“…I have always found goodness in the people I met, everywhere I went in the world.”
Chloé Zhao — Oscar Best Director for Nomadland
Seattle Times, April 26 2021
My wife Jan and I might see half a dozen movies in most years, but not during the pandemic. So it was with a blank mental slate about movies when I learned about Chloe Zhao on Monday following the Oscars. Reading the newspapers I was attracted to the descriptions of this Oscar winner for best director, her remarkable personality and her positive views on life, the above quote being an example.
Zhao is reported as having dedicated her directing Oscar to “anyone who has the faith and the courage to hold on to the goodness in themselves, and to hold on to the goodness in each other, no matter how difficult it is to do that.”
The difficulty of holding on to goodness in others is especiallyhard at this tine. My learning about Zhan’s admirable beliefs came in a week that was epic in news about police shootings of black people, including a guilty verdict for Derek Chauvin’s awful murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Chauvin might have the goodness to care about small children, but that would not absolve him of cold-blooded murder.
Police shootings of black people are not all related to race. Some come from poor training of police, some from situations where training is correctly followed, and some from sociopaths who don’t really care one way or the other about skin color.
Wc eertainly should not overlook the fact that most police officers are well trained and have good intentions. I read recently about a white officer who stopped a car driven by a black man having a child without a proper car seat. When the driver said he did not have the money to a buy a car seat, the officer led him to a nearby store and bought a seat for the child with his own money. I’m sure such stories are more common than the lurid reports of shootings, but they don’t get as much attention in the press,
A sad note, I think, is that some police officers are simply afraid of black people, and that’s a part of our culture; I can’t see that police training alone could take care of this bias. It will probably take generations of improved public education and community action before true pluralism is reached in our Ameican democracy.
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Consider the case of Donald J. Trump formerly of New York City; now completing a four-year tenure in Washington, DC, soon to be a resident of Florida or possibly a federal prison.
Reviled by many, admired by others, Mr. Trump:s followers have held steady during his time in the White House. Not just followers, but died-in-the-wool supporters who are more like members of a cult.
A stark example was seen this week, when Congress held a joint session to formally count electoral votes cast during the November election for president. Mr. Trump had a hard time accepting his loss of the presidency to Joe Biden, fighting hard to prove widespread fraud in the voting, an unsuccessful venture. Even after a Trump-instigated, violent invasion of the Congressional session to count votes, more than half of House Republicans and some Republican Senators – at the peril of their political reputations — supported Trump’s wish to set aside votes in some states that chose Joe Biden.
This man, Donald J Trump, now described by some as the worst U.S. President ever, is amazing in his ability to collect loyal followers. What is the agent that gives certain individuals this uncanny ability? It’s tempting to believe this is a case of animal magnetism, described as an invisible force possessed by all living things, but not scientifically proved..
It does seem that we are seeing something at work in cases like Trump’s. A more spectacular case is the Hitler rise to power in Germany. Another sad case is that of Jim Jones, a cult leader who led his flock to Guyana, eventdally providing poisoned Coolade that led to suiciedes and other means resulting in the deaths of 918 people. Less spectacular is a character in a nineteenth century novel, whose name is nevertheless enduring. In the novel Tilby, by George du Maurier. Savvy Svengali is a hypnotist whro seduces, dominates and exploits a young girl.. The character is so sharply drawn that svengali has come to refer to a person who, with evil intent, dominates, manipulates and controls others.
I believe the end of Trump’s term as President can be seen in the definition of that word. I think it’s a great tribute to our democracy that checks and balances among the three pillars of government held fast. But it was too close.,
In my opinion, Donald J. Trump should never have been elected President. Somehow we need to find a better system for choosing U.S. presidents, even if it needs a constitutional amendment. The sad debacles this week ought to put some spine in the backs of legislators.
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It was a lovely evening in June 1962, when I was standing with my family at a sundown event held at the Mount Rushmore National Presidents Memorial in South Dakota. We were in the early part of an educational camping trip across the United States, a party including my wife, our four children ages four to nine years, and a young Danish nanny on her first visit to America. After my five-year assignment in Europe, the children were so European that they spoke with accents. Time for them to learn about being Americans..
The trip was important for me, too. I was so touched by the flag-lowering ceremony at sunset, with a bugler playing “Taps” in the background, that tears were streaming down my face. A little hand reached up to mine. “What’s the matter, Daddy?” It was Kim, my five-year-old daughter. “Nothing,” I told her. “Nothing’s the matter.”
It is memories like this that cause me irritation when I think of all the anti-patriotic capers pulled off by our current – thankfully short-term – president. They are too many to remember completely, but one sticks in my mind because of that 1962 experience in South Dakota: the event President Trump hosted at Mount Rushmore on Independence Day 2020. There were concerns about a fireworks display so close to dry forests, and strong objections by local native groups. It was held in the midst of a pandemic, no masks or social distancing required. Among other offerings to the 7500 invitees were T-shirts featuring a bust of Trump alongside George Washington and the three other presidents featured on the monument.
Donald J. Trump has only a handful of days to continue wringing as much honesty and truth from the presidency as possible He has twisted traditions of the office and exceeded power granted to him by the people of the United States, so that he is seen by many to have undermined the democracy envisioned by our forefathers and written in the Constitution.
There is much talk about returning to normalcy, whatever that might be. My purpose in writing about these memories centers on media speculation concerning the post-Trump years. Whatever “new normalcy” emerges from the remarkable times we’re experiencing, I hope it fits the framework envisioned by the signers of the Constitution.
A writer who has caught my attention is Timothy Egan, a Pacific Northwest author whose works include opinion pieces for the New York Times. I find him an interestimg writer and thoughtful observer, talents that are really on display in “Let’s Finish the Revolution,” a column appearing in the Times on July 3, 2020.
In that piece, Egan is unkind to Trump and calls attention to the ideals outlined in our constitution. He does the latter by briefly describing why each of the four presidents was chosen to be honored in a carving on Mount Rushmore: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.
Egan wraps up his article with references to the hit musical “Hamilton,” ending with a wonderful review that brings us back to our unusual times:
“At the core of the musical is the founding (of America) — reimagined, re-mythologized, rough-edged. A mess of contradictions, like this nation on its 244th birthday.”
Now, six months after Trump’s South Dakota event, the political situation and pandemic are worse. I’m doing my best to hope for better times, keeping the American Dream alive under a new administration with people who at least know how to govern..
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Note: Timothy Egan’s “Let’s Finish the Dream” is available on his website at https://www.timothyeganbooks.com
Heard enough political news on TV and radio? Read enough about Biden and Trump in print news? Argued politics with friends and family? Then I imagine you could use a change, something to bring a smile to your face. If so, I’ve go a story summarized from a Seattle Times article of April 15 1951, and additional details from searching the Internet.,
John W. Hodgkin, a U.S. Air Force lieutenant, was a pilot with a passion for landing his light plane on high places. There’s no higher place in Washington State than Mount Rainier, at more than 14,000 feet, so he decided to land his Piper Cub on that mountain’s summit. The plane was equipped with skiis, and a fellow pilot would fly alongside to view the landing on April 12, 195.1
Things went well on the flight to the mountain, and Hodgkin’s escorting pilot observed a successful landing. He saw the brave aviator get out of the plane to take photos. But when he got back and swung the propeller for an engine start, there was no smoke. The engine wouldn’t start. Fortunately, Hodgnin had the equipment to tie the plane down on the glacier, but he was in for a very cold night with subzero temperatures.
His escort pilot reported the incident, leading Mount Rainier National Park to organize a rescue party of eight rangers, setting off to climb the mountain early the next day (It’s a difficult climb, one that has taken many lives over the years.)
Meanwhile, Hodgkin found the winds so strong at his perch on the mountain that his plane was straining against the lines that tethered it to the glacier, wanting to fly. So it was that the weary rangers on their rescue mission did not find the expected plane at the summit of Mount Rainier. The pilot had simply taken off the hold-down lines, given the plane a push downhill, and started flying when he hit an updraft at the edge of the glider.
The park rangers returned to their mountain station. The next thing they heard was that Hodgkin had made a dead-stick landing on frozen Lake Mowich, still within the park borders. While there, he managed to start the engine and returned to his launching place at Spanaway, Washington. The park rangers had failed to catch up with him, He was met, though, by a number of Air Force officers including a colonel and a lieutenant colonel.
John Hodgkin was not court marshaled for this unusual behavior, but he was fined $350 and given a six- month suspended jail sentence in civilian court. The crime? Unlawfully landing his plan in a national park.
Hodgkin was 42 years old at the time of this exploit. He survived flying with the Air Force throughout World War Two and the Korean War. He continued an interest in landing light planes at high alltitudes and made sevveral such flights including two landings on Mount Adams, the second highest peak in Washington State. John W Hodgkin passed away in Long Bfach, California at the age of 80 years.
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I hope this story brought a smile to your face, or at least a little feeling of nostalgia. It’s good to forget — at least for a few moments – a week coming that has potential for more violence, more Covid-19 stress. I pray cooler heads will keep all conflict away from our homes, from our streets, and perhaps most of all from our national capitol in Washington, DC.
My plans for a blog last Saturday went kaput. After surveying friends in Europe about attitudes there, and receiving some interesting headlines from Denmark and The Netherlands, Friday night happened. Donald Trump was sent to the hospital with Covid-19; TV and print media went crazy. My planned article was suddenly obsolete.
Much of America was unsettled, unsure, shocked by a series of events nobody seemed able to handle. Looking for something positive in this world of negativity, I remembered Timothy Egan’s Let’s Keep the Ameriean Revolution. Timothy Egan is a Pulitzer prize-winning Pacific Northwest reporter, author of eight books, and an op-ed writer for The New York Times. His piece about keeping the American revolution appeared in the Times as an Independence Day 2020 salute to those who helped foster and continue the experiment of turning a revolution into a democracy. In particular he discusses the presidents featured at Mount Rushmore National Park: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.
Egan’s op-ed was sparked by President Trump’s quixotic Fourth of July celebration at Mount Rushmore. He does not dwell on that. Rather, he uses the opportunity as a quick-brush treatment of leaders who have helped us progress from revolution towards democracy. He notes that the first two, Washington and Jefferson, were both slaveholders.t Washington uniquely freed his slaves when writing a will. Jefferson was a “slaveholding racist,” but he wrote “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence. And Lincoln assured that the truths of Jefferson would apply to four million formerly enslaved people. Teddy Roosevelt was a progressive, conservationist and naturalist, who created the National Forest Service and five national parks.
The decision about figures to carve in the monument was a lengthy and contentious process, ending up with the four presidents. They were chosen to represent the nation’s birth, growth, development and preservation. Taken together, they point a picture of a nation moving from revolution to democracy, a unique feat. Revolutions do not often accomplish their goal of finding freedom.
It is interesting to look at the periods separating these chosen presidents. Between Washington and Jefferson, it was only the four years of John Adams’ single term. From there it was roughly fifty years to Lincoln’s presidency, and another half century to Teddy Roosevelt. If this figurative presentation were continued we would have gone more than a century without naming another candidate to represent further movement towards true democracy.
Progress has been made during that century, and a candidate for the honor of a carved replication in the mountains has come forward. That was the dream and motivation behind Donald Trump’s Independence Day celebration at Mount Rushmore. But Trump’s approach to leadership has been autocratic, moving us away from democracy. He most certainly will never realize that dream.
My curiosity fashions a hypothetical exercise to choose another president to follow Teddy on the mountain; one who advanced democracy more than any others during the past century, who truly represented the dream of those who sacrificed in our revolution. I’ll throw Franklin D. Roosevelt or Lyndon B. Johnson on the table for starters, but there are a few more who could merit consideration.
Democratic rule has been seriously set back during Donald trump’s term as president. For progressive voters, the great hope is that Joe Biden will win the upcoming election. If that comes true, Biden will not be able to take us back where we were in a single term. Hopefully, he will be able to repair sone of the damage caused by Trump. I pray for a future electorate that is able and infirmed enough to choose a president with values similar to those of the four presidents on Mount Rushmore.
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In a couple of weeks I’ll be turning 93 years old. Ninety-three! That’s pretty old; especially thinking of some of the dangerous situations I’ve experienced, like falling out of a tall tree or being in a bad train accident.
The worst of these was twenty years ago, when I fell off a roof at home in Edmonds. Doctors at the hospital didn’t think I’d live. Doctor friends who visited me in the hospital didn’t think I’d live. But my wife Jan was a fierce advocate who told the doctors that I was much too important to let die. So I lived.
I’m sure that much of the longevity is due to my choosing parents with the right genes, but I’m kind of proud to have held on. A couple of days ago I was talking with Jan about it. I congratulated hea for keeping a secret.
“What secret?” she asked.
“I haven’t seen any plans for my birthday party.”
“What birthday party?”
“The one for my ninety-third birthday. Will it be in Edmonds or at the beach house?”
I wad using my quirky sense of humor on her, but Jan took me seriously. “What would a party look like in the midst of this Covid-19 virus thing? We’re in the Phase 2 recovery, so you couldn’t have more than five friends at home in any one week. I promise to give you a party when you’re a hundred years old We should be in the “new normal’ by then, and you might have a couple of friends left;”
It’s bad enough to be “sheltered in place” for six months, but these are supposed to be my Golden Years, when one is free of many responsibilities. I never thought I’d have so many restrictions placed on me for what I looked forward to as a pleasant time.
Last year I chatted with a long-time friend of about my age, when we wondered how it could be that we had gotten so old, remembering together that “man proposes, but God disposes.” There was no way we could predict whether either one of us would live another day or another ten years.
So we then explored how much longer we wanted to live, arriving at the same place. We both wanted to live at least long enough to be able to know the results of the 2020 presidential election. It’s looking pretty good for us so far, with only some six weeks to go before the ballot counting starts.
But for myself, I’m humbly extending the limit of how much longer I’d like to live. Since that talk with my friend, Donald J. Trump has said that if he loses the election to be president, it will be due to the election being rigged. Michael Caputo, Trump’s appointee as an administration official in the Department of Heath and Human services, topped that with an even more ominous suggestion for Trump followers:
If you carry guns, buy ammunition now, ladies and gentlemen, because it’s going to be hard to get (after the election),
Murmurings of armed conflict or even civil war worry me. I don’t want to believe anything like that will happen. But I want to know what does happen. So I am extending the goal of how much longer I want to live. And I’ll ask Jan to put Vaughn‘s Century Party in her planning calendar
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Our Fourth of July celebration at Sandy Point was a sober affair this year, with the number of guests reduced from fifty in the past to just four people. Beach fires were restricted in size, using cut firewood only, no driftwood allowed. None of our Canadian neighbors could be there since they can’t cross the border.
We enjoyed ourselves despite the changes, but that taste of an outer-world made us hungry for more. A few years ago Jan and I followed part of the U.S/Canada northern border, starting at the westernmost crossing in the town of Blaine. From there it was about sixteen miles to the next crossing, north of the town of Lynden. Remembering that adventure, I suggested another outing to the border, going from east to west this time and beginning at the border town of Sumas, twenty-eight miles from Blaine. Jan happily agreed.
The weather was perfect as we arrived in Sumas and started exploring streets heading west. Soon we were in an industrial area, found a two-lane artrrial, and then a turn to the north and the border road. We were heading west on a paved two-lane road, while on our right was another two-lane road with moderate traffic. Thse cars were in Canada, separated from our U.S. road by a thin grass strip. No fence in sight, but border patrol cars were parked at intervals.
From the description of the border you may rightly visualize that it would be easy to stop a car and walk across. Easy, perhaps, but you would quickly find yourself in handcuffs, heading to the nearest border patrol facility. I’ve been assured by someone who knows, that the border is covered not only by the patrol people posted there, but by electronic surveillance and helicopters
The adventure of this day on the border road happened while traveling further along. We came to a spot where westward travel had to turn south, mirrored by the road in Canada coming from the north before turning east along the border. The distance between the Canadian and U.S. roads was still narrow, with a double guard rail just where the separate roads turned. What made this trip special was the fact that there were people in civilian clothes sitting with coffee cups in hand on either side of the guard rails.
I love Jan for a shared curiosity about people and events. A difference between us is that she is more likely than I to satisfy that curiosity. She was driving and stopped suddenly. “Did you see that? I’ve got to find what it’s all about.” With that she approached the little group, a man on our side of the border, two woman on the other, using her standard approach in such situations.: “Do you mind if I ask you a question?”
It turned out that the man was American, engaged to one of the women on the Canadian side for sixteen years She was holding a cat in her lap. With the border now closed, they brought coffee to this intersection about once a week. Comfortable with their coffee and camp chairs, they had found a way around the border closure.. What a picture of “hands across the border.”
As this is written, the dark cloud of Covid-19 is further spreading gloom across us. On this short trip, Jan and I found a sliver of light, a reminder that the human spirit has a way of overcoming the woes that trouble us. We ended the trip at the Blaine border crossing, location of the Peace Arch Park. A similar park lies just across the border on the Canadian side.
Both parks are dedicated to treaties negotiated following the War of 1812, and further talks in 1844 that extended the border west along the 49th parallel to the Strait of Georgia. Our little sliver of light shone, in fact, as a result of those treaties. Let’s hope that we’ll get control of Covid-19 reasonably soon, with a bloom of light permitting us once again to step across a border maintained in peace for such a long time.
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As our country continues to wrestle with a novel virus taking scores of lives and doing serious damage to the economy, it is tempting to make comparisons betweens the Covid-19 pandemic and that striking the world in 1918, generally known as the Spanish Flu. Historic figures vary, but generally place resultant deaths from the Spanish Flu worldwide at 50 to 100 million, with 675,000 having died in the United States.
As of this writing, the U.S. has experienced almost 2.3 million citizens infected, and some 121,000 deaths resulting, But our pandemic is far from over, with scientists predicting higher figures in September and little hope for a real handle on the disease until a vaccine is developed. Somehow a famous Robert Frost poem comes to mind, one often interpreted as having to do with death:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
There are great medical and sociological differenes between the Spanish Flu and Covid-19 eras. There were no anti-bacterial medications available in 1918, which are in use now treating secondary infections resulting from the coronary virus. A widely used medication in the earlier pandemic was aspirin, which had been patented in 1899, and just recently had become an over-the-counter drug. It’s proper usage had not yet been developed, resulting in dosages many times current recommendations. Many deaths attributed to Spanish Flu may in fact have been caused by aspirin poisoning.
While we in U.S. at the time of Covid-19 feel safer because of advances in medicine, our problem comes more from poor federal emergency health plans. Probably the greatest shortcoming in that regard comes from a shortage of testing kits needed in the millions for adequate planning by scientists and other health specialists.
In researching these differences, I am most troubled by non-medical responses in the two different eras. The 1918 virus hit at a time coinciding with the end of World War I, when patriotism was high and medical facilities were still overburdened by war-wounded still needing care in large numbers. Covid-19 comes at a time when true patriotism seems low in the concerns of a political leadership that has split the nation into a nearly complete lack of bipartisanship and fostered even more of a gap between the haves and have-nots.
The most peculiar attitudes resulting from the differences between these pandemic eras have been in the use of masks to protect others from the dangers of the diseases. In 1919, the use of masks for that purpose became quite common. In addition to the medical advantage, wearing a mask at the time became seen as a sign of patriotism, apparently coming as a natural feeling at the end of World War I. To illustrate how seriously this was taken, in at least one instance a health worker shot a man not wearing mask.
I expect historians may find the U.S. attitude about masks even more unusual. It’s commonly seen as split roughly between Democrat and Republican adherents, the Democrats encouraging the use of masks, and Republicans claiming they are not needed. I trust those future historians will also find that President Trump does not wear a mask, and reportedly feels that wearing one because of concerns about Covid-19 “isn’t manly.”
Readers will not be surprised to know that I wear a mask on all the appropriate occasions. Besides the medical benefits, I consider it a part of being patriotic.
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As I write these words it’s the nineteenth day of nationwide protests against racism – sparked by the incredibly cold-blooded murder of George Floyd, no relation to the lady of the title. I’m certain that people finding this blog will have read, seen and heard a lot about that. I promise not to add to protest news. Rather, I want to talk about an underlying factor in the amazing response we are witnessing:
For starters, consider this: While many Americans walk around thinking what a great country we have, we in fact trail others less heralded, but well in advance of thc United States in important public health and education issues,. As a nation, compared to other high income countries, we are less than adequate in making good public health available to all our citizens.
In the midst of the protests, we’re trying to understand and live with the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s been found that black people are suffering from the disease more than whites. It doesn’t take much research to figure out that the difference has nothing to do with the color of a person’s skin. It’s due to the fact that our black population suffers from more underlying health conditions that increase the chance of contracting coronavirus flu. Diabetes, obesity, heart problems and other health issues are damaging black people more than other races. And that goes along with poverty.
I truly believe that an important way out of poverty is public education. We again trail many other countries in the quality of public education provided, and its equitable reach into all communities. The above title, ”Be Like Mrs. Floyd,” refers to the late Theresa Marie Floyd, a distinguished black educator who served the Seattle School District for many years in positions ranging from teacher to principal, and as a mentor to teachers. She stood tall in promoting good education for all children. Mrs.Floyd happened to be the grandmother of several children who attended classes where my wife, Jan, taught in a school known as Martin Luther King Elementary School.
Mrs. Floyd was a shining example of how to foster expectations, and the resulting success for the children. One summer when her grandchildren were attending MLK Elementary School, she joined with her son David, father of the grandchildren, in planning a six-week educational trip across the United States, visiting historic black colleges, major cities and other places of interest. She and David traveled with six children in a passenger van, acting as travel and educational guides to four grandchildren and two neighborhood kids. making sure that the children learned as well as had a good time. The boys and girls were required to keep a journal, writing about what they experienced during the day, and sharing it with the others in the evening.
Mrs. Floyd and David had an exceptional determination that their girls would do well in life. And how true it has been, All of them have college degrees, and three I know have executive positions in companies ranging from retail to fashion and real estate.
That’s an extreme example. (As a father of five children who have been dragged around nationally and internationally, I’m in awe of the folks who made that trip possible.) But I use it because it proves the theory of giving children expectations is an important part of education. In a more modest way, Jan and I are lucky to have been able to provide scholarships to many children she taught at MLK Elementary School. Some came from sad circumstances, but with a little help many have become successful adults
I believe that Mrs. Floyd’s example along with our own experiences show what can be done to help people realize their potential. While we deal with racism it’s important to understand the roots of discontent shown so clearly now in the protests. I hope that discussions arising from this national surge of protest will look at poverty as the root of many evils, and education as an important means of helping the poor rise above.
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I hear the ripping, visualize the fabric parting as our nation comes apart in this post-George-Floyd-killing that is swamping the media. It’s an astounding event that I think is fueled by poverty as well as the racism label more often used in the protests.. It’s a hugely complicated subject, and I’m sure my readers have heard many opinions based on their media choices.
Rather than add my own voice to that confusion, today I’d like to share a couple of thoughts from people who live in much different communities, offering their perspectives about what is happening around us.
The first comes from a valued friend with a shared interest in community college education and community activism. She lives in southwest Washington State and is the wife of a labor leader. The following is her comment on a Facebook posting dealing with police use of r.ubber bullets and other aggressive moves against peaceful protesters.
I do not approve of a riot just to burn and rip things apart BUT since I’m a white woman I have no personal knowledge of what it’s like to live the life (many blacks) have had to live. To be afraid for your children’s life, to be afraid for your husband, father, brother’s life’s, to be treated as less than , to be a subject of a crime in others eyes just because your skin is darker! I can’t say I truly understand but in my heart I cry and shudder for the inadequacy of the live’s we live! Does it really make someone less because of a skin color NO! Does it make white better?God No! In fact there is proof in some actions this is true! I wish I could really articulate what I truly feel and then it still wouldn’t be living it.
I have a granddaughter living in Brooklyn NY. She has a degree in urban studies and works in the field. She is trying to stay as safe as possible while joining in the protests, wearing a mask and going out with a companion. Here are just a few of the lines she’s shared about those experiences:
I am in the most privileged position imaginable and even I am exhausted and enraged and feeling traumatized from all the things I’ve seen and heard this week It never occurred to me that I’d see something n my lifetime as bad as the video clips and photos from my high school history classes.
Such disparate lives joining in what some have called a collective scream.
Just as I finish this, former President Obama has completed a fifteen minute, optimistic talk to the nation that has a feeling of much-needed leadership. I think we all hope that the protests about George Floyd’s death will result in some important changes.
If my muse and I hold together in the foreseeable future, I hope to share some thoughts about real needs to accompli some change, beginning with a story about a remarkable individual named Floyd.
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