral compass of the group. Since returning home from the war, Norman had haunted the dreams of Paul, another of the Bloods. On their return to Vietnam, Norman returns one more time to Paul:

The scene is one of forgiveness. How often do we beat ourselves up over accidents? Over things that just happen or things over which we have little or no control? Our real friends understand and will forgive us every time.

But Da 5 Bloods is more than just a story of forgiveness. It is a story of war, race, and injustice. At the time of the Vietnam War, African Americans made up eleven percent of the U.S. population. Yet they comprised 32 percent of the American troops in Vietnam. The film begins with great pessimism, tracing the history of blacks in this country as one of slavery and oppression. But it ends on a more hopeful note, with these words from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., quoting black poet, Langston Hughes: “America never was America to me. And yet, I swear this oath, America will be.” The last frame of the movie reports the assassination of Dr. King, reminding us that we have a long way to go as a society before King’s oath can be realized. But individually, as the characters in the film illustrate, we can forge bonds of love with family and friends that will start us down that road to where most Americans want us to be.

Chadwick Boseman does not just play heroes in the movies. Chadwick Boseman, the man, is as large as the characters he played. He spoke out against injustice whenever he saw it. When he learned of Sienna Miller’s salary for the film, 21 Bridges, he agreed to a pay cut so the studio would pay Ms. Miller appropriately. Women actors still make only 30 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts.

Ms. Miller explained it this way: “In the aftermath of this, I’ve told other male actor friends of mine that story, and they all go very, very quiet and go home and probably have to sit and think about things for a while. But there was no showiness, it was, ‘Of course, I’ll get you to that number, because that’s what you should be paid.’”

In 2018, Boseman gave the commencement address at Howard University, his alma mater (and the alma mater of Thurgood Marshall). I close with this experience of Boseman and his words of advice to the graduates. Once again, Boseman demonstrated the kind of man he was.

“I was on a roll when I entered the system of entertainment, theater, television, and film. In my first New York audition for a professional play, I landed the lead role. From that play, I got my first agent. From that agent, I got an on-screen audition. It was a soap opera…. I scored that role, too….

“Once I saw the role I was playing, I found myself conflicted. The role wasn’t necessarily stereotypical. A young man in his formative years with a violent streak pulled into the allure of gang involvement. That’s somebody’s real story…. [B]ut I was conflicted because this role seemed to be wrapped up in assumptions about us as Black folk. The writing failed to search for specificity. Plus, there was barely a glimpse of positivity or talent in the character, barely a glimpse of hope. I would have to make something out of nothing. I was conflicted. Howard [University] had instilled in me a certain amount of pride, and for my taste, this role didn’t live up to those standards.

“It was just my luck that after filming the first two episodes, execs of the show called me into their offices and told me how happy they were with my performance. They wanted me to be around for a long time. They said if there was anything that I needed, just let them know. That was my opening. I decided to ask them some simple questions about the background of my character, questions that I felt were pertinent to the plot. Question number one: Where is my father? The exec answered, ‘Well, he left when you were younger.’ Of course. Okay. Okay. Question number two: In this script, it alluded to my mother not being equipped to operate as a good parent, so why exactly did my little brother and I have to go into foster care? Matter-of-factly, he said, ‘Well, of course, she is on heroin.’

“That could be real, I guess, but I didn’t want to assume that’s what it was. If we are around here assuming that the Black characters in the show are criminals, on drugs, and deadbeat parents, then that would probably be stereotypical, wouldn’t it? That word stereotypical lingered. One of the execs pulled out my resume and began studying it. The other exec wore a smile and was now trying to live up to what they had promised me only a few moments before—‘If there is anything you need, just let us know.’ She said, ‘As you have seen, things move really fast around here, but we are more than happy to connect you with the writers if you have suggestions.’

“‘Yeah,’ I said, ‘that would be great,’ I said, ‘because I’m just trying to do my homework on this. I didn’t know if you guys have decided on all the facts, but maybe there are some things we could come up with, some talent or gift that we can build. Maybe he is really good at math or something. He has to be active. I’m doing my best not to play this character like a victim.’

“I was let go from that job on the next day. I got a phone call from my agent. They decided to go another way. The questions that I [had] asked set the producers on guard.

“My agents at the time told me it might be a while before I got a job acting on screen again…. ‘We are hesitant about sending you out to some people right now because there is a stigma that you are difficult.’ As conflicted as I was before I lost the job, as adamant as I was about the need to speak truth to power, I found myself even more conflicted afterwards. I stand here today knowing that my Howard University education prepared me to play Jackie Robinson, James Brown, Thurgood Marshall and T’Challa.

“But what do you do when the principles and the standards that were instilled in you here at Howard closed the doors in front of you? Sometimes you need to get knocked down before you can really figure out what your fight is and how you need to fight it.

“Graduating class, hear me well on this day. This day, when you have reached the hilltop and you are deciding on next jobs, next steps, careers, further education, you would rather find purpose than a job or career. Purpose crosses disciplines. Purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfill. Whatever you choose for a career path, remember, the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose. When I dared to challenge the system that would relegate us to victims and stereotypes with no clear historical backgrounds, no hopes or talents, when I questioned that method of portrayal, a different path opened up for me, the path to my destiny.

“When God has something for you, it doesn’t matter who stands against it. God will move someone that’s holding you back away from the door and put someone there who will open it for you if it’s meant for you. I don’t know what your future is, but if you are willing to take the harder way, the more complicated one, the one with more failures at first than successes, the one that has ultimately proven to have more meaning, more victory, more glory, then you will not regret it.”

I am grateful for heroes in my life, such as Chadwick Boseman. His movies have taught me many things, and the man taught me that character is more important than fame or fortune. I miss him. But I will always remember the legacy he left beh

[i] Black Panther:

  • Production Companies: Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Studios
  • Director: Ryan Coogler
  • Screenwriters: Ryan Coogler and Joel Robert Cole
  • Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, and Lupita Nyong’o
  • Release date: February 16, 2018

[ii] 42:

  • Production Companies: Warner Bros. and Legendary Entertainment
  • Director: Brian Helgeland
  • Screenwriter: Brian Helgeland
  • Starring: Chadwick Boseman, T. R. Knight, and Harrison Ford
  • Release date: April 12, 2013

[iii] The last African American to play major league baseball before Jackie Robinson was Moses Fleetwood Walker, who last played in 1884.

[iv] Marshall:

  • Production Companies: Chestnut Ridge Productions, China Wit Media, and Starlight Culture Entertainment
  • Director: Reginald Hudlin
  • Screenwriters: Michael Koskoff and Jacob Koskoff
  • Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad, and Kae Hudson
  • Release date: October 13, 2017

[v] Da 5 Bloods:

  • Production Companies: 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, Rahway Road Productions
  • Director: Spike Lee
  • Screenwriters: Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo
  • Starring: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, and Chadwick Boseman
  • Release date: June 12, 2020

I Am an Abolitionist

A few weeks back, my daughter asked my wife and me if we wanted to participate in a march. My daughter is generally not political, so I wondered what this was all about. She informed me that July 30th is United Nations World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. That is a mouthful, but the day is to help raise awareness of human trafficking. An organization called Operation Underground Railroad planned a rally and march on that day. My daughter didn’t know we had been donating to Operation Underground Railroad for the last couple of years. So, of course, we were interested.

We gathered with about 300 others at Klyde Warren Park in downtown Dallas. We marched from there by way of various government office buildings to the headquarters of the Dallas police department, chanting, “Save our children,” as we went. Here are a couple of photos of us and some of our grandkids at the march.

Despite what it looks like, except for the photos, we wore masks, too!

We hoped to raise awareness, particularly with law enforcement agencies, of the massive problem of human trafficking. Everyone has heard of it, but few know much about it.  

Human trafficking is modern-day slavery, with an estimated 30 million victims of human trafficking in the world today. There are more slaves today than at any time in history. From 2015 to 2017, there were more instances of human trafficking in Texas than any other state except California, so it hits close to home for me.

The most vulnerable among us have the highest chance of being trafficked. These vulnerable persons include migrants, the poor, drug abusers, the homeless, those from broken homes, those who have a mental illness, those with limited educations, runaway youth, and foster children.

But it can happen to anyone.

Victims are not always kidnapped or physically forced into slavery. Traffickers often defraud, trick, and manipulate potential victims using false promises about the work or the nature or conditions of a job opportunity. In this clip from Human Trafficking,[i] a 2005 TV miniseries, the new “boyfriend” of one of the victims sells her to others on what she thought was to be a romantic trip to Venice. A front for a modeling agency enslaves the younger victim. Traffickers kidnap the third victim (age 11) on the streets of Manilla in the Phillippines while she and her family are on vacation. The clip is long, but it is worth watching (although hard to watch because of the treatment of the young women):

The perpetrators of human trafficking control their victims by not only threatening harm to the victims but to their family members and others close to them as well. And trafficking is a huge business, with profits estimated anywhere from $32 billion to over $150 billion (with a “b”) per year. It is even more profitable than drug trafficking. While you can use cocaine only once, you can use a trafficking victim over and over again. An average, a pimp can make about $200,000 a year per victim. Many victims become drug abusers, who take drugs to dull the pain of what they are going through.

There are two million child sex slaves throughout the world. But most traffickers do not take their victims for sex. Sixty-nine percent of trafficking victims are in forced labor, and many of these are children. The film, Slumdog Millionnaire,[ii] is an example of that. Adults use children, especially homeless ones, to beg on the streets for them. And the more pathetic the child is, the more they can collect. So, handlers often intentionally harm their young workers, as illustrated in this scene:

There are just as many males trafficked as females. Many of the males are LGBTQ. Traffickers do not always hold their victims in chains in dark basements. In many cases, victims stay because they do not have the essential resources they need to leave and live independently. And the majority of victims who are rescued return to their handlers because they have nowhere else to go.

Thankfully, organizations such as Operation Underground Railroad can help. They not only rescue trafficked children and adults, but they also provide shelter and other resources to keep these victims from returning. Tim Ballard founded Operation Underground Railroad. He is a former CIA agent who left government service because he determined he could do more to stop human trafficking working for a private organization than through the government. The documentary, Operation Toussaint,[iii] tells his story. And it is a compelling one. You can watch it on Amazon Prime Video. Here is its trailer:

Did you catch more grim facts from the trailer? Traffickers sell a child every 30 seconds for sex or labor or organ harvesting. The total of these children is over 60 million worldwide. Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal enterprise in the United States. America is the highest producer and consumer of child pornography.

As of February 2020, Operation Underground Railroad has rescued over 3,500 victims and helped with the arrest of 2,400 perpetrators of human trafficking. But they are not the only superb organization enlisted in the fight against human trafficking. Others include Valient Hearts, FAIR Girls, Saving Innocence, The A21 Campaign, The Polaris Project, and Human Trafficking Awareness Partnerships.

So, what can you and I do? For starters, we can support organizations like Operation Underground Railroad, either financially or as a volunteer. We can help raise awareness of human slavery among lawmakers and law enforcement. We can protect our children and grandchildren by monitoring their use of technology and by warning them of job opportunities that sound too good to be true. We can learn the red flags of human trafficking, and if we see something that concerns us, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or email them at We can be smart shoppers. The Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) maintains a list of goods and their source countries which it has reason to believe are produced by child labor or forced labor in violation of international standards. We can support companies that employ recovering victims of human trafficking. For example, the majority of the employees of an essential oils company in North Texas called Savhera are former victims of sex trafficking. They couldn’t find jobs elsewhere because of their criminal records. 

Most of all, we can spread love and concern, especially among our poor and most marginalized. Someone said,  “People were created to be loved. Things were created to be used. The reason why the world is in chaos is because things are being loved and people are being used.” Or, as Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”

Let’s not be silent. Please become an abolitionist and help solve this global problem. Let’s rise up for children everywhere.

[i] Human Trafficking:

  • Production Companies: For Sale Productions (Muse), Mel’s Cite du Cinema, and Muse Entertainment Enterprises
  • Starring: Robert Carlyle, Donald Sutherland, and Mira Sorvino
  • Release date: October 24, 2005

[ii] Slumdog Millionnaire:

  • Production Companies: Celador Films, Film4, and Fox Searchlight Pictures
  • Directors: Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan
  • Screenwriter: Simon Beaufoy (based on the novel by Vikas Swarup)
  • Starring: Dev Patel, Frieda Pinto, and Saurabh Shukla
  • Release date: December 25, 2008

[iii] Operation Toussaint:

  • Production Companies: DNA Films
  • Directors: Nick Nanton and Ramy Romany
  • Screenwriter: Katie Tschopp
  • Starring: Tim Ballard, Tony Robbins, and Glenn Beck
  • Release date: July 10, 2018

Peaking Too Soon

My sons often joke about how they peaked too soon when it came to their athletic abilities. I guess I am one of the boys, as I also peaked too early in sports and popularity. I reached my apex in junior high school. I started the climb in seventh grade when I was one of only two from my class to make the school basketball team (we only had one for the entire school). A year later, I played little league football for the first and only time but started both ways. A year after that, I gave up football for volleyball. My junior high school had no football team, so, in ninth grade, I figured I would play volleyball instead to help maximize my popularity. I mean, no one but parents attended little league football games, and even my parents didn’t come that often. But the school forced all students to watch the volleyball and basketball games, as we played them during the last hour and a half of school. What better way to improve my popularity than have the entire student body come and watch me play? Or so I thought back then. 

But ninth grade didn’t always go as I had planned. The school volleyball coach cut me from the team. But, through the influence of my basketball coach, the volleyball coach asked me to come back. I started as the twelfth man on the squad, but by midseason, I was starting. Then came basketball, where I started every game and was one of the leading scorers. But it wasn’t just in sports where I did well. The drama teacher picked me for the lead in our graduation play, and I took a popular cheerleader to the graduation dance. Oh, and that was the year I had my first kiss. But it was all downhill from there. I never made a high school varsity team; no one picked me for the lead in any high school play, and I didn’t date much either. I rationalized that sports and popularity were overrated.

But junior high school was also the time that I fell in love with movies. In the eighth grade, my brother asked me to go with him to see one. It was a film he had already seen, but he wanted to see it again. On the way to the theater, he told me, “You might think this is just a dirty movie, but I loved it. He took me to see The Graduate.[i] And I loved it, too. At first, I thought it was cool that an older, married woman seduced Ben. But then I saw the bigger picture. Mrs. Robinson was in a loveless marriage, and she was having loveless sex with Ben. Ben’s parents, the Robinsons, and all of their friends pursued happiness through material possessions, but none of those possessions brought them any real joy. Only Ben’s connection with Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, Elaine, had meaning for Ben. And he worried about his future. The Graduate got me thinking about my future. Would I marry for love, and would that love last? (Fortunately, yes!) Would I find a career that challenged me? Or would it merely be a means to material possessions, which might not bring me much happiness? Here is the final scene from The Graduate:

I love that scene. The expressions on Ben’s and Elaine’s faces as they ride that bus says it all. I have often wondered if Ben and Elaine would make it together. By the looks on their faces, I’m not sure knew either. But they were willing to take a risk (even a crazy one) to live more fulfilling lives than their parents. It taught me I wanted a fulfilling life as well. And to start figuring out how I could get it.

About this time, one of my best friends and I decided to see Cool Hand Luke.[ii] Here is the scene where Luke gets his nickname:

Cool Hand Luke is, well, cool. But I love his philosophy: even nothing can be a cool hand. And that is how he lived his life. He always tried to find some fun in every situation, even when—especially when—he was in prison. Life can dump hardship on us. Sometimes it is our fault, but sometimes not. Regardless of blame, no one is immune to tragedy. But we have a choice on how we react and deal with it. As someone once said, “No one ever hurt their eyes by looking at the bright side of things.”

In the Heat of the Night[iii] won the Oscar for the best picture of 1967. It wasn’t my favorite movie that year (see above), but it was the first movie that put race relations in front of me. When I saw it, I don’t think I even knew a person of color, let alone associated with one. But In The Heat of the Night exposed me to a problem that 50 years later, we still haven’t fixed. Watching movies that focus on marginalized groups became one of my favorite things to do, and hopefully, taught me to be at least a little less racist than I might have otherwise become. Perhaps the most famous line from the film is, “They call me Mr. Tibbs!” But I like this scene better, as it taught me what it might be like to be black in the South in the sixties:

In ninth grade, at the peak of my popularity, I watched two movies that had a significant impact on me. In They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?[iv] I witnessed what it might be like not to know where your next meal might come from. I learned to be grateful for what I had and to be aware of others less fortunate. I have tried to live with the message of that movie always in the back of my mind. Fortunately, I married a woman who was far better at helping others than I would have been on m own. As she reminds me, “What good are material possessions if you don’t share them with family and friends?” But with Janene, being family or friends is not a prerequisite to her generosity. Sadly, people sometimes treat animals better than they treat their fellow humans, as illustrated by this scene:

I believe part of our responsibility in this life is to help relieve suffering. With COVID-19 still a pandemic and disproportionately affecting the poor and persons of color, there are plenty of opportunities for us to help those suffering all around us.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid[v] became my favorite movie of 1969. I loved Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke, and that love turned into a full-blown bromance after watching Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. I have to admit, though, I was a little jealous of The Kid (played by Robert Redford) because he got the girl (played by Katharine Ross, who also played Elaine in the Graduate). Both Butch and the Kid were cool and lived life to the fullest, and had fun as they went (well, until Bolivia at least).

I loved the movie so much, for drama class, my buddy and I decided to do a reader’s theater scene based on several scenes from the film. Here is one of the scenes we used:

At the end of our performance, we jumped off the stage together, like in the movie.  Afterward (we got an A, by the way), I asked my drama teacher, “Didn’t you love the movie?  She replied that she had never seen it. I was shocked. One of the best movies of all time and my drama teacher had never seen it!  She explained in words that shocked me even more. “I don’t support immoral movies.” My drama teacher was no prude. She had liberal views on just about everything, from social injustice to religion.

Immoral?  Huh?  She then explained. “I consider it immoral because it makes the viewer root for robbers and murderers.  Do we want people like them to be our heroes?”

I had never thought of it in that light before.  I did root for Butch and the Kid as they spent their days robbing banks and trains. Their Wild Bunch Gang murdered more than a half dozen law enforcement officers. And I admit I felt sad when the law finally caught up with them in Bolivia and presumably killed them.

I still watch movies like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. And I still enjoy them. But I have never forgotten those words from my drama teacher. And now, after almost every film I watch, I think about right and wrong and what I can learn from it, either as a good example or a bad one.

I don’t wish to go back to my glory days of junior high. But I am glad I lived them, primarily because those years taught me that everything important in life, I can learn from watching movies.

[i] The Graduate:

  • Production Company: Lawrence Truman Productions
  • Director: Mike Nichols
  • Screenwriters: Calder Willingham and Buck Henry (based on the novel by Charles Webb)
  • Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, and Katharine Ross
  • Release date: December 21, 1967

[ii] Cool Hand Luke:

  • Production Company: Jalem Productions
  • Director: Stuart Rosenberg
  • Screenwriters: Donn Pearce and Frank Pierson
  • Starring: Paul Newman, George Kennedy, and Strother Martin
  • Release date: November 1, 1967

[iii] In the Heat of the Night:

  • Production Company: The Mirisch Corporation
  • Director: Norman Jewison
  • Screenwriter: Sterling Stilliphant (based on the novel by John Ball)
  • Starring: Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, and Warren Oates
  • Release date: August 2, 1967

[iv] They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?:

  • Production Companies: Palomar Pictures and American Broadcasting Company (ABC)
  • Director: Sidney Pollack
  • Screenwriter: James Poe (based on the novel by Horace McCoy)
  • Starring: Jane Fonda, Micheal Sarrazin, and Susannah York
  • Release date: December 10, 1969

[v] Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid:

  • Production Companies: Campanile Productions, George Roy Hill-Paul Monash Productions, and Newman-Foreman Company
  • Director: George Roy Hill
  • Screenwriter: William Goldman
  • Starring: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Katharine Ross
  • Release date: September 24, 1969

It’s Time to Face the Facts

African American writer and activist James Baldwin wrote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” America, it appears, has finally started to face its institutional racism. Most of the people I associate with are not overtly racist. But some of us might be without even realizing it. But whether individuals are racist, openly or otherwise, the American system seems to be stacked against persons of color. While modern-day Americans might no longer harbor the racism that once motivated the establishment of racist practices, the effects of that old racism remain. In short, life is hard for everyone, but if you are a person of color, your race is making your life harder.     

Racism is not a new topic for this blog. I have repeatedly discussed films with themes challenging prejudice, protests, the criminal justice system, and economic inequalities.[i] But following the brutal murder of George Floyd, it feels as if we are facing America’s prejudices for the first time in a meaningful way that could bring about change.   

While you can find numbers to prove almost anything, there are so many statistics illustrating the challenges African Americans have faced during the history of this country, there must be some truth to the racism behind them. Here are a few of those statistics (as well as a few movies based or inspired by true stories related to those statistics).

Americans imported over twelve million Africans, chained below deck in cargo ships, and sold and traded them as slaves. The labor forced upon these slaves made them less than human. If you don’t believe me, watch 12 Years a Slave or the miniseries, Roots. The Founding Fathers, not sure whether slaves were people or property, split the difference—counting a slave as three-fifths of a person to establish each state’s number of elected representatives. It took a bloody civil war, the deadliest of all American conflicts, to end the legalized practice of slavery. Although the Union army did not use African Americans in combat as much as it could have, by the war’s end, 179,000 served (making up ten percent of the Union’s army). Over 40,000 African Americans died because of the war, 30,000 from diseases. Watch the films, Glory or Harriet, to get a sense of African American soldiers’ contributions to the Union cause.   

After the Civil War, the country replaced slavery with other forms of racial hierarchy, enforced through lynchings, disenfranchisement, and segregation. According to the NAACP, from 1882 to 1968, America lynched 4,743 persons, 3,446 of whom (or 72.7 percent) were African American. Watch Rosewood, for an account of vigilante (in)justice against African Americans. Jim Crow laws reinforced the “less than” status of black Americans. Watch The Help or The Green Book to get a sense of what that segregation was like. Poll taxes, literacy tests, property ownership requirements, and strict registration laws prevented many blacks from voting. A hundred years after the Civil War, the federal government finally began declaring such practices illegal. Watch Mississippi Burning to see how difficult it was to register African American voters even after the changes in the law.

Most of us can acknowledge the sad history of race relations in America. And although things have improved, racism remains a part of America’s culture without most of us knowing it. For example, during the Great Depression, Congress created Social Security to help guarantee a stable retirement for most Americans. But when initially passed, it excluded domestic and agricultural workers, rendering 67 percent of black Americans ineligible for that benefit. Banking laws and practices made it all but impossible for black Americans to obtain mortgages for houses in certain areas, effectively keeping them in the poorest sections of cities and towns. And although Congress has eliminated those banking practices, its effects remain. In 2016, the average African American household was worth $17,000, while the average white-owned home was worth more than $170,000. In 2018, 72 percent of whites owned a home. For African Americans, it was only 42 percent.

The film, The Banker,[ii] tells the story of Bernard Garrett (played by Anthony Mackie) and Joe Morris (played by Samuel L. Jackson) who help other African Americans pursue homeownership. They do this by training a working-class man, Matt Steiner (played by Nicholas Hoult), to pose as the wealthy and privileged face of the real estate and banking empire they have created. But their success catches the attention of the federal government. Here is the closing argument of Bernard Garrett before a Congressional committee:

Those hearings led to prohibitions against discrimination in housing and banking practices. But the disparity between black and white housing has other effects. Although the Supreme Court outlawed segregated schools in 1954, more than half of America’s children still attend racially concentrated schools. That’s a school that has more the 75 percent of its students either white or persons of color. Since most school districts rely primarily on local property taxes for funding, the economic resources of predominantly black schools are significantly below those of mostly white schools. According to a 2018 report from the nonprofit EdBuild, predominantly white school districts receive $23 billion more than those serving primarily students of color. That means the average nonwhite school district receives $2,226 less per student than a white school district.

And the disparity continues into higher education. According to a recent study by the National Center for Education Statistics, 64 percent of whites entering college complete their degree within six years. For black students, only 39 percent complete their degrees.

Of course, disparities in education translates into less earning power. According to census data, black families with a new-born baby have a median annual income of $36,300. For a white family, it is $80,000. But even black Americans with advanced degrees are not competing with their white counterparts, earning only 82 cents for every dollar earned by whites. For black women, the gap is worse, making only 64 cents per dollar. When it comes to net worth, according to William A. Darity, the co-author of From Here to Equality, blacks make up 13 percent of the population but hold only 2.6 percent of its wealth. Incredibly, the net worth of black American heads of households with a college degree averages only two-thirds the net worth of white heads of families who didn’t even graduate from high school.

Less income means less saved for retirement. Sixty percent of white families have at least one retirement account; only 34 percent of black families do. And the median balance of those accounts is $151,000 for whites compared to only $46,100 for blacks. All this means there is less wealth to pass on to the next generation. The median inheritance for whites in 2016 was over $56,000; for blacks, it was only $38,000.

And we haven’t even touched the disparity between whites and blacks in healthcare where a black woman is almost four times more likely to die in childbirth than a white woman. As of 2018, 9.7 percent of black Americans have no health insurance, while only 5.4 percent of whites are uninsured. And blacks are more than twice as likely to die from COVID-19 than whites.

Perhaps the most significant evidence of our inherently racist society is in the criminal justice system. It is a system designed to keep a person in it once entered, regardless of race, but it affects blacks harder than whites. If you don’t believe me, watch the films, Detroit, The 13th, Brian Banks, and 16 Shots, and the Netflix series, When They See Us. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with over 2.3 million persons currently behind bars, with 7 million more on probation or parole. Unbelievably, one in three black men between the ages of 18 and 30 are in jail or on probation or parole. In large urban areas such as Los Angeles, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., those percentages increase to between 50 and 60 percent. In Alabama, 34 percent of all black men have permanently lost the right to vote because of a felony conviction.

If you are thinking, well, it’s good that all these felons are behind bars, making our streets safer for the rest of us, think again. Two-thirds of the people currently in jail are there while they wait for their day in court. In other words, they have not been convicted of their alleged crime and remain incarcerated because the court denied them bail, or they are too poor to pay it. Of the 12 million arrests in this country, only five percent of those are for violent crimes. Only five percent! The vast majority of arrests (about 75 percent) are for low-level misdemeanors. If you think the system is always fair to all races and all economic classes, then consider the homeless man in Texas who, on a cold night, stole four blankets to keep warm. He spent eight months in jail awaiting his trial because he had no means to pay the $3500 bail. Or the Louisiana court that sentenced a man to 13 years in prison for possession of two marijuana joints.  

The film, Brian Banks,[iii] is the true story of an African American unjustly accused of rape by his 16-year-old classmate. While his accuser was also black, it is a compelling tale of how difficult it is to prove your innocence once the system finds you guilty—even of a crime you didn’t commit. Even his lawyer, Justin Brooks (played by Greg Kinnear), who started the Innocence Project in California, acknowledges how one-sided the system is in this clip:

The movie, Just Mercy,[iv] is based on the early career of Bryan Stevenson (played by Michael B. Jordan), who has tirelessly represented individuals that the system has wronged. Here is his closing argument in the case of Walter McMillian (played by Jamie Foxx), on death row for a crime he did not commit:

DNA evidence ultimately exonerated McMillian, but how many others are there like him? As of 2018, courts have exonerated 367 convicted persons by DNA evidence. Of those, 61 percent are black. Stevenson, who also specializes in defending young boys who are tried as adults (some as young as 13 years old), argues that race and wealth need to come out of the justice equation. He often asks the question, how does it happen that we allow judges to turn a young boy, maybe as young as 13, into something he is not [an adult]? He would like that same young boy to be turned into a 70-year-old white CEO of a major company and see what justice looks like then.  Or, in his words, “The opposite of poverty in America is not wealth; it’s justice.”

There is much work to be done to break down the institutional racism of America. Those of us who enjoy white privilege need first to educate ourselves about the problem. Watch the films I suggest in this blog. Take the time to listen to those of different races, cultures, and wealth and learn to empathize with them. As Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird counsels, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from their point of view—until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

 I recently watched The Best of Enemies,[v] a film about the integration of public schools in Durham, North Carolina, in 1971.  It pitted civil rights activist Ann Atwater (played by Taraji P. Henson), against C.P. Ellis (played by Sam Rockwell), the leader of the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. As these two enemies work together, they learn to realize, as Atwater says to Ellis, “The same God made you, made me.” Here is the trailer from the film:

I close with this quote from Jake Tyler Brigance (played by Matthew McConaughey) in the movie A Time to Kill: “Until we can see each other as equals, justice is never going to be even-handed. It will remain nothing more than a reflection of our own prejudices.”

Come on, America. We can do better.

[i] See for example:

[ii] The Banker:

  • Production Companies: Romulus Entertainment, Hyphenate Films, and Iam21 Entertainment
  • Director: George Nolfi
  • Screenwriters: Niceole R. Levy and George Nolfi
  • Starring: Anthony Mackie, Samuel L. Jackson, and Nicholas Hoult  
  • Release date: March 20, 2020

[iii] Brian Banks:

  • Production Companies: ShivHans Pictures, and Gidden Media
  • Director: Tom Shadyac
  • Screenwriter: Doug Atchison
  • Starring: Aldis Hodge, Greg Kinnear, and Sherri Shepherd
  • Release date: August 11, 2019

[iv] Just Mercy:

  • Production Companies: Warner Bros., Endeavor Content, and One Community
  • Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
  • Screenwriters: Destin Daniel Cretton and Andrew Lanham
  • Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson
  • Release date: January 10, 2020

[v] The Best of Enemies:

  • Production Companies: Astute Films and Material Pictures
  • Director: Robin Bissell
  • Screenwriters: Robin Bissel and Osha Gray Davidson
  • Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Sam Rockwell, and Babou Ceesay
  • Release date: April 5, 2019

A Day of Remembrance

A week ago Friday, I was scooting around Lake Kiowa on my PWC when I noticed a flag at half-mast. I wondered who had died. The only person I could think of was Jerry Sloan, the long-time coach of the Utah Jazz. I doubted, here in Texas, that the half-mast flag would be for him. Then it hit me. Duh! It was Memorial Day weekend. It saddens me a little that, for many of us, Memorial Day is just another reason to have a barbeque with the family. While no one enjoys getting together with the family for good food and fun more than me, I figured it was also time to reflect on those who gave all so the rest of us might live free.

Growing up, we called it Decoration Day. It was a day the family went to the cemetery and decorated graves. I remember some graves had little American flags next to their headstones, honoring military veterans. And that is what started it all. Soon after the Civil War, people began decorating the graves of fallen Civil War soldiers. A Civil War veteran, General John A. Logan, made the holiday official by declaring, “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”

It wasn’t until 1971 that Decoration Day became Memorial Day, and moved from May 30th each year to the last Monday of May. Despite the well-intended efforts of my Texas neighbor, on Memorial Day, the proper way to fly the flag is to first raise it quickly to the top of the pole, then slowly lower it to half-mast until noon, and then raise it back to the top (or full mast) for the rest of the day. In 2000, Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act, which asks all Americans to pause at 3:00 pm on Memorial Day to give a minute of silence in honor of those who died while in military service. Who knew?

And many have died in such service. According to statistics published last year by the Department of Defense, here are the number of military personnel who have died in battle:

  • The Revolutionary War:                         4,435
  • The War of 1812:                                     2,260
  • The Indian Wars:                                    1,000
  • The Mexican War:                                13,283
  • The Civil War:                                    498,332
  • The Spanish American War:                   2,446
  • World War I:                                       116,516
  • World War II:                                     405,399
  • The Korean War:                                  54,246
  • The Vietnam War:                              90,220
  • The Wars on Terror:                              6,852
  • The total number of American soldiers killed in war is over 1.1 million. The Civil War remains our bloodiest. Two percent of the country’s population died, which is the equivalent of 6 million today. Our bloodiest battle was the battle of Argonne Forest during World War I, where over 26,000 American soldiers died. During World War II, about 12 percent of the total U.S. population was a part of the armed forces. Today, out of a nation of nearly 329 million people, only 1.3 million Americans are in active duty military, and another 800,000 serve in the reserves—less than one percent.

Growing up, my parents had a copy of the film, Gone With the Wind.[i] As a kid, I found the movie boring. But one scene had an impact on me and helped me visualize the horrors of the Civil War. It was this scene following the Battle of Atlanta:

But war is not about the numbers killed or wounded. Real people are involved and affected by it, and none more than family and friends at home. Vera Brittain was one of those. She served as a nurse during World War I and witnessed the death of her brother, her fiancée, and two of her closest friends. Here is a scene from the movie, Testament of Youth[ii] (based on her memoir):

We sometimes forget the suffering, pain, and grief that results from war is the same on both sides. There is no real victor in war, except perhaps the manufacturer of coffins.

The generation who lived through World War II became known as the greatest generation because of their courage and strength of character. Perhaps the best example of those qualities is Desmond Doss, who, as a conscientious objector, volunteered to serve as a medic. As this scene from Hacksaw Ridge[iii] illustrates, because of his religious convictions, his enemy was not only the Japanese but sometimes his fellow Americans:

The U.S. Government twice awarded Doss the Bronze Star for his actions in Guam and the Phillippines. Then, during the battle of Okinawa, he saved the lives of 75 of his fellow soldiers and received the Medal of Honor for his actions. He remains today the only conscientious objector to receive that honor.

You don’t find too many comedies made about war. But perhaps the best movie made about the Korean War is just that—a comedy. I  saw MASH[iv] while in high school. Here is a trailer for the film that gives a glimpse of blood and laughter surrounding at least one MASH unit:

My high school friend’s dad was a surgeon during the Korean War in a MASH unit. He told us the film is a fair representation of what his life was like during the war. You always had to be joking, pranking, and looking at the bright side of things, or the pain, despair, and death would drive you crazy.

I was a teenager for most of the Vietnam War. I was old enough to know that I didn’t support the war (primarily because I could be one of those fighting it), but too young to understand the horrors of it entirely, and what it did to the young men who fought there. The movie, The Last Full Measure,[v] tells the story of how a group of Vietnam vets worked for almost 35 years after the war to get a fellow soldier, Airman William H. Pitsenbarger, Jr., awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously. In this scene, Tom Tulley (played by William Hurt) exhibits survivor’s guilt when he admits that he was glad it was Pitsenbarger, not him, that entered the jungle to help the injured, and ultimately died because of his actions: 

Even those who survive the killing come back changed—many scarred by what they experienced. And sometimes those scars are just as deep in the ones they left at home. 

Similar to Desmond Doss, Pitsenbarger was an Air Force pararescue airman—those medics in helicopters whose job it was to help the injured on the ground below. He flew over 300 missions during the war and later died in a battle after rescuing 60 of his fellow soldiers.

We are now fighting the war against terror. Similar to the Vietnam War, I wonder whether this war is worth the sacrifice of so many young men and women. But I will save the politics of war for another blog post. Whatever you think of war, all of us should admire how the military honors their dead. My favorite film in that regard is Taking Chance.[vi] Here is one of my favorite scenes, followed by a tribute to the real Chance Phelps, upon which this movie is based:

That clip hits me in the gut every time. Similar to Lt. Colonel Mike Strobl (played by Kevin Bacon), I did not know Chance Phelps or any other person who has died in the war on terrorism. But today I miss them. I grieve for their families. And I thank them all for their ultimate sacrifice.

Perhaps the best way we can honor the sacrifices of our military men and women is to put them out of a job. Or, as John Lennon encourages us, let’s give peace a chance. I am not so naïve to think we could ever wholly dismantle our military. But we should hate war and declare peace wherever and whenever we can. Armed conflict should always be the last resort. In that regard, I repeat the words of Vera Brittain (played by Alicia Vikander) from Testament of Youth:

“I speak to those of us who are left behind—the mothers, the sisters, women—we send our men to war … because we think it is the right thing, the honorable thing. But all I can do is stand here and ask you, is it? Is it right? Can I find the courage to accept there might be another way? Perhaps their deaths have meaning only if we stand together now and say no. No to killing. No to war. No to the endless cycle of revenge. I say no more of it. No more.”

There has to be a better way. Helen Keller once said, “I do not want the peace that passes understanding; I want the understanding that brings peace.” Understanding ourselves and others is the key to peace. I close with these beautiful words of Graeme Edge: “And he thought of those he angered for he was not a violent man. And he thought of those he hurt, for he was not a cruel man. And he thought of those he frightened, for he was not an evil man. And he understood. He understood himself. Upon this, he saw when he was angered or knew hurt or felt fear it was because he was not understanding. And he learned compassion. And with his eye of compassion, he saw his enemies like unto himself. And he learned love.” 

May it ever be so with all of us.

[i] Gone With the Wind:

  • Production Companies: Selznick International Pictures and Metro-Golden-Mayer 
  • Directors: Victor Fleming and George Cukor
  • Screenwriter: Sidney Howard (based on the book by Margeret Mitchell)
  • Starring: Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Thomas Mitchell
  • Release date: January 17, 1940

[ii] Testament of Youth:

  • Production Companies: BBC Films, BFI Film  Fund, Heyday Films
  • Director: James  Kent
  • Screenwriter: Juliette Towhidi (based on the Memoir of Vera Brittain)
  • Starring: Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington, Taron Egerton
  • Release date: January 16, 2015

[iii] Hacksaw Ridge:

  • Production Companies: Summit Enetertainment, Cross Creek Pictures, Demarest Films
  • Director: Mel Gibson
  • Screenwriters: Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight
  • Starring: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, and Luke Bracey
  • Release date: November 4, 2016

[iv] MASH:

  • Production Companies: Aspen Productions (I), Ingo Preminger Productions, Twentieth Century Fox
  • Director: Robert Altman
  • Screenwriter: Ring Lardner, Jr. (based on the novel by Richard Hooker)
  • Starring: Donald Sutherland, Elliot Gould, Tom Skerritt
  • Release date: March 18, 1970

[v] The Last Full Measure:

  • Production Companies: Foresight Unlimited, Provocator, SSS Entertainment
  • Director: Todd Robinson
  • Screenwriter: Todd Robinson
  • Starring: Sebastian Stan, Alison Sudol, Asher Miles Fallica
  • Release date: January 24, 2020

[vi] Taking Chance:

  • Production Companies: HBO Films, Motion Picture Corporation of America, Civil Dawn Pictures
  • Director: Ross Katz
  • Screenwriters: Michael Strobl and Ross Katz
  • Starring: Kevin Bacon, Tom Aldredge, Nicolas Art
  • Release date: February 21, 2009

While Making Other Plans

In his song, Beautiful Boy, John Lennon uses the lyric, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.[i] How true that is! In life (and in movies) often the best, well-thought-out plans do not go as we intend. That is what keeps films interesting—and life challenging.

We learn from movies that sometimes the guy doesn’t get the girl, or the girl doesn’t get the guy. In this scene from La La Land,[ii] Mia (played by Emma Stone) daydreams about what might have been, but she and Sebastian (played by Ryan Gosling) end up taking different paths:

Our war heroes often return home with PTSD. One of America’s greatest war heroes, Chris Kyle (played by Bradley Cooper), has difficulty adjusting to family life in this scene from American Sniper[iii]:

And sadly, sometimes, loved ones die. This scene from Titanic[iv] gets me every time:

If you were like me, the new year came with a bright future ahead. We had planned a European river cruise with good friends. Our retirement funds remained steady and adequate. All family members were employed, healthy, and happy. But then, everything changed. The coronavirus proved once again that John Lennon was right. Life gets in the way of our best-laid plans.

And almost everything we, as a country, tried (although often too little, too late), did not go as planned as we fought what President Trump has called it—the invisible enemy. A few things went better than expected. The City of Dallas has seen a 19 percent drop in crime. City streets and freeways are free from traffic congestion, even during rush hour. Our air is cleaner. In the northeastern U.S., smog is down 30 percent from a year ago. In Rome, it’s down almost 50 percent. According to the Health Effects Institute, air pollution kills as many as 7 million people worldwide annually. And urban sightings of coyotes, pumas, and even kangaroos, are now commonplace. My local gas station is selling regular unleaded gas for $1.39 a gallon. But I bought it in Gainesville, Texas, last week for $1.09 a gallon. Compare that to last month, where the average price of gas in the Dallas area was $1.82. And to show support to those of us with little or no hair, “buzz cuts” for men are up over 58 percent.

But most of the news surrounding COVID-19 has not gone according to plan and not in a good way. President Trump thought he had ended the threat of COVID-19 when, on February 1, 2020, he banned entry into the U.S. of all foreign nationals traveling from China. We now believe the virus came to the U.S. primarily from European travelers to the U.S. 

In our efforts to stop (or at least slow) the spread of the virus, state and local governments have issued stay-at-home orders and have imposed social distancing requirements. But that has led to more than 1.5 million Texans filing for unemployment benefits since March 15. That means more than 10 percent of Texas workers are currently out of work. In the restaurant industry alone, 688,000 workers have lost their jobs. The state has paid more than $1.4 billion in unemployment benefits so far. Ironically, at the same time, there are 481,000 job openings in Texas at companies such as Amazon, Lockheed, and Baylor Scott & White (hospitals). 

Due to the large number of people out of work, North Texas food banks have handed out more than 6 million pounds of food. The Texas National Guard has dispatched 250 soldiers to work with the food banks. Half of those seeking assistance from the food banks have never needed such help before. And one of the results of unemployment that few people are talking about is how many people who lost their jobs also lost their health insurance. I fear that one of the unintended consequences of our responses to the pandemic will be the increased economic inequality in America. Will the gap between rich and poor become even wider?

To help those hit economically by the stay-at-home orders, Congress passed an initial $2.2 trillion stimulus package. The law included payments of $1,200 to most individuals. But based on the median income of families in the U.S., that amounts to only one week of lost wages. The package designated most of the money to specific industries hardest hit by the pandemic (such as the airline industry, where travel has decreased by 95 percent) and small businesses. But we have all heard the stories of large companies getting most of the money, many with little need for it. Harvard University, for example, received $9 million in stimulus money even though it has a private endowment fund totaling over $40 billion (that’s billion with a “b”).  Under pressure, Harvard agreed to return the money, as have many other companies that didn’t need it. The Small Business Administration said Monday that companies had returned $2 billion in stimulus funds. That’s the good news. The bad news is nearly 80 percent of small businesses that applied for loans under the stimulus package were still waiting to hear on their applications when funds ran out. Fortunately, Congress recently authorized a second $500 package for small businesses. Oh, but if you are a small business owner with a felony record during the last five years, or on probation or parole, don’t bother to apply. You are ineligible. Many former felons have become entrepreneurs because few employers would hire workers with criminal records. But despite having “paid their debt to society,” the federal government just gave them another slap in the face.   

With this second relief package, then, federal aid will surpass more than $2.5 trillion so far. But when asked how the country would pay for it, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin responded, “We’ll deal with [the debt] later.” Two trillion dollars equates to about $15,000 per household and exceeds all the federal government’s revenues last year. Interest on the federal debt is growing faster than any other major category of federal spending. Can America ever dig its way out of this financial hole?

But the unintended, negative consequences of our responses to COVID-19 are not just economic. Although crime is down overall, family violence and abuse are up, as are cases of depression and other forms of mental illness. Noise complaints have more than doubled. In the first week alone of the shelter-in-place order, Dallas received 606 noise complaints. And household trash is up 14 percent (the City of Dallas collected 22,374 tons of trash in March).

Even more serious, I worry about our healthcare workers who battle COVID-19 every day. Despite their valiant efforts, 80 percent of people on ventilators with COVID-19 have died. Typically, it is about half that amount. Will such loss of life affect these healthcare warriors with widespread cases of PTSD? And people are dying alone, without family and loved ones around. And you don’t have to die of COVID-19 to be affected. Just this week, my sister-in-law suddenly died from a medical condition unrelated to the coronavirus. My first instinct was to hop on a plane to be with my brother. But he then reminded me that, under current restrictions, there could be no funeral—only a small graveyard service with no more than a handful of people attending. There won’t even be enough spots for all his children and grandchildren. So we are being forced to learn new ways of grieving.

It may be years before the world gets back to those carefree days before the pandemic. I wonder if life will ever be the same. But were those days before COVID-19 all that carefree? Regardless of circumstances, life has a way of throwing things at us when we least expect it. In the film, Cast Away,[v] Chuck Noland (played by Tom Hanks) is a Federal Express executive whose plane crashes, leaving him stranded alone on a deserted island. His plight tests him physically, mentally, and emotionally. But thinking of his fiancée and their happy life ahead help him to survive. He is finally rescued but returns home to find that his fiancée, assuming Noland had died, moved on and married another. Here is Noland’s reaction to his latest unplanned event: 

My son recently reminded me of these words from the musical, Les Miserable: “Even the darkest night will end, and the sun will rise.” And so our night of COVID-19 will end; there are brighter days ahead. And as we always do, even though life consistently throws unintended consequences at us, we will find a way to survive and hopefully thrive. Or, as my father-in-law would say, “We can weather whatever together.”

[i] The original quote is attributed to Allen Saunders. It appeared in the “Quotable Quotes” section of the January 1957 issue of Reader’s Digest. The original quote is: “Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.”

[ii] La La Land:

  • Production Companies: Summit Entertainment, Black Label Media, and TK Films
  • Director:  Damien Chazelle
  • Screenwriter: Damien Chazelle
  • Starring: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, and Rosemarie DeWitt
  • Release date: December 25, 2016

[iii] American Sniper:

  • Production Companies: Warner Bros., Village Roadshow Pictures, and RatPac-Dune Entertainment
  • Director:  Clint Eastwood
  • Screenwriter: Jason Hall (based on the book by Chris Kyle)
  • Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, and Kyle Gallner
  • Release date: January 16, 2015

[iv] Titanic:

  • Production Companies: Twentieth Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, and Lightstorm Entertainment
  • Director:  James Cameron
  • Screenwriter: James Cameron
  • Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, and Billy Zane
  • Release date: December 19, 1997

[v] Cast Away:

  • Production Companies: Twentieth Century Foc, DreamWorks, and ImageMovers
  • Director:  Robert Zemeckis
  • Screenwriter: William Broyles Jr.
  • Starring: Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt, and Paul Sanchez
  • Release date: Decembeer 22, 2000

It’s 1918 All Over Again

With theaters closed for the foreseeable future, I have spent my fair share of time lately watching online movies. The masochist instinct within me led me to view some films on disease epidemics. But I consciously avoided those featuring zombies. They just didn’t seem relevant to our current situation—at least not yet.

One of my favorite sayings goes something like this: Experience is the ability to recognize the mistakes we continue to make. So, I focused on fact-based movies, wondering if we are learning from past errors or merely repeating the same ones.

I started by comparing our current pandemic to the influenza outbreak of 1918. Unfortunately, there are not too many movies about that epidemic, fact-based or otherwise. There are two insightful documentaries[i] about it, both less than an hour long. You can find them on YouTube. Here is a short clip from the CDC that summarizes the devastating effects of the 1918 flu pandemic:

Wow! The 1918 flu pandemic led to more than 50 million deaths worldwide and 675,000 deaths in America—more than all the Americans who died in combat in all the wars in the 20th century. The vast majority of those deaths came within a single year. In October 1918 alone, over 195,000 Americans lost their lives as a result of the pandemic. Amazingly, in WWI, more American soldiers died from the flu than in battle. And interestingly, the 1918 flu hit Americans between the ages of 19 and 30 the hardest.

Let’s put those numbers into perspective.

So far, the U.S has had over 4,000 deaths from the coronavirus. Compare that to the flu where each year, on average, over 30,000 Americans die. And each year, 35,000 to 40,000 people die from automobile accidents in the U.S.

But the coronavirus is far from finished. Health experts say, without our current preventative measures, COVID-19 might be the country’s worst pandemic since 1918.

So, what can we learn from the 1918 pandemic that might help us during our current crisis? At least three lessons have emerged.

Lesson No. 1: Early action is critical.

Sadly, most government officials in early 1918 failed to recognize the growing threat. Royal Copeland, the health commissioner of New York City, said, “The city is in no danger of an epidemic. No need for our people to worry.” That statement sounds eerily similar to some of the first messages from the White House. President Trump initially dismissed the potential pandemic as “the new hoax,” stating that he wasn’t worried about it, “Not at all. We have it under control.” He claimed news outlets like CNN and the Democratic Party were “doing everything they can to instill fear in people,” and they were “trying to gain political favor by saying a lot of untruths.” Now, with our late start, we can no longer control the spread of the virus; we can only hope we can “flattened the curve” to the point where our medical resources are not overwhelmed.

Lesson No. 2: Social distancing works—at least to slow the spread of a pandemic.

As we look back on the history of the 1918 pandemic, we find those cities that practiced social distancing were the places least affected by the virus. The opposite was true. Philadelphia was one of the hardest-hit locations. Immediately before its surge in outbreaks of the flu, the city held a massive parade to sell war bonds. People lined the streets like sardines to watch the participants march arm-in-arm through the downtown streets.

At least some Asian countries heeded the warnings from 1918. For example, experts predicted Taiwan, only 81 miles from mainland China, would be among those with the highest number of cases. Instead, by February 1, it had implemented travel restrictions from the mainland, as well as other social distancing techniques. Those efforts have resulted in only 77 cases as of last week—fewer than even Iceland. Hong Kong and Singapore have had similar results by instituting the same restrictions.

America has now done the same, but far too late to prevent the spread of the disease. 

Lesson No. 3: Vital Resources Become Scarce

If you have seen old photos of what hospitals looked like in 1918, you would have noticed beds, barely inches apart, crammed in warehouses, hospital hallways, and just about any place where space was available. But the most significant shortage of supplies in 1918 were caskets. Today, fortunately, we still have plenty of coffins to handle the demand. But the need for ICU beds, respirators, masks, and face shields are testing the limits of our medical readiness. Planners or government officials underestimated the extensiveness of the disease or didn’t heed the warnings. But it is fruitless now to cast stones, other than to ensure we are ready for the next one.

We can also learn a few things from a deadly pandemic that hit a significant portion of the U.S. populations during the 1970s and 1980s, and which continues today worldwide. That is the spread of AIDS. Although we don’t talk much about AIDS anymore, its numbers remain staggering. In 2018, there were approximately 37.9 million people across the globe with HIV/AIDS. Of those, 36.2 million are adults, and 1.7 million are children ( under 15 years old). An estimated 1.7 million individuals worldwide became newly infected with HIV in 2018. Fortunately, deaths from AIDS-related illnesses peaked in 2004, but still, in 2018, 770,000 persons died from the disease (down from 1.7 million in 2004).

There are several great fact-based films about AIDS that can provide insight into our current pandemic. While there were scattered AIDS cases before 1970, it became an epidemic by the mid-1970s. Sadly, since in the beginning, the disease hit mostly gays, few people noticed what was happening. Worse, not many cared. President Reagan did not even say the word “AIDS” in public until 1985—five years after taking office. Here is a scene from the film, The Normal Heart,[ii] which illustrates the frustration of researchers studying AIDS in those early days to get anyone, especially those in government, to pay attention to their work:

One scene from the movie, And the Band Played On, shows a newspaper headline quoting a person with AIDS: Let not my epitaph read, “He died of red tape.” Sadly, though, many did.  

Those who had AIDS in the late 1970s found it difficult, if not impossible, to get the treatment and drugs they needed. Although early drug trials had obtained encouraging results from some medications, and other countries had made those drugs available, the FDA had not approved them, so the only way an AIDS patient could get them was illegal. But if you had AIDS, you would do almost anything to get them. Here is a scene from The Dallas Buyer’s Club,[iii] in my opinion, Matthew McConaughey’s finest two hours as an actor:

I love the line, “Screw the FDA; I’m going to be DOA.” Fortunately, in today’s crisis, we have already approved some drugs used for other illnesses that are showing promise against COVID-19.

But as we see COVID-19 overrun the medical systems of Italy and New York City, tough choices are being made. If you have two patients, one an otherwise healthy twenty-year-old, and the other, a ninety-year-old, with pre-existing medical conditions, who should receive the bulk of the medical resources? Most people, when faced with such an unwanted Sophie’s Choice, would pick the younger and more healthy of the two.

But does similar logic apply when we attempt to balance a person’s life against a faltering economy? Currently, some economists are predicting that unemployment in the U.S. might reach 37 percent. Dan Patrick, the Lieutenant Governor of Texas, recently said this on Fox News:

 “My message is that let’s get back to work. Let’s get back to living. Let’s be smart about it. And those of us who are 70 plus, we’ll take care of ourselves. But don’t sacrifice the country.”

President Trump has taken a similar stance, although he has said it more subtly. He originally wanted the country “open for business” by Easter, despite the advice from his medical experts and other government officials that such a move would be premature and disastrous to the health of U.S. citizens. Further, the President has proclaimed in a Fox News town hall meeting:

“You can destroy a country this way by closing it down. You’re going to lose more people by putting a country into a massive recession or a depression. You’re going to have suicides by the thousands. You’re going to have all sorts of things happen. You’re going to have instability. You can’t just come in and say, ‘Let’s close up the United States of America.’”

Recently, President Trump pushed back his target date, wanting the country to be open for business by April 30.

I acknowledge that some, maybe many people will be ruined if the “shelter-in-place” orders remain in effect for a prolonged period. Hopefully, the recent economic stimulus legislation will ease at least some of that burden. And I agree the economy needs to get back on track as soon as it is practical. And with commentators fussing over Dan Patrick’s comments, most have failed to focus on his statement, “Let’s be smart about it.” Perhaps that means certain age groups or specific geographic areas open before others. I will leave it to those much smarter than me to develop a workable plan. But like the AIDS epidemic, our priority should be saving as many lives as possible. Here is an excellent scene from the film, And the Band Played On:[iv]

This scene not only focuses on the fight between health and the economy, but it also emphasizes that, in crisis, it is typically the marginalized parts of our society that are the most impacted. Will it be the same with COVID-19? I hope not.

Admittedly, I am a person of privilege, and it is much, much easier for me to sacrifice economically than most other Americans. I also believe, as did the poet, John Donne, “that every man’s [and woman’s] death,” regardless of age, race, economic status, or health, “diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind.” The great uncle of the best friend of one of my grandchildren recently died from the virus. He was 70 years old but otherwise healthy. And although I had never met him, I left that loss, for I know my granddaughter’s best friend and her family. That same week, the father of the best friend lost his job. I don’t know which news he took the hardest, but I suspect, like me, he would always prefer unemployment over the loss of a family member.  

I have watched this scene from The Normal Heart repeatedly, but I am moved to tears every time I do. With the death of anyone—whether from COVID-19, the flu, AIDS, an automobile accident, or even natural causes—I contemplate what humanity has lost.

 In a recent editorial, The Dallas Morning News said this:

“This is a moment when we can look back and say we did what was selfless and right, or a time when we can say we left others to look after themselves and thereby needlessly accepted the loss of life.

“The nation we will be when we emerge from this depends on that choice.

“We want to be the nation where the strong among us determined that it was our time to make the greatest sacrifice for the good of all. That is the America that budded in the revolution and saw us through the Great Depression and the second World War.

“That is the America we can and want to be.”

I am not so naïve to think that we can save all people all the time. Some will still die from the flu and other diseases. We will lose lives through automobile accidents, and the coronavirus will claim many of us, despite our best efforts. But in crises such as these, we need real leadership, creative ideas, and a compassionate heart to help everyone get through it, especially those who are most vulnerable, whether medically, economically, or otherwise.

So, let’s all do our part to be part of the solution.

[i] The documentaries are (1) We Heard the Bells: The Influenza of 1918; and (2) PBS’s American Experience: Influenza 1918.

[ii] The Normal Heart:

  • Production Companies: HBO Films, Plan B Entertainment, and Blumhouse Productions
  • Director: Ryan Murphy
  • Screenwriter: Larry Kramer
  • Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Jonathan Groff, Frank De Julio, and Julia Roberts  
  • Release date: May 25, 2014

[iii] The Dallas Buyer’s Club:  

  • Production Companies: Truth Entertainment (II), Voltage Pictures, and r2 Films
  • Director:  Jean-Marc Vallée
  • Screenwriters: Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack
  • Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, and Jared Leto
  • Release date: November 22, 2013

[iv] And the Band Played On:

  • Production Companies: HBO Films and Spelling Entertainment
  • Director: Roger Spottiswoode
  • Screenwriters: Arnold Schulman (based on the book by Randy Shilts)
  • Starring: Matthew Modine, Alan Alda, and Patrick Bauchau
  • Release date: September 11, 1993

Let the Consequences Follow

I realize this post might come across as political. That is not my intention. Rather than focusing on the politics, policies, or prejudices of the individuals I discuss below, I hope you will look at their courage to stand up for what they believed in and their willingness to let the consequences follow from their actions.

The initial inspiration behind this post comes from Senator Mitt Romney. I know. Some of you might dismiss my praise of Romney merely on the basis that we are both members of the same religion. Or that I am not particularly fond of the rants of our current President. But we can learn from people of courage, even if we don’t agree with their stances.

As a recent article from The Atlantic described it, Romney “is voting his conscience when doing so comes at a cost.” Of course, the vote referred to is the Senator’s decision to place his conscience over his party when he became the lone Republican Senator to vote in favor of one of the articles of impeachment against President Trump. For those that missed it, here is Romney explaining why he voted the way he did:

Romney told of a church hymn that came to his mind as he deliberated how to vote. One line from that song is “Do what is right, let the consequences follow.” That line convinced him to follow his conscience.

Someone once said, “More people would listen to their conscience if they could tell it what to say.” Romney might not have liked what his conscience told him, but he listened to it, even knowing the consequences could be severe.

Immediately following the Senate vote, his fellow Republicans castigated Romney as a turncoat. President Trump tweeted: “Had failed presidential candidate @MittRomney devoted the same energy and anger to defeating a faltering Barack Obama as he sanctimoniously does to me, he could have won the election.”

Mike Lee, Utah’s other Republican Senator, tweeted, “Congratulations @realDonaldTrump. I’m looking forward to your next five years in office. Those who voted to remove you were wrong. Very wrong.”

The President’s son, Donald Trump, Jr., stated that Romney is a member of the resistance, and the GOP should boot him from the party.

Matt Schlapp, chairman of the Conservative Political Action Conference, tweeted, “Hey Utah, you have a problem, and we @ACUConservative would like to help you fix it. #DumpRomney.”

Since Romney is not up for reelection for another five years, we will have to wait to see if the backlash ends his political career.

Sorry, but I don’t understand how you can criticize someone for doing something they believe in. How can you fault someone for choosing conscience over politics?

In announcing his decision, Romney referred to his religious faith, which led some commentators to compare him to Sir Thomas More. More served as the Lord High Chancellor of England, and was one of King Henry VIII’s chief advisors. But More was a devout Catholic and refused, on religious grounds, to acknowledge the King’s annulment of his marriage to Cathrine of Aragon and as the Supreme Head of the Church of England. Those refusals led to his conviction of treason, which ultimately led to his execution.

The film, A Man For All Seasons,[i] captures the political battle between King Henry VIII and Sir Thomas More. Here is the scene where More is convicted: 

Losing his head became the consequence that followed Sir Thomas More’s courage.

Centuries later, as Union forces battled Confederate forces in America’s Civil War, The Union’s Commander-in-Chief, President Abraham Lincoln, had to fight members of his cabinet to gain the support of the 13th Amendment, which would abolish slavery. The film, Lincoln,[ii] dramatizes this battle.  Here is one of the best scenes from the movie:

Of course, soon after the end of the Civil War, John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln, at least partly as a consequence of his standing up to the enemies of preserving the Union and abolishing slavery. 

But it is not only heads of state that stand up for what they believe is right. I had never heard of Kathryn Bolkovac until I watched the movie, The Whistleblower.[iii] That movie tells the story of how Bolkovac, a Nebraska police officer, uncovers a United Nations cover-up of a sex trafficking scandal in post-war Bosnia. In 1995, thousands of international peacekeepers flooded into Bosnia to help repair the damage done by the war. But many of these peacekeepers became perpetrators of human trafficking, sexual violence, and abuse. Bolkovac reported her findings to Madeline Rees, who worked for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. In this scene, Rees warns Bolkovac of the potential ramifications of her report: 

For blowing the whistle on these crimes, both Bolkovac and Rees faced sanctions, stigma, and termination of their careers with the United Nations. Fifteen years later, Bolkovac explained that she had suffered emotional, financial, familial, and professional turmoil since she decided to “do the right thing.” She once remarked, “People ask me continually if I regret what I did or if I would do it again, and, as time has progressed, I would now really need to think about my answer.” But then she reaffirmed her commitment to accountability and bringing the perpetrators to justice. 

Decisions of conscience often bring unwelcome consequences. American journalist, Henry Louis Mencken, once quipped, “Conscience is a mother-in-law whose visit never ends.” Someone else joked that “conscience makes a boy tell his mother before his sister does.” My favorite is, “Your conscience doesn’t keep you from doing something wrong; it merely keeps you from enjoying it.”

Let’s hold up Mitt Romey, Sir Thomas More, President Lincoln, and Kathryn Bolkovac as examples of courageous people who followed their consciences, despite realizing that consequences will follow. And let’s have the courage to do the same.

[i] A Man For All Seasons:

  • Production Company: Highland Films
  • Director: Fred Zinnemann
  • Screenwriter: Robert Bolt
  • Starring: Paul Scofield, Wendy Hiller, and Robert Shaw
  • Release date: May 3, 1967

[ii] Lincoln:

  • Production Companies: Dreamworks, Twentieth Century Fox, and Reliance Entertainment
  • Director: Steven Spielberg
  • Screenwriter: Tony Kushner (based in part on the book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin)
  • Starring: Danield Day-Lewis, Sally Field, and David Strathairn
  • Release date: November 16, 2012

[iii] The Whistleblower:

  • Production Companies: Sadsmuel Goodwyn Films, Whistleblower (Gen One), and Barry Films
  • Director: Larysa Kondracki
  • Screenwriters:  Larysa Kondracki and Ellis Kirwan
  • Starring: Rachel Weisz, Monica Bellucci, and Vanessa Redgrave
  • Release date: October 7, 2011

Find Someone to Love

A few weeks ago, my wife and I watched the Oscar-nominated film, Marriage Story.[i] We should retitle it “Divorce Story,” as it is the tale of a couple’s divorce. I found the film extraordinarily frustrating. The movie began with each spouse expressing what they loved about the other. First Charlie:

Then Nicole:

With so much to love between the two of them, Charlie and Nicole lead us to believe they will work things out. And even though there are a few negatives in their expressions of love, the positives far outweigh them. If they will only listen to each other, this is a marriage that can make it.

Or so I thought.

I soon learned that expressing what they loved about each other was the result of an exercise suggested by their couples therapist, but things break down, and they never get a chance to hear what the other said about them until it’s too late.

No matter. Nicole and Charlie remain confident they can work things out between them.

But then the lawyers get involved, battle lines are drawn, and compromise becomes impossible. The marriage crumbles beyond repair, and I become embarrassed to be called a lawyer.

This week I also watched the remake of Alfie[ii] for the first time. The film is about a young man who is looking for love, but being unwilling to commit to anyone, he confuses it with sex. The film is far from one of my all-time favorite movies, but I did enjoy this scene where Alfie gets some unsolicited advice from an older man who just lost his wife:  

“Find someone to love and then live every day as if it were your last.” Good advice, for sure. And notice Joe says find someone to love, not fall in love. Too often, we only want to fall in love, as if it were a passive state you live in. But true love requires action. We must love someone, not just be in love. And then live every day as if it were our last.

And I also found Joe’s last statement in this clip to be thought-provoking. In discussing his relationship with his departed wife, he says, “We were not that fond of each other. But we were very close if you know what I mean.” Joe’s statement reminded me of what a good friend and therapist, John Dehlin, once told me: “If you and your spouse are the same, there is no need for one of you.” In other words, the best relationships are those where each partner’s differences compliment the other; not where both partners end up the same.

Here is the final scene of Alfie, where the lead character realizes that all his past relationships have been about what his previous girlfriends gave to him, and how he gave nothing in return (no need to watch the credits unless you like to hear Mick Jagger sing):

Alfie concludes that he has a lot going for him, but he lacks one thing: peace of mind, which I interpret as true happiness. He then asks, “What’s it all about?”

So, in honor of upcoming Valentine’s Day, and to help answer Alfie’s question, I set out to discover, when it comes to our love relationships, what’s it all about?

I began by asking my family what’s the best marriage advice they have heard or given.

One of my favorites is from my sister-in-law. “If you have to argue, argue naked.” That advice alone might save many marriages. But loving someone usually requires us to dig a little deeper.

My nephew offered this great advice: “Something that helps me to find joy and contentment in my marriage is to inwardly focus on me being my best self while striving to be generous and patient with my wife. People fall out of love when they impose their expectations on the other.”

My daughter emphasized that it is often the little things that matter most. “Find someone always willing to take care of you, no matter the circumstances. Someone who will bring you water, your toothbrush over and over again, and rub your back when you are in one of your least pleasant states. And not only do it but do it willingly and with an attitude as if there is no place they would rather be.”

My daughter continues: “It’s ok to ask for what you need in your marriage. That goes with anything as little as, ‘Please, can you take out the trash?” to bigger things like, ‘I need you to acknowledge my feelings and validate the way I feel.’ Your husband or wife can’t read your mind. And they don’t love you any less because they can’t. Instead of getting upset that they aren’t doing what you want them to do, ask for it. I think we get caught up in the fairy-tale love that our partner will always know what we need and do everything we want them to do and all this would happen because they love us, but that’s not reality. I’ve learned that our marriage is a lot better when we communicate what we need and stop huffing and puffing around while we wait for the other person to magically know what we want.”

John Dehlin also taught me there are three common myths people tell themselves about their spouse:

1.    You belong to me, and I belong to you (our wants/needs/interests need to be the same).

2.    You’re going to meet all my needs.

3.    If you don’t achieve numbers 1 and 2 above, it means you don’t love me.

John’s comments are similar to the psychoanalyst, Esther Perel, who said that, up until the 1970s, we used to think of our partners as fulfilling just one part of our lives.  Now, we subconsciously expect a soul mate who fills all of our needs.  They need to be our best friend, our confidant, our intellectual resource who’s always reading the same books, our passionate lover, our co-parent, and also make us a better person.  If they are not doing all this, then we feel cheated or they aren’t the “one” who must still be out there somewhere.    Likewise, if we aren’t meeting all these needs for our partner, we have this identity crisis of not being “good enough.” 

The TV miniseries, Howard’s End (based on the classic novel by E.B. Forrester), has a great scene that emphasizes these points and teaches us a more realistic way of approaching marriage. In this scene, Margaret tells her sister, Helen, about her recent engagement to Henry Wilcox. Helen is not pleased to hear the news. In response, Margaret says:

There’s a wonderful feeling knowing a real man cares for you. Remember, I have known and liked him for a long while now…. I know Mr. Wilcox’s faults. He’s afraid of emotion. He cares too much about success. Too little about the past. I’d even say spiritually, he’s not as honest as I am…. I don’t intend for him or any man or any woman to be all my life. There are heaps of things in me that he doesn’t and never shall understand. So with him. There are heaps of things in him, more especially things he does, which will always be hidden from me…. I don’t intend to correct him. Or to reform him. Only connect. That is the whole of my sermon. I have not undertaken to fashion a husband to suit myself, using Henry’s soul as raw materials. It would be contemptible and unfair.     

Here are a few more ideas from my family and the experts:

  • Remember, no one wants to be married to a teacher, a parent or a missionary (typical roles we play in relationships). We want a partner, a friend and a lover. (John Dehlin)
  • There is a difference between criticism and a complaint. Criticism is an attack on one’s identity (you are a lousy person vs. you never put the toilet seat down.) (John Gottman)
  • The ratio of positive comments to a spouse compared to negative ones needs to be twenty to one. Humans remember criticism much more than praise. Said another way, an ounce of criticism equals a pound of praise. (John Gottman)   
  • The great secret of a successful marriage is to treat all disasters as only incidents and no incident as a disaster. (Harold Nicolson)
  • Choose your battles wisely. The only certainty in relationships is that there will be times when your blood beats red. But when it comes to small disagreements with your partner, you’re better off just shutting up. (Michael Thompson)
  • If you were paddling a canoe together, the important thing is that each paddle in the same direction. In marriage, if each has a different goal, they will always be in trouble. (Dr. Paul W. Popenoe)

Food for thought for all of us. If you have some great marriage advice, please share it.

In closing, remember these words from Justin Bieber (yes, that Justin Bieber): “Flowers are great, but love is better.”

[i] Marriage Story:

  • Production Companies: Heyday Films, Netflix
  • Director: Noah Baumbach
  • Screenwriter: Noah Baumbach
  • Starring: Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver
  • Release date: December 6, 2019

[ii] Alfie:

  • Production Companies: Paramount Pictures and Paralex Productions  
  • Director: Charles Shyer
  • Screenwriter: Bill Naughton
  • Starring: Jude Law, Sienna Miller, and Susan Sarandon
  • Release date: November 5, 2004