A Cold Day In Hell

A cold day in hell? It was more like a week. Of course, I am talking about the devasting snow, ice, and freezing temperatures that hit most of Texas in mid-February. On Thursday, February 11, the precursor to disaster occurred when an icy freeway led to a 133-car pile-up on I-35W, leaving at least six persons dead and 65 others injured. Within hours of the crash, 26 fire department vehicles, 80 police cars, and 13 ambulances came to the scene. The cold then went from bad to worse. The temperature dipped below freezing in the afternoon of Saturday, February 13, and remained there until midday Friday, February 19. We reached the “low of the lows” temperature of three degrees on Tuesday, February 16, freezing our water everywhere, as this photo from The Dallas Morning News attests:

As if the frigid cold wasn’t terrible enough, Texas turned into a third-world country. Most of the state experienced power outages (affecting over 40 million persons), some for hours at a time and some for days. Temperatures inside some homes dipped into the forties. Pipes froze, and some exploded, flooding homes that were already forming icicles from indoor ceiling fans. Municipalities issued boil water notices, and bottled water and foodstuffs on grocery store shelves disappeared faster than toilet paper during a pandemic.

Inventive Texans tried almost anything to stay (or get) warm. In the dark, families huddled around gas fireplaces and gas stoves. Some built fires using any wood they could find, including furniture. We brought charcoal grills inside to cook on and to help warm us. It is little wonder that hospitals treated more than 300 carbon monoxide poisoning cases during the cold week in hell. And when all else failed, people layered-up their clothing and smothered themselves in blankets. And through it all, electricity rates soared in Texas’s deregulated system, with some consumers facing bills well over five thousand dollars (and at least one topping $17,000) for a week’s worth of unreliable electricity.

It all reminded me of this scene from the disaster movie, The Day After Tomorrow:[i] 

People are genetically wired for survival, not selflessness. We are motivated by self-interest, greed, power, and self-preservation, and we act accordingly—until we don’t. When we witness gut-wrenching tragedy, severe unfairness, or even just bad luck, we forget our predispositions and come together to help, comfort, and support. And a week in the cold without power and water brought out the best in many of us.

Many people with hearts the size of Texas looked after those around them. They opened their homes as temporary living quarters, turned off broken water mains, provided needed transportation, shared meals, water, and clothing, and cleaned out destroyed drywall and other debris left from broken pipes. Nonprofits and churches, working together, sheltered the homeless and established warming centers for those without heat. And many opened their checkbooks to help. George Fuller, the mayor of my hometown, McKinney, Texas, personally delivered hot water to a newborn’s mother so she could make formula. “I boiled water and put it in a thermos and brought it to her. It was no big deal,” Fuller said. It was one of many house calls the mayor made. He helped deliver blankets, water, and food to McKinney residents with frozen pipes. And he returned with more hot water for the newborn.

It wasn’t just Texans. A New Jersey plumber and his brother-in-law apprentice loaded his truck with supplies and drove over two thousand miles to Houston to repair broken pipes. After ten days, he is still there and will be until everyone has running water again. What does he charge for his services? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. He sees his work as part of his calling to help those in need.

The film, The Impossible,[ii] tells the story of a family vacationing in Thailand in 2004, separated by a tsunami. Like those big-hearted Texans (and at least one New Jersey plumber), Thai villagers reached out to help a visitor they don’t even know:

My wife and I were fortunate; we never lost power or water, although, with insurance claims projected to surpass $19 billion, I see a premium increase or two in our future. Some of my adult children and their families were not so lucky. They experienced constant power outages and, in one case, a main water line burst (fortunately before it reached their house). To those that helped them and others around the country, I give, as Maria did (played by Naomi Watts in The Impossible), a heartfelt thank you.

But the week in cold hell brought out the worst in others, including some of our politicians. Senator Cruz took an ill-timed trip to Cancun, and Tim Boyd, the mayor of Colorado City, Texas, posted this, in part, on Facebook:

“No one owes you [or] your family anything; nor is it the local government’s responsibility to support you during trying times like this! Sink or swim, it’s your choice! The City and County, along with power providers or any other service, owes you NOTHING! I’m sick and tired of people looking for a handout. If you don’t have electricity, you step up and come up with a game plan to keep your family warm and safe. If you have no water you deal with it and think outside the box to survive and supply your family with water. If you are sitting at home in the cold because you have no power and are sitting there waiting for someone to come rescue you [it’s] because your lazy[ness] is [the] direct result of your raising. Only the strong will survive and the weak will parish [sic]!”

Senator Cruz soon apologized for his trip, and Mayor Boyd has since resigned.

But Boyd’s post raises an issue all Texans must now face. What is (or should be) the government’s role in our lives? If it is not to ensure the steady supply of water and electricity, especially since we pay for these services, I am unsure what is. But to what extent?  

Governor Abbott began by playing the blame game. He first pointed the finger at ERCOT (the manager of Texas’s power grid), even though it has almost no enforcement power over electric power generators. Then it was the renewable energy sources of wind and solar (even though solar generation increased during the week). And then gas wells and pipeline operators took their turn (about two-thirds of the wells or pipelines supplying power to electric generators froze up). In truth, there is plenty of blame to go around, including Texas’s Public Utilities Commission, which up until now, has had few fingers pointed at them.

Our typical response to these failures is, “There ought to be a law.” Perhaps that is the right response, but a law to do what? Most critical issues are more complicated than we like to believe. And Texas’s cold week in hell is no exception.

Texas has prided itself on its lack of government intrusion into our lives and businesses. Free markets, with the right incentives, will motivate companies and consumers to do the right thing. Or so we thought. We experienced similar, once-in-a-decade storms in 1989 and 2011 (although the recent storm was far worse). After 2011, the Texas legislature investigated what went wrong and issued guidelines on fixing it—primarily winterizing power generation facilities. But those guidelines were voluntary. The legislature thought power generators would be financially motivated to winterize their facilities (you can’t make money if you aren’t generating power). But few, if any, did so. I suspect the generators determined it was more cost-effective to save the cost of winterizing and risk losing a few days of revenue once every ten years. Did they guess wrong? It doesn’t look like it. For example, the parent company of TXU (Texas’s largest power provider) stated the one-time financial hit it will take from the recent storm could be as high as $900 million—no small sum. But compare that to its profits of $626 million in 2020 and $928 million in 2019.

But even if the power generators had winterized their equipment, I am not convinced that would have solved the problem because so many natural gas wells and pipelines failed, denying generators the energy needed to run their plants. And the incentives for oil and gas producers seemed to work the opposite way. The natural gas supplier’s inability to meet the demand caused spot prices to spike to over $1000 per BTU from under $5 before the storm. Or, as one local oil and gas company described it: it was “like hitting the jackpot.” And most oil and gas companies have hundreds, if not thousands, of wells, so if a few froze up, there were plenty more that did not and could take advantage of the price spike. Do we now have to add another law requiring power generators and oil and gas operators to winterize their facilities? Perhaps that is the right answer. And what about the electricity marketers who are now issuing outrageous bills to their customers? Is there a law out there for them as well? And what role do consumers play? Texas residents have enjoyed energy prices significantly below those charged in other states, and many believe that is the result of deregulation. If the Texas legislature requires power generators to weatherize their facilities, consumers will ultimately pay for it. Should they be able to say they want to keep their lower bills and risk losing power a few days every ten years? But don’t forget, at least 80 persons have died now due to hypothermia, carbon monoxide poisoning, and other storm-related causes. I have no doubt the families affected by those deaths would prefer slightly higher utility bills.

I do not profess to have all the answers. I only wish to point out the complexities involved in every critical issue we face as a society. And quick reactions often bring unintended consequences. I hope our politicians take a thoughtful approach to this issue and don’t just react in the hopes they appear to the public to be doing something.

In closing, as I watched Texas’s power and water problems become politicized, I thought of this uplifting speech by President Whitmore (played by Bill Pullman) in the movie Independence Day:[iii]

I hope our government and business leaders can put away their petty differences and respond to this latest crisis, not by pointing fingers, but with thoughtful solutions after considering all of their ramifications to everyone.  

In the meantime, we have plenty of extra blankets if anyone needs one.     

[i] The Day After Tomorrow

  • Production Companies: Twentieth Fox, Centropolis Entertainment, and Lions Gate Films
  • Director: Roland Emmerich
  • Screenwriter: Roland Emmerich
  • Starring: Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Emmy Rossum
  • Release date: May 28, 2004

[ii] The Impossible:

  • Production Companies: Mediaset España, Summit Entertainment, and Apaches Entertainment
  • Director: J. A. Bayona
  • Screenwriters: Sergio G. Sánchez (based on the story by Mária Belón)
  • Starring: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, and Tom Holland
  • Release date: January 4, 20123

[iii] Independence Day:

  • Production Companies: Twentieth Fox and Centropolis Entertainment
  • Director: Roland Emmerich
  • Screenwriters: Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich
  • Starring: Will Smith, Bull Pullman, and Jeff Goldblum
  • Release date: July 3, 1996

Using the Express Pass Through LIfe

Part of my family and some friends recently took a trip to Disney World and Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. In total, there were 17 of us, ranging in ages from five to over 65. Despite our varying ages, we had a terrific time, and the excursion reminded me of two important life lessons. First, as ABBA would sing, “Money, money, money; it’s a rich man’s world.” And second, success is often dependent upon who you know.

You don’t have to be a genius to know that having money makes your life easier. I experience that every day I get in my car. North Texas is replete with toll roads. I read once that Collin County residents (where I live), on average, pay more in road tolls than anyone else in the nation. Over the last ten years, it seems every freeway in North Texas underwent construction to add express lanes, which you can only access if you are willing to pay the required toll. Can we still call them freeways? And the amount of the necessary toll depends on the amount of traffic. The more traffic there is, the higher the toll. So, as a driver, you are left with a choice: you can sit in heavy traffic and hope your road rage doesn’t take over, or you can pay the hefty toll, often reaching six dollars a pop. In short, if time is money, on North Texas roads, you need money to save time.

While most viewers consider the film Titanic[i] to be a love story, I see it also as a tragic example of the difference between the rich and the rest of us. The ship required the strict segregation of passengers by class, with the poorest relegated to its lowest bowels. Jack (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) is a poor artist in third class. When he saves Rose (played by Kate Winslet), a young woman in first-class, from a suicide attempt, Rose invites Jack to join her for dinner in first class the next night. Here is that dinner scene: 

Of course, the story ends in tragedy, as the once-thought unsinkable ship hits an iceberg. Jack dies while rescuing Rose. But just as tragic, only the first-class passengers are allowed in the lifeboats; third-class passengers are locked in their quarters below deck.

Money has become so important that some people are willing to go to extremes—even murder—to get a piece of the wealth pie. In Knives Out,[ii] a wealthy novelist leaves his entire estate to his caretaker rather than his family. Watch the family’s reaction when they hear the news: 

What do these movie scenes have to do with a trip to Orlando? At Universal Studios, we felt like the first-class passengers on the Titanic (at least before it sank!). A regular adult ticket to the park costs $165 for a single day. And if you want an express pass, too, that costs you an extra hundred bucks. Two hundred and sixty-five dollars for a single day’s entertainment per person is a hefty amount. A family of four, then, could end up paying over a thousand dollars. And that doesn’t include food, drinks or souvenirs. But we soon realized the express pass was the only way to go. Even with the park at only 35 percent capacity, you could wait almost an hour before you reached the front of the line for some rides. But with the express pass, you got to skip the line, so your hour wait turned into only several minutes. While the express passes made our trip much more enjoyable, I felt sorry for those who couldn’t afford one. But not that sad—for the fewer holders of express passes, the sooner we got on the rides. Having more economic resources than most at Universal Studios sure made our trip more comfortable and enjoyable.

I learned at a young age the importance of who you know. As I looked for a part-time job during my first year of college, I walked across the street to talk to my neighbor. He happened to be the Sr. Vice President of the Salt Lake City branch of the Federal Reserve Bank. I asked him if there were any part-time jobs there. My timing was perfect; a place in the mailroom would become available in two weeks. He then told me to go to the bank and fill out an application. I went the next morning.

I told the HR director I was looking for a job there. He then handed me a one-page application that I completed and returned to him. He then said there were no positions available at that time, but he would keep my application on file if something became available. I replied that my neighbor—his boss—had sent me. His attitude immediately changed. He ripped up the one-page application, replaced it with a four-page application, and asked me when I could start. I was the same person with the same experience and qualifications before and after I mentioned my neighbor, but saying he sent me made all the difference.

Speaking of mailrooms, in The Secret of My Success,[iii] Brantley (played by Michael J. Fox) starts work in the mailroom for a Wall Street investment banking firm. But he has greater ambitions than that.  He then has this encounter with the wife of the head of the company:  

Although the boss’s wife is willing to use her influence to help Brantley succeed at the firm, he wants to earn it. But in the end, Brantley realizes he can’t do it without help. He uses the boss’s wife to introduce him to investors who will help Brantley takeover the investment banking firm. Sometimes, it’s all about who you know.

Disney World did not allow the use of fast passes while we were there, so we needed a different way to make it to the front of the ride lines. We took full advantage of who we knew. One of the children of the friends who came with us has a disability, which allowed them to get a disability pass that would permit them to go to the front of every line. And since my family was traveling with their group, Disney made the disability pass applicable to us, too. So, all 17 of us moved to the front of every ride every time. As I said, it’s sometimes all about who you know.

A trip to Disney World and Universal Studios are trivial examples of these two rules of life. But they apply in most situations. So, my advice to young people beginning adulthood? Find a career that will provide you a comfortable lifestyle (and permit you to drive in express lanes and buy express passes), and associate with people that will help you get ahead. That, along with hard work and a little luck, is my secret to success.

[i] 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

[ii] Knives Out:

  • Production Companies: Lionsgate, Media Rights Capital (MRC), and T-Street
  • Director: Rian Johnson
  • Screenwriter: Rian Johnson
  • Starring: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, and Ana de Armas
  • Release date: November 27, 2019

[iii] The Secret of My Success:

  • Production Companies: Rastar Pictures and Universal Pictures
  • Director: Herbert Ross
  • Screenwriters: Jim Cash and Jack Epps, Jr.
  • Starring: Michael J. Fox, Helen Slater, and Richard Jordan
  • Release date: April 10, 1987

Someday I’ll be Saturday Night

If you are a fan of 1990s music, you will recognize the title above as a Bon Jovi song. The best line from the song is, “I’m feelin’ like a Monday, but someday I’ll be Saturday night.” And who among us has not been feeling like a Monday lately? President-elect Joe Biden, right after deaths from COVID-19 in America passed 100,000, said it this way: “I think I know what you’re feeling. You feel like you’re being sucked into a black hole in the middle of your chest.”

The year 2020 might not be the worst in humankind’s history, but it is the worst most of us can remember. Here are just a few of the woes we have faced this year:

  • As of December 21, 2020, COVID-19 has infected almost 18 million Americans, killing nearly 318,000 of them.
  • The U.S. unemployment rate reached a staggering 14.7 percent in April and is currently at 6.7 percent, still almost double the level before the pandemic, with 885,000 Americans applying for unemployment just last week.
  • Wildfires in western states have destroyed more than 8.2 million acres, razing more than 10,000 homes and buildings and killing at least 37 people.
  • At least 1022 tornadoes occurred in the U.S. in 2020, killing at least 78 persons.
  • There have been 30 named hurricanes and tropical storms in 2020 (the yearly average is twelve), resulting in more than an estimated $20 billion in damages.
  • About 4 in 10 Americans report they have experienced food insecurity for the first time during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • 2020 brought the loss of icons such as Chadwick Boseman, Sean Connery, Chuck Yeager, Kobe Bryant, John Lewis, Charlie Pride, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
  • The killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other people of color resulted in demonstrations in every major city in the United States, some with looting and violence.
  • President Trump has challenged election results without any evidence, undermining confidence in our democratic processes.
  • Nearly 25 percent of Americans are experiencing symptoms of depression, three times the number before the pandemic began.
  • According to a study by Columbia University, the pandemic could increase homelessness by 45 percent, an increase of 250,000 from last year. 
  • 7.8 million Americans have fallen into poverty over the last five months, while 45 of the 50 largest companies in America have turned a profit since March, and American billionaires increased their wealth by 36 percent over that same period.

At times this year, feeling claustrophobic from being quarantined in my home from time to time, I have felt a little bit like one of the Jews in this scene from Schindler’s List:[i]

I realize the restrictions and minor inconveniences I have experienced this year are nothing compared to what the Jews in Europe experienced during World War II. Still, many of us have had similar feelings of hopelessness and despair.  

There is another Bon Jovi song I like to listen to when feelings of hopelessness and despair come over me: Keep the Faith. Here are a few of its lines:

Keep the faith, don’t let your love turn to hate

Keep the faith; you know you’re gonna live through the rain

Keep the faith, though you know it’s never too late

Keep the faith

I don’t believe Bon Jovi meant keeping the faith in only a religious sense. Keeping the faith means remaining patient with an optimistic attitude, knowing things will get better. Perhaps Chuck Nolan (played by Tom Hanks) in the film Cast Away, said it best: “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?”

Here’s a scene from Defiance,[ii] another fact-based World War II movie that helps us understand what can happen when we keep the faith:

Nothing is impossible when we keep the faith. Working together, with the strong taking care of the weak, we can create miracles.

I am often amazed at how humankind can accomplish extraordinary things against what seem to be overwhelming challenges. Sometimes, though, the smaller yet tricky difficulties of our everyday routines are harder to handle. How do we keep the faith to meet those challenges? The film, Evan Almighty,[iii] tells us one way:

We keep the faith through simple acts of random kindness. And those acts of kindness can change the world. And don’t forget to do the little dance.

Recently, I have been writing my personal history. It has given me the chance to look back at past experiences and how I dealt with them. My family and I have had our share of trials and tribulations—as every family does. As my father-in-law taught me, challenges in life are mandatory, but misery is not. In other words, the important thing is how we react and respond to those trials. And through them all, we have tried to keep the faith. Here are a few examples of challenges, large and small, our family has gone through and what we told ourselves to keep the faith: 

  • When your new bride starts crying at the altar, keep the faith. Even if they aren’t tears of joy, she might one day decide that you’re not so bad after all.
  • When you and your spouse have your first real fight, and she crawls under the bed to get away from you, keep the faith. It might be a tight squeeze, but there’s room for two under there, and it is as good a place as any to apologize.
  • When someone sideswipes your car on the way to a church meeting, keep the faith. Be grateful no one was hurt.
  • When your pregnant wife’s water breaks, but she’s not due for another three months, keep the faith. Doctors and nurses can perform miracles.
  • When someone hurts your feelings, knowingly or unknowingly, keep the faith. They might not even know they hurt your feelings and would be horrified if they did.         
  • When your teenager makes a choice that you feel will lead to pain and unhappiness, keep the faith. Believe it or not, teenagers mature and, like all of us, they learn more from their mistakes than their successes.
  • When you lose your job because of company downsizing but you believe you’re better qualified than others who kept their jobs, keep the faith. It might be you needed to learn humility and empathy for others before your dream job falls into your lap.
  • When one of your best friends moves away, leaving a significant hole in your life, keep the faith. Friendship can span thousands of miles.
  • When you repeatedly invite others to your house for dinner, but not one of them asks you to their home in return, keep the faith. The joy of serving others should be enough. And if it is not, maybe your acts had the wrong motivation.           
  • When you try and try to overcome a shortcoming and, just as you think you’re making progress, you have a significant setback, keep the faith. Overcoming a bad habit is never easy, and you can find great strength in even the striving.
  • When, as an act of service, you loan your car to a neighbor in need, only to have your car broken into and the car stereo stolen, keep the faith. That’s what insurance is for. Besides, it’s just worldly.
  • When a loved one dies unexpectedly, and you didn’t get a chance to say goodbye, keep the faith. You expressed your love for them many times in many ways throughout their life.
  • When you exercise regularly but still gain weight, keep the faith. The exercise did your insides good, regardless of how you look on the outside.
  • When you try to exercise faith in every footstep of life, but sand keeps getting in your shoes, keep the faith. It’s those grains of sand that slowly turn into pearls of wisdom.

Do you recognize similar experiences in your life? If so, keep the faith. Things will get better.

In closing, here are the first and last scenes of Love Actually,[iv] which reminds us that there is more love than hate in the world, and with that love, we can always keep the faith. And by keeping the faith, soon all our Mondays will become Saturday nights.

[i] Schindler’s List:

  • Production Companies: Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment
  • Director: Steven Spielberg
  • Screenwriter: Steven Zaillian (based on the book by Thomas Keneally)
  • Starring: Liam Neeson; Ralph Fienes; and Ben Kingsley
  • Release date: February 4, 1994

[ii] Defiance:

  • Production Companies: Paramount Vantage; Grosvenor Park Productions, and The Bedford Falls Company
  • Director: Edward Zwick
  • Screenwriters: Clayton Frohman and Edward Zwick
  • Starring: Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, and Jamie Bell
  • Release date: January 16, 2009

[iii] Evan Almighty:

  • Production Companies: Universal Pictures, Spyglass Entertainment, and Relativity Media
  • Director: Tom Shadyac
  • Screenwriter: Steve Oedekerk
  • Starring: Steve Carell, Margan Freeman, and Lauren Graham
  • Release date: June 22, 2007

[iv] Love Actually:

  • Production Companies: Universal Pictures, StudioCanal, Working Title Films
  • Director: Richard Curtis
  • Screenwriter: Richard Curtis
  • Starring: Hugh Grant, Martine McCutcheon, Liam  Neeson
  • Release date: November 14, 2003

Death in the Age of COVID-19

Someone once said, “Don’t worry about getting older; when you stop getting older, you’re dead.” Well, I do worry about getting older, and I also worry about being dead. As old as I am, in the age of COVID-19, it is hard not to think about death at least a little, and I have thought about death a lot during this unusual year of 2020. I feel the same as Woody Allen, who said, “It’s not that I’m afraid to die. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” But I have thought less about my death and more about the death of others.

Let’s start with the deaths of over 240,000 fellow Americans who have died from complications from COVID-19 and the promises from our public health officials of many more deaths to come. I do not know personally (yet) anyone who has died from COVID-19. Still, my heart breaks from hearing the stories of so many families affected by losing a loved one (and sometimes many loved ones). The news of those who died alone because of quarantine requirements or healthcare workers who died trying to save the lives of those affected by this deadly disease always touches me.

So far, more than 1700 healthcare workers have died due to COVID-19. My daughter-in-law is an infectious disease doctor, so she has been front and center in the battle against the coronavirus. She protects herself well to avoid contracting the disease, but it has been hard for her (as it is for all healthcare workers) to shield herself from the mental toil associated with the disease. For many months, she took pride in the fact that she had lost no one to COVID-19, but the COVID-19 odds are stacked against even the best healthcare workers. And death has become inevitable. My wife and I have shed tears along with her at the loss of the handful of lives she has lost. We didn’t know any of them, but along with the poet, John Donne, “Every man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind.”     

But death in the age of COVID-19 became personal to me, even though the disease has not been the cause. It started earlier in the year when my sister-in-law, Jeanne, died suddenly. When I heard the news of Jeanne’s passing, I immediately called my brother. I wanted to be near him and throw my arms around him—to offer my condolences and my love. His response? Don’t come. Only ten people could attend the funeral services, which meant only my brother, his children, and their spouses could be there. Because of COVID-19, we have not even been able to grieve and honor our dead as we usually do. Through the wonders of modern technology, we could participate in the service remotely, but the Zoom feed failed, and we were able to hear only a recording of the proceedings after they occurred. And although those services contained great expressions of love for my departed sister-in-law, I felt cheated that I could not be there in person to add my voice to her praise and to share my personal experiences with her.

In the movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Fred Rogers states, “Death is something many of us are uncomfortable speaking about. But to die is to be human. And anything human is mentionable. And if it is mentionable, it’s manageable.” Psychologists sometimes encourage us to name our fears. If we can name them, they become more manageable.  I love this clip from the film, Patch Adams,[i] naming death in every way imaginable:

Patch Adams would be a welcome guest at any funeral in my family, as they are generally filled with more laughter than tears as we celebrate the lives of our lost loved ones. Although we shed our share of tears as well. But laughter can be a great comforter.

When someone dies, especially before their time, at least in our estimation, we often wonder why. Why, for example, would God take a father in the prime of his life, leaving behind a mother and three young children? Telling that mother or her children that God needed their father more on the other side provides little comfort. In this clip from P.S. I Love You,[ii] a grieving Holly (played by Hillary Swank) tries to understand why God killed her young husband:

When trying to understand God’s ways, perhaps being a Yankee fan is as good an explanation as any. Or maybe, God had nothing to do with it. As Forrest Gump taught us, sometimes “shit happens.” Speaking of Forrest, sometimes the most straightforward explanations are often the best. Dying is just a part of life, as shown by this scene from the film Forrest Gump:[iii]  

I agree with Forrest’s mother. We need to make our destiny by doing the best with what God gives us.

My wife and I recently returned home from attending the funeral of her brother, Richard. This time, the mortuary limited attendees to 60 persons, so there was room for Richard’s extended family. Over twenty years ago, Richard suffered a debilitating stroke that left him partially paralyzed. At the time, the doctors informed us that most stroke survivors like Richard die within ten years of their stroke. But Richard created his destiny, living over twice as long as expected. And he made the best of what God had left him with—by being a devoted father, a loving grandfather, a faithful companion—never complaining about the cruel hand life had dealt him.  

Although COVID-19 was not a factor in Richard’s death, it left its mark. Of the 60 people who attended the funeral, 23 ultimately tested positive for the virus. Although several of the cases were severe (with one relative commenting that she had never felt sicker in her life), no one had to be hospitalized, and all have since recovered (or are recovering). But it was another sign that life is precious and sometimes shorter than we hope for.

Soon after returning from Richard’s funeral, I learned of Cheryl’s passing, a dear friend of mine. She had battled cancer for three years. A year and a half ago, we thought she had beat the dreaded disease, but it came back with a vengeance. I had lost touch with her recently, and now I grieve that I had not been that supportive friend she could have used in her last days. So, stay close to those you love; you never know when that last chance to give a hug (or elbow bump) and express your love might be.

Jeanne, Richard, and Cheryl were extraordinary examples to me. Regardless of our condition in life, we can always do something to love and help others. In particular, Richard’s quiet dignity during the last years of his life reminds me of this scene from The Theory of Everything,[iv] which chronicles the life of Stephen Hawking, who also spent the last years of his life with a debilitating illness:  

Someday, probably much sooner than I hope or will be ready for, I will follow Jeanne, Richard, and Cheryl. The best thing about my death will be that it will also mark the end of my paying taxes. And when I die, I want to go like my father–in my sleep–not screaming like the other passengers in my car. But seriously, I have the same philosophy as my son, Jeff. I believe in life before death and don’t worry very much about life after death. If I can create a destiny by doing the best with what I have, my afterlife will take care of itself. And if there is no afterlife? Then I will still be proud of what I left behind.

[i] Patch Adams:

  • Production Companies: 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

[ii] P.S. I Love You:

  • Production Company: Warner Bros.
  • Director: Richard LaGravenese
  • Screenwriter: Richard LaGravenese
  • Starring: Hillary Swank, Gerard Butler, Harry Connick, Jr.
  • Release date: December 21, 2007

[iii] Forrest Gump:

  • Production Company: Paramount Pictures
  • Director: Robert Zemeckis
  • Screenwriter: Eric Roth (based on the novel by Winston Groom)
  • Starring: Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, and Gary Sinise
  • Release date: July 6, 1994

[iv] The Theory of Everything:

  • Production Companies: Working Title Films, Dentsu Motion Pictures, and Fuji Television Network
  • Director: James Marsh
  • Screenwriter: Anthony McCarten (based on the book by Jane Hawking)
  • Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, and Tom Prior
  • Release date: November 26, 2014

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 help@humantraffickinghotline.org. 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