Watch Out for Spin

Last Monday, in Brooklyn around 12:30 in the afternoon, two mothers who are friends crossed a well-marked crosswalk at a light when it was their turn to walk. One mother, Ruthie Ann, was 7 months pregnant and carrying her 5 year-old daughter across the street. The other mother, Lauren, was pushing her 1 year-old son in a stroller. Later street videos show that even though the cars were initially stopped a few feet from the crosswalk, all of a sudden a white Volvo started to accelerate in spite of the red light, right into the people crossing, hitting the two mothers and both of their children, who were tossed like rag dolls into the street. The pregnant mother ended up lying facedown in the middle of the street with blood coming from her head. The other mother was able to get up and try to give CPR to her son who had flown out of the stroller, which ended up being dragged by the car. A medical resident happened to be there, so he did compressions while the mother screamed and blew oxygen into her son. Both kids ended up dying from their injuries but the mothers survived, including the unborn child. I can’t imagine what they are both going through right now as they try to come to terms with what happened, and try to heal their broken bodies and spirits.

What struck me about this story is how the news story has been spun. This is a story that touches on a lot of different issues: money and fame and race and religion and illness came into play. The driver who killed the children apparently has not be prosecuted because she is a white middle-aged woman who has a medical history of seizures, as if that explains anything. My cousin had seizures after the birth of one of her children, and was forced to give up her license. But in this case, the driver wasn’t even scolded. Her license ended up being temporarily revoked, after some public pressure, but that’s about it. If she had been a black man driving with a medical condition, they would have pressed charges. In addition, I thought it was strange how the press emphasized continually how the pregnant mom was a Famous Broadway Actress and the other woman was “a friend” and how both moms had Go Fund Me pages that had been set up, but the famous woman had twice as much money as “the friend”– with one accruing $414K so far and the other “just” $221K. While I appreciate that people want to do something supportive in a time of tragedy to show that they care, should enough money be raised to fund a new house? It kind of seems like trading money for a dead child to me. In addition, various celebrity publications have been writing about what Ruthie Ann Miles’ net worth is, forgetting that there are two dead children and a reckless driver who hasn’t been prosecuted. Instead, people have focused on how much the famous actress has and how much she’ll get from her Go Fund Me account.

There’s also the issue of the moms’ races– it’s interesting that one is Asian married to a white guy and one is white married to an Asian guy, both with Eurasian children, and no one mentions it, which I think shows how far we’ve come in terms of race. But what if these moms had been black women from the projects, or they were migrant workers carrying their kids after being in the fields? I don’t think there would be a story or a Go Fund Me page. Finally, the issues of religion is interesting too. Ruthie Ann is apparently very religious and believes that the two dead children are in heaven with Jesus, but the other woman is apparently really suffering mentally. I don’t know what her beliefs are, but I would think it would be hard to be friends with someone who has such religious certainty when you in fact may not share that. Not everyone believes that everything happens for a reason and that your child who was murdered is suddenly in the arms of Jesus.

Finally, while locals are up in arms about the crossing not being safe– I’m not sure why it’s not safe but another pedestrian was killed there last year– people continue to walk down the sidewalk and across the street while looking down at their phones, trusting that all the cars will stop. I was thinking about this story today, noticing how often pedestrians are walking and not looking where they are going. As for the woman with the seizures, her license should have been taken away from her years ago. People with certain medical conditions should not be able to drive, no matter how much compassion we may have for them, just as crazy people shouldn’t have guns.

To find your world stage, make sure you notice the spin on any news story. Notice how often there is an implied hierarchy of values: 1) Fame 2) Money 3) Upper class white (or Asian) 4) Mothers. The quicker you understand the spin of the story, the sooner you can see what our society values, and how easily we get distracted by money and fame and forget the more important story, which is that two innocent children were murdered by a reckless driver who never should have gotten behind the wheel of a car that day.



Don’t Have the Time

When my neighbor was dying of cancer, she wrote in a blog about the fact that she had put so much on hold, like having fun and spending time with her young kids, because she was working long hours to build her career. She was one of those ambitious high-achievers who had a plan and checked everything off her list, thinking that if she worked hard enough that everything would fall into place. She thought she had all the time in the world to focus on her career. Many people can relate to that. It never occurred to her, however, that she would get aggressive breast cancer at age 37 and be dead three years later.

There were two things that struck me about that. One was how often smart, hard-working, talented people feel that they can control their life path, as if hard-work somehow keeps bad things from happening. I did everything right in my pregnancy with my son, for instance, not even taking a Tylenol when I had a headache, but he still was born with capillary malformation and required years and years of skin procedures with anesthesia. I eat and take good care of myself, and yet still managed to get an inflammatory eye condition six years ago that has baffled doctors and left me, on bad days, feeling hopeless that I’ll ever find a solution. I started to blame myself, thinking that maybe I wasn’t eating healthfully enough, until I heard about a friend’s relative who ran marathons and ate kale (which I don’t like) and died of a brain tumor before she was 40.

The other thing that struck me about my neighbor was how fearless she was once she knew she was dying. She wrote that she used to be scared about not doing well on an exam or in her work, but then would say, “What’s the worst that can happen?” But when the worst that can happen is that you will die a slow horrifying death in a year or two after many painful treatments? That’s terrifying at first, and then ultimately freeing. When I knew this neighbor, it was almost entirely after she had been diagnosed, and she was the most present, joyful mom, having friends over, playing in a teepee with the kids, doing arts and crafts, baking and going on trips. One of my favorite song lyrics is from Me and Bobby McGee: “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.” There’s a lot of freedom in no longer having the time to care what others think.

But what if you didn’t have to be dying to become fearless? I often tell my clients, who are worried about what people will think, that they just have to keep forging ahead, since you don’t want to look back on your life and wonder why you didn’t try that new career, or leave the bad marriage, or take that trip. I have clients who keep thinking that they aren’t talented enough or educated enough to get the career they want, when from my vantage point, they are all those things and more. And I’ve said before, there is no Permission Fairy that you have to wait for.

I used to have a real fear of failure, so I found myself playing small, until I realized that I needed to take risks. If I wasn’t doing things that scared me, then I needed to do more. I got my second CD out, I pulled my kids out of school for 6 months to travel the world, I got certified in coaching, and I started a coaching business separate from my vocal coaching/music business. I got clients from all over the world and coached people on their business and their relationships and their health and their creativity. I started performing. I started setting more boundaries, like the fact that I don’t want to have traditional Christmas for a number of years and would rather travel with my family instead. And you know what, the sky didn’t fall in. I reminded myself of the famous quote: “What you think about me is none of my business.” It was tempting to wait until my eye pain had healed or to wait until the kids were at better ages (whenever that is), but there will always be a reason not to do something. The fact is that none of us has the time to wait, even if we get to live healthfully into our late 90’s as both my grandmothers did.

Anne Lamott wrote in Operating Instructions about her first year of parenthood as a young mom, during which her closest friend was dying. At one point, Anne tried on a dress for her friend, but found herself asking if it made her hips look too big. Her friend said to her: “I really don’t think you have that kind of time.” It wasn’t that her dying friend didn’t have that time. It was that Anne didn’t either. None of us does.

One of the things that is good about living in such a terrifying America right now is that citizens are FINALLY waking up. We didn’t wake up after 20 innocent 1st graders were murdered, or after many other massacres, but somehow after the recent Florida shooting, we are waking up and we are mad. I received messages from both of my kids’ schools about their active shooter drills that they run regularly, and I’m grateful that I don’t have tiny children at this point who are living in this kind of fear. Once you get to a point where Congress is just out to make money and pay back their donors, where housing is so expensive and good jobs are so few that the homeless and drug-addicted are growing exponentially, and that children are getting massacred with machine guns, then it’s easier not to care what the neighbors think. We don’t have the time to waste. Now is the time.






After the recent school shooting in Florida, where another 17 students were mowed down by a disgruntled student with an AR-15 weapon, President Trump tweeted his “prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting. No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school.” Later he stated: “Our entire nation, with one heavy heart, is praying for the victims and their families. To every parent, teacher, and child who is hurting so badly, we are here for you — whatever you need, whatever we can do, to ease your pain.” And then he went off and played golf. This is the man who received 30 million dollars from the NRA and was quoted as saying (and I paraphrase): “You were good to me, so I will be good to you.”

There have been over 10 school shootings in America in the past six weeks alone, and guns have been fired in schools 18 times since 2018 began. There were 58 shootings since the beginning of the school year, according to Everytown, a gun control advocacy group. Of the 13 worst school shootings in America’s history, only three happened in the eighties or nineties. The rest were all within about 10 years, with five happening in a little over two years: Dec 2015-Feb 2018. The biggest two happened in the last two years as well with the Las Vegas and Orlando shootings.  (See The Guardian Feb 15, 2018.)

So I’m guessing thoughts and prayers aren’t working. We can’t really leave this up to God when we have mostly Republican congressmen receiving huge gifts from gun advocacy groups. According to, Republicans received 5.9 million in gifts and Democrats about 100K in the 2016 election year, with top donations going to congressmen like Paul Ryan, who personally received $336K.

I’m thinking that instead of thoughts and prayers, that hearing this might be more helpful: “I’m sorry that my greed and my need for power made me accept blood money that is now killing your children.” That would be a start. And then outlawing and buying back all semi-automatic weapons, that are not helpful for self-defense or hunting, would be the next thing to do. But it begins with the word Sorry. Or how about “I’m sorry we cut taxes for corporations and billionaires and won’t have enough money to feed the poor, but at least we’ll be giving them food they don’t want or can’t eat in little boxes somehow delivered to their front door?”

I’ve been thinking about this issue of apology a lot lately in my conversations with clients. So many of my clients, who are smart and talented and hard-working, would benefit from hearing Sorry from emotionally abusive parents, in two cases, who never heard what the client needed as a child, so these clients struggle as adults to believe that their needs are valid. Or how about another client hoping that her father will stop negating the choices she is making, by constantly trying to steer her to another path, even though she’s doing great? Or how about my friend whose husband has been emotionally abusive for years– what if he apologized and got help? Or the friend with the husband who has been cheating for years? “I’m sorry I betrayed you and it’s not your fault. I’m going to get help” would go a long way.

I’m kind of tired of thoughts and prayers. After bouncing around a lot of churches over the years, trying to find our “church home” we finally gave up, after the last very liberal minister tried to convince me that hiding illegal aliens was more noble than giving to the Americans who are starving and homeless in our own backyard. I think it felt sexier to him to get caught up in the Sanctuary Movement, even though it was against the wishes of many parishioners. As I said to my kids, “If every American was fed and clothed and safe and warm and had a good job, then we could give amnesty to all these new poor people who snuck in illegally. But if we can’t take care of our own– all the Native Americans who were here first and all the African Americans whom we stole and forced onto ships– then we have no business hiding foreigners. Hearing a Sorry from our minister might have allowed us to stay, but in the end, he felt like he was part of the Underground Railroad, saving people who didn’t belong here and forgetting that he was abandoning all the ancestors of slaves in our own neighborhood.

As you think about your world stage, remember to listen not just to what people say, but to what they do. Learn to follow the money to understand people’s actions. If it’s not about money, it’s about power for so many people sadly. But if you can stand up for what is right and expose the hypocrisy of all the greedy, power-hungry people offering thoughts and prayers, as opposed to real life-changing solutions, then you will be on your way to claiming your world stage.









Remember the Dream Again

A year ago, I wrote about Martin Luther King and what a hero he was, not only to black people but to all of us. I am re-posting this again this weekend, because it is more important now than ever. Americans have spent a year feel assaulted by the bully we have in the White House. We already know that Trump is sexist and racist, but his horrible comments this week about not wanting people from s*** hole countries is disgusting. I feel ashamed to be American, and I can only imagine what Martin Luther King would have thought. I hope that we all find the courage to start marching in protest against all the dismantling that has been done already, from our environment to foreign policy.  It is ironic that these comments were made on the eve of MLK Day, given that this day honors a man who stood up for the poor and the oppressed and who understood the power of language to unite or to tear down.  He cared about justice and building a better world for everyone, not about making more money at others’ expense. In honor of Martin Luther King, here is the post I wrote exactly one year ago, celebrating one of my heroes. May we all remember that freedom is not something we can take for granted, and we must fight for it every day.

On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech and none of it was planned.  The night before, King asked his aides for advice about the speech, as to whether he should use the “I Have a Dream” line, which he had used a few times before.  His advisor, Wyatt Walker, said, “It’s trite, it’s cliche.  You’ve used it too many times already.” The next day, King did not plan to use it.  He wanted something as powerful as Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address but just couldn’t seem to nail it.  When he reached the podium, it was almost 90 degrees and the crowd of 250,000 people had been standing in the heat for hours.  King was 16th on the program, almost at the very end.  As Norman Mailer wrote, “there was… an air of subtle depression, of wistful apathy which existed in many. One felt a little of the muted disappointment which attacks a crowd in the seventh inning of a very important baseball game when the score has gone 11-3.” King delivered a rather staid address, reading from his notes, but it clearly wasn’t as passionate as other speeches he had given in the past.  As he neared the end, Mahalia Jackson, who was behind him, having sung earlier, cried out: “Tell ’em about the dream, Martin!” King paused, put down his notes and decided to preach like the Baptist minister he was, and the rest is history:

“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood…I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character… I have a dream that…one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” (The Guardian: Aug 9, 2013.)

Over 50 years later, some of the dream has come to fruition, like having a black president in the White House the past eight years, but racial tensions continue, with white cops killing innocent blacks and blacks retaliating.  Most recently in the news, there was a very sad and disturbing story of four angry black teens kidnapping and torturing a disabled white teen to seek revenge on all white people.  The ordeal was videotaped by the teens and posted to social media because I guess getting noticed for their hatred was far more important than not getting caught.  Still, it makes me so sad and angry that all these years after the Civil Rights Movement, there continues to be more racial hatred and violence.  Dr. King would be so disheartened to see this, and yet I’m sure he wouldn’t be surprised.  Racism is taught at home and anti-racism has to be taught as well.  Children don’t just grow up knowing the importance of not judging by the color of one’s skin. It has to be taught.  Children aren’t born racist.  Babies love all colors; they love people who play with them.  It is adults who teach them to be mean and judgmental and afraid of people not like them.  And we should be ashamed.

My family is fortunate in that we can afford to live in a town that is very racially and religiously diverse, with 30% Jews and many Asians and African Americans.  My son’s classroom last year was 50% non white, his teacher was Indian-American and his aide was African-American.  The year before, his teacher was Costa Rican. My daughter’s school is an international school with 75 countries represented. At her birthday party, half of all the girls spoke another language as their first language.  My husband’s best friend is Japanese, and our kids have grown up thinking that “Crazy Uncle Dave” is somehow blood related, even though we are pale white people.   My kids know that discriminating against people because of the color of their skin is like choosing friends because of the color of their tennis shoes– it’s pretty random and unfair. But not all parents teach this.  Some white children are taught to hate and fear blacks and visa versa, and that’s sad, because the cycle will never end until all of us learn and teach the right thing.

As you begin this new year, committed to finding and living your world stage, remember the brave preacher that one hot August day, who had a dream that someday black children would be equal to white.  This is also a man who took a chance, against the advice of his aides, and put his speech down, knowing he had no other words to read from, and followed his heart in order to inspire a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people looking for direction and hope.  Remember to ask yourself how you are helping Martin Luther King’s dream to live on in the way you live your life.  And ask yourself what your “I Have A Dream” speech is, and what would happen if just once, you lay down your notes and spoke from your heart.  You might just make history too.





In Praise of Soldiers

Last fall my son was asked to sing the 6th grade solo in which he sings from the perspective of a boy soldier in World War I: “My name is Francis Toliver/ I come from Liverpool/ Two years ago the war was waiting for me after school. To Belgium and to Flanders/to Germany to here/I fought for King and country I love dear.” The song called “Christmas in the Trenches” relates the events that happened the first Christmas during the Great War, when both sides stopped fighting for a brief period, left their trenches and met their enemies unarmed, trading chocolates and cigarettes, and showing photographs of back home. They sang and played instruments and even exchanged a game of football. Once daylight returned, however, the men went back to war. I worked with my son as he prepared to inhabit this character to have him understand what it must have been like to be just a teenage boy not much older than he is, stuck in the trenches, cold and muddy and wishing for a real Christmas. That one night of rest from fighting must have been magical.

It’s easy to forget on Veteran’s Day that this is not just some random holiday that allows us a day off, but is the anniversary of the signing of the armistice, which ended the Great War that boys like Francis Toliver slogged through. It, of course, includes other soldiers from other wars, but the date is tied to the end of the Great War, which was called that because it never occurred to anyone that there would be another war. Once we had World War II, the term World War I replaced the term Great War.

Today’s boys have no idea what it was like for those who were the right age before these big wars. They didn’t have a choice in the matter. It was their duty to sacrifice their lives to defend our freedom. Today’s soldiers choose to go to war. They are not drafted, but decide to devote their lives to our country, because they want to make a difference and/or because it’s their chance to do something important and see the world. Whatever the reason, I am grateful for their sacrifice.

I think of my grandfather Horace, who left his young family to volunteer for World War II in his thirties because he felt that he had to fight for our freedom. He was among the early boats that landed at Normandy in June 1944, and described years later the terror of arriving on that beach, knowing that the Germans who were planted up the hill would just be shooting at them non-stop as they tried to make their way from the water on up. Many didn’t make it, but my grandfather somehow did. When I was twelve, I visited Normandy and I couldn’t believe how steep the hill was and how unprotected that beach was. It’s amazing that anyone made it out alive. And yet that landing was a key turning point in the war. With over 150,000 soldiers, the Allies’ successful attack created a victory that became the turning point in the war.
So today, I honor all the soldiers who have served our country throughout time.  I am grateful for your sacrifice and for the freedom you fought for, so that we could all be free. America is great because of all the soldiers who shivered in the cold, in trenches and huddled in boats, waiting for boredom to switch to terror. To all the Francis Tolivers out there, you are my heroes.

Health Is a Right

It used to be that when you took a flight, you were treated like royalty. I remember the first time that I flew to Europe when I was 12, my parents insisted that my sister and I look nice for the flight, because that is what you did then. They were right. Everyone on the flight dressed up. Flights used to be expensive and fewer people were able to fly, so you were treated in coach class then more like first class today. That was before flights got cheaper, people started wearing sweat pants to travel, and flying began to feel more like traveling by bus. Then to add insult to injury, airlines began cutting back on services to save money. You used to get a free movie and a hot meal; now you’re lucky if you get a bag of pretzels. It’s gotten to the point in which customers are starting to wonder when airlines will start charging money for oxygen.

The idea that oxygen could become a new travel expense may seem far-fetched, but in the United States, a debate is raging right now about who gets to have health care. Republicans believe that health care is a privilege, like cable tv or cell phones or owning a car. Democrats believe that health care is a right, more like oxygen on a plane that no one should ever be denied, regardless of what class they are in. What is scary to me is that neither side can see the merits of the other side, so our country is becoming more and more polarized. Democrats refuse to see the fact that there are people in our society who try to game the system, like educated graduate students applying for Food Stamps, or healthy people pretending to be sick to get Disability. And there are citizens who have four children with four different fathers as teenagers and have no way to support them, expecting everyone else to pay. But Republicans refuse to see that we are not all born with equal opportunity. A child born to a teenage addict is going to have a harder time than a child born to two educated parents who want and love him. And society needs to help those who are born less fortunate.

As I always tell my kids, “There but for the grace of God go I.” I am lucky to have the life I have, and I also know that to those who are given much, much is expected. Every religions talks about the importance of helping those who are struggling. As a society, and as a world, helping to bring others up elevates us all. And yet we have a mean-spiritedness in our discourse, an every man out for himself concept that is uniquely American, something that the rest of the world just shakes its head over. If a child is born with a disability or an older person doesn’t have the money to care for herself, do we just throw them out on the street? A compassionate society understands that if you are more successful, you need to give more to help those who can’t contribute as much. It’s only right.

As you seek your world stage, don’t ever forget that you were once a little baby, relying on the goodness of others to take care of you. Don’t forget all the people who have loved and helped and encouraged you along the way to help you get to where you are. You are not successful because you are more special.  You are where you are partly due to hard work and sacrifice, but also because of luck and timing and lots of help and well-wishers along the way. The best way to celebrate your good fortune is to think of others. Nobody chooses to be poor or to have a sick child and our country is stronger when our people are healthy. Health care should be a right that every one has access to, just like K-12 education and fire and police services. And if airlines ever try to start charging for oxygen, let’s hope that there’s a big fight, because we all have the right to breathe, just as we all have the right to health.


These are selfies passengers took from a recent flight that required oxygen mid-flight.


One Pizza

Last weekend, I was driving a bunch of 6th grade boys home from a party, and since we had some time in the car, I asked for their thoughts about education.  One of the boys had recently left his private school to be homeschooled because the school refused to accommodate such a bright student, even though the school prided itself on celebrating diversity of all kinds.  Apparently, celebrating diversity of intellect was not on their list.  This boy was disheartened by an education system, both public and private, that bends over backwards for the slower students, but does little or nothing for those at the top.  I asked the boys to imagine that our society consisted of just ten people and that all them needed a pizza every day to be fed.  I asked the boys if it would it be fair if we only gave them part of a pizza if another person needed more.  (I reminded them that special needs budgeting takes up to 40% of the budget in some cases, and the rest of the pie is dwindling.)  I said, “If you need a pizza every day to feel good, but someone else needs three of the ten pizzas, should you give up a lot of your pizza?” The boy who is getting homeschooled said sweetly, “It doesn’t cost more to stimulate faster learners; schools just have to think that it’s important.”  Even so, when I asked about the pizza, the answer was: “ONE PERSON, ONE PIZZA.” They understood that we have to look out for everyone’s needs, not just the needs of the most vocal.

I reminded the boys that this applies beyond education.  Sometimes rich people think that since they pay more taxes because they make more money, they deserve more pizza and that other people should go with less.  But with something like health care, I asked, should the younger and healthier and richer get more pizza?  Should the sickest and oldest and poorest maybe not get any pizza?  Nope: “ONE PERSON, ONE PIZZA.”  They all agreed that we are all equal, and therefore we all deserve clean air and water, and education, and access to safety, and health care.  To kids, this is a no brainer.  But somehow American adults make this so complicated. We sometimes get so focused on ourselves, that we forget that we are not the only person who has needs.  Imagine if we said that rich people deserve more oxygen because they have better jobs?  Imagine if we said that the fire department was only for people who could pay, so if you’re poor and your house on fire, tough luck?

Kids see how we are getting it wrong: that we’ve become an entitled society who has forgotten about our fellow citizens.  The boys agreed that sometimes someone needs more pizza, like if they are sick or their house burns down.  But they also agreed that it’s not alright for one group to always insist on more pizza than everyone else, whether special needs kids in education or rich people for health care. It’s crazy to me that US leaders don’t understand the necessity of pooling risk, so that the young and healthy and rich help pay for the old and sick and poor people. In that case, of course, you are paying more for pizza than the person who is poor, but in the end everyone still gets a pizza.

I’m sure that those of you reading this who are not American must be shaking your heads, wondering how the richest country on earth could be that stingy with its citizens.  You also must be asking yourselves how we can be inventive and do great things with our lives if we’re worried about losing our health care. That fact is that we can’t, anymore than if we had to worry about whether oxygen would be available on a daily basis.  The sooner we can look to other countries for guidance, the better. The fact is that we are not spending enough time and money on students at the top and we are not allowing all citizens access to affordable health care.

As you claim your world stage, remember that you have a right to a pizza just like everyone else.  You are as worthy and important as the next person. Remember that for those who are given much, much is expected.  We need to look out for those who are less fortunate who may not realize that they have a right to pizza too.  Remember the world stage is really a globe that can contain all of our gifts and contributions.  There is no ladder to climb to get ahead of everyone else.  There is instead a giant circle of humans who are all worthy.












Safe Spaces

Yale University, my alma mater, decided this week to rename one of its existing residential colleges, from Calhoun to Hopper, changing the name from a male 19th Century slavery proponent to a 20th Century female computer science expert and rear admiral.  I think it’s important not to glorify slavery or white supremacists and I think it’s great that women are finally getting recognized at Yale.  The fact is, Calhoun should never have been picked by Yale as a name for a building in the first place.  Nonetheless, I am concerned that we are starting to erase history that doesn’t sit well with people, until we someday get to the point that new generations don’t believe that evil things ever happened. People have petitioned to change Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, for instance, as well as other school names, and many have argued that there should not be a memorial for Washington or Jefferson, because they held slaves. In addition to Yalies fighting to change the name of Calhoun, they are also demanding that the early Western Civilization literature classes, which include writers like Chaucer and Shakespeare, should contain more female and minority writers, even though there are more modern classes that include those groups.  Do we really want to reinvent history so that it suits our narrow world views? Reading Shakespeare is pretty important.  Even though he was a white male, he was one of the greatest writers who ever lived.  Should we just toss him aside since it doesn’t make us feel good about ourselves?

When I was traveling in Vietnam with my family a few years ago, we took a tour of the Mekong Delta and ended up having lunch with some young adult women from East Germany, both of whom were born right around the time the Berlin Wall came down.  I remember backpacking through Europe in 1990 and staying in a youth hostel in the Netherlands with various girls, including one from West Germany and one from East Germany.  The East German girl had never been allowed out of the country until then and she was small and malnourished.  She told us what a nightmare it was to live on that side of the country; they had no freedom and were scared all the time.  The West German had grown up healthy and free, just like me.  I never forgot that night at the youth hostel.  So when I met these East Germans, who were almost a generation younger, I was assuming their response would be the same.  But in fact, the girls told me that having the Berlin wall come down had zero impact on their parents or grandparents, because they had grown up healthy and happy with lots of freedoms.  I was shocked. When I told them what my history books said about that, they were offended and replied that our history was wrong, and that is not what they had learned in school.  They also added that their parents never mentioned anything terrible happening. Clearly, the bad history had been erased, so that future generations could forget.  It’s scary that this could be happening here by erasing, building by building, anything that reflects an uncomfortable time in our history.

There is a new phrase on college campuses these days, called “safe spaces.” Students who feel marginalized are demanding that their administrations provide separate safe spaces for them to feel comfortable and to spend time only with people like them.  I wonder if these students ever studied the famous case, Brown vs. Board of Education, which ruled in 1955 that “separate but equal” led to inequality.  Students are also asking for “trigger warnings” before difficult lectures so that they can prepare for any information that might hurt their feelings or challenge them.  At Yale last fall, students protested the fact that other students were wearing Halloween costumes that offended their culture or background.  They wanted the administration to step in and insist that no one wear upsetting costumes.  When one of the professors wrote a thoughtful email reminding students that they were in college (not preschool) and that they were there to be challenged and that it wasn’t Yale’s job to police costumes, the students held a protest, shouting horribly disrespectful things to the master of the college, and then pushing to have him and his wife step down. Six months later, they in fact resigned.

There is a new term for college students, called “Snowflakes” in that they are so delicate that they melt with any heat.  There are a lot of theories about why this is happening, particularly helicopter parenting and trophies given to everyone, but the administrations cave into this.  College students today feel that they shouldn’t have to be exposed to ideas that bother them or people who don’t support their world view.  After Hillary Clinton lost the election last fall, many colleges offered special services to help students get through the trauma.  Cornell offered a special “cry in” for students to vent, and Michigan Law School offered its law students a gathering with bubbles, playdoh, coloring and snacks so they could feel better.  Many professors caved in to canceling exams for these traumatized students.  I wonder if anyone mentioned that at other points in history, exams weren’t canceled because of difficult news. Vietnam was raging for most of my early childhood and anyone lucky enough to be in college and not at war, was taking exams because if they didn’t get a B or higher, they could lose their draft deferment.

As you find your world stage, remember that the world needs you, whatever your background or race or religion, and the most impressive thing you can do is to be open to every kind of person and every view point, eschewing things like trigger warnings and safe spaces.  The world needs you to pass on the history you’ve learned, as well as what you’ve lived through so that we can never forget.  As we stand for justice and peace, remember that erasing history or hiding from others’ views isn’t the answer.  We are all stronger than we know.  And together we can create a better world.
















































































This Land Is Your Land

When I was little, I used to love to listen to Pete Seeger’s album, in which he sang “This Land Is Your Land.” It was the seventies, so even as a young child, I understood that this song had meaning, and that we all shared land with fellow Americans. Since it was during the last part of Vietnam, with ongoing peace rallies taking place, I was aware that we had a responsibility to others beyond our borders too. I was also learning about Native Americans at the time, realizing that they were here first and that we took their land.  We were the immigrants arriving to find better a land, whereas they were already here.  Around that time, I remember my father coming home, annoyed with a coworker who complained about all the “boat people” coming to California.  My father, who is a descendent of the Robber Barron and Stanford University founder, Leland Stanford, responded: “I was a boat person.  Weren’t you?”

In these very divisive times, it’s hard to remember that if we are not descended from Native Americans, then we came over as immigrants.  Some of my family came over on the Arabella, ten years after the Mayflower, but they were still boat people. My husband and my family both have ancestors who fought in the American Revolution, so technically my daughter could be in the Daughters of the American Revolution (not that we care), but does it make her more American?  We are white, upper middle-class and Anglo Saxon, but that doesn’t make us more worthy of being an American.  We also have relatives who escaped from Ireland after the potato famine and found their American dream by having children who were better off than they were.  My maternal great-grandfather only had an eighth grade education, but his daughter (my grandmother) got a PhD, which was no small feat for a women of that generation.

The United States has always been a melting pot of immigrants, coming to this land to create a better life for their families.  Even though my ancestors mostly immigrated to America by the mid-19th Century, before Ellis Island has opened, my husband has some family who did arrive that way. I grew up hearing about the fact that my maternal great-grandfather only spoke Swedish when he arrived in first grade. There was no bilingual education in those days, so he learned English within a short time.  Whereas I have a friend who teaches English at a public high school in California, and he complains that some of today’s immigrants refuse to learn the language. I do believe that language is what unites a country, as well as common customs.  But I also believe that Americans should be free to practice whatever religion they believe in, since our country was founded based on the notion of religious freedom.

There was a poll taken recently by the Pew Foundation asking Americans, as well as citizens of other countries, about what makes someone American (or Danish, etc).  How important was having a similar language or religion for national identity? The Washington Post stated: “About one-third of all Americans think that you have to be a Christian to truly be an American — despite the history of religious pluralism that dates back to the nation’s very earliest days…Americans were far more likely than residents of other countries included in the survey to say that religion was key to sharing in the national identity. Thirty-two percent of Americans said one should be Christian to really be American, compared to just 13 percent of Australians, 15 percent of Canadians and 15 percent of Europeans who felt the same way about belonging in their homelands…Religion was the only question on which Americans were an outlier.” (Julie Zauzmer, Feb 1, 2017)

We currently have a president who married an immigrant but doesn’t see the irony and hypocrisy in viewing other immigrants differently– maybe because she’s beautiful, and white and Christian.  We are not comfortable as a nation with head scarves and dark skin.  But when my daughter collapsed on a flight, it was a Muslim doctor who helped her.  When my son had a serious health issue as a baby, it was a Chinese specialist who changed his life.  Borders are not as important as they used to be, since we are all one global economy. The sooner we realize that we benefit from being in a melting pot and learning from other cultures, the better.

To find your world stage, remember that whatever nationality or color or race or ethnic background, the world needs you.  We benefit from diversity of experience and background and thought. This week, find someone who is not like you, and remind yourself what you have in common.  And for something truly inspiring, watch this amazing Danish video, which explores the boxes we put ourselves and others in, and what we all, in fact, have in common.



Protect Your Spirit

I was listening to a radio show a few months ago just after the election, and the radio host was interviewing a minister about his view of the state of the world. This kind of interview would not normally be of interest to me, but I found myself riveted because the minister was funny and irreverent and not preachy at all. And he said something that I never forgot:  “Whatever you do, remember to protect your spirit.” That statement stopped me in my tracks because I had never heard the concept.  Lots of people talk about the importance of taking care of your body or your stress levels or your emotional health, but I had never had anyone tell me to protect my spirit.  To be honest, I wasn’t sure what he meant at first, but after the rancor of the last year–first with a mean-spirited election and then with all the craziness of Trump’s transition and first few days in office–I know now what the minister meant.  He meant that you need to buffer yourself against the insanity of the world right now, because it’s not good for your spirit.

We know that when our bodies are feeling run down or when we get sick, that we are weaker in other ways.  It’s hard to feel loving and generous when you’ve been up all night coughing.  I got a really bad cold recently that completely knocked me off my feet.  I ended up in bed for several days, canceling everything possible.  My body was grateful that I was able to stop and rest. We also know what it feels like when are emotions are run down, in small ways, like after a fight with our spouse or a confrontation at work, but also in large ways, such as after a divorce or death.  Sometimes writing in a journal can help or talking it over with a friend.  But if the stress is much bigger, it may take months or years to regain our equilibrium. Five years ago, my family bought a new home and sold our old one simultaneously in very complicated real estate deals (with a bridge loan so we could carry two houses) and then we renovated for two years, then I was in coaching school to get certified, and then we planned for and executed a six month trip through Asia and Oceania, while my husband did research and I homeschooled our kids.  All of it was important and wonderful, but the ongoing stress did a number on my body and my emotions due to the constant demands.  I developed unrelenting eye pain, which has forced me to slow down and look at how I can heal my body and my mind.

Now that every day there is bad news about the White House and Trump’s erratic behavior and decisions, I am acutely aware that my spirit is taking a hit from the constant barrage of negativity.  I read the New York Times daily and go on Facebook regularly, but I don’t watch tv news. Even still, I feel spiritually drained in a way that I never have before.  Emotional drain usually comes from something you can understand– a move, going back to school, extensive travel– and mind and body often go hand in hand.  But spiritual drain is another animal altogether, because it’s like a slow erosion of peace from one’s soul. I’ve always been a very up-beat and joyful person and very trusting of others to do the right thing.  Now I’m starting to question that.  Every time I go on Facebook, there’s one “Friend” or another who is RANTING about what happened today in the news and how we need to give money and march and petition right now.  Whether we like it or not, our spirits need tending as well, so that we don’t lose hope or become hardened and cynical, or just stop trying or caring, like the learned helplessness rats in the cage, who stop trying to eat the Fruit Loops because they keep getting shocked.  Many of us feel shocked by the fact that we have an angry, unstable president with access to the nuclear codes, who is single- handedly trying to dismantle so much of what we have fought for over the years.

The answer for all of us is to take a break from the onslaught of bad news, and do things that are life affirming and joyful.  It doesn’t mean that we can’t write letters and call our representatives.  It does mean that we choose to do what makes sense for us and let go of needing to plug into the hysteria.  For me, I’ve been going on long walks, meditating daily, taking hot baths with Epsom Salts (the magnesium helps clear negativity) and surrounding myself with positive people as much as possible. Yesterday, I got out my Bach and played piano and then went on a long walk with a friend and then played with her eight month-old baby. Babies have a way of putting everything into perspective; they know how to protect their spirits because they live in the moment and love to play.  Sometimes it’s easy to lose this as we get older, but if we have, it’s never too late to refocus on the things that make us happy.

To find your world stage, remember to protect your spirit.  If you start to feel down or out of sorts and don’t know why, it may very well be that your spirit needs tending.  Take time to be alone, go on long walks in nature, and turn to the arts to lift your spirit.  And if you’re religious, there’s nothing like singing an old hymn to set your spirit right.