Reflection on a thank-you from Lesotho

When I received the request to help build a water pump in the Lesotho village where a young woman I’ve mentored, a woman who is now my friend, is working, I didn’t hesitate. Her name is Jennifer Jiggetts, and she is a journalist. But first, she is a great human being. And she is spending some time as a member of the Peace Corps, teaching and building in Africa.

I didn’t hesitate. It was Jennifer, and it was needed.

I didn’t ask why I should spend money on a water project in Africa when there are people without water in Detroit.

I didn’t ask how spending the money would fit into my budget.

I didn’t think: If I respond to every young person I’ve mentored, I’ll be responding to hundreds of requests.

I decided instantly to help a friend who is helping make lives better for some children. I decided instantly, that no matter how bad things are in some places here, they are always worse where she is.

So I donated. And a month later, I received an envelope from Lesotho. get-attachment-11

It contained a beautiful handmade necklace and matching earrings. It also was filled drawings and a handmade thank you card card decorated with crayoned red stars and blue hearts and green leaves. The card read:

Thank you so much for contributing to our water pump project.

We are forever grateful for your support. Enjoy your goodies! 

Sincerely,

Tsoaing Primary School

The card was touching, but it was the individual messages from the children that took my breath away. Some were in English, some in Sesotho, their mother tongue.  Some were simple, some meticulous, all drawn in the global colors of life. Each child drew him or herself, what they see in their minds when they think of themselves. Some stood near the pump; others pumped water. Some told me their names. Others made sure I knew their gender.

Each reminded me that when the right thing to do comes along, you don’t hesitate. You don’t question. You just do it. You try to change a life, or change a school or change a village. And when you do, hands might just reach across the world to touch you and to change your life. Continue Reading

Misremembered Childhood: It’s not what we thought it was

I want to thank my friend, Lynne, for sharing on Facebook an essay from The American Prospect called “The False Glow of Remembered Childhood.” It debunks the myth that an old America was simpler and makes clear that the America that we remember, no matter who we are, is what we were remembering as children. It begins:

“Three years ago, John Boehner was doing an interview when he lamented, perhaps with a tear peeking its way through the corner of his eye, that Democrats “are snuffing out the America that I grew up in.” As Michael Tomasky noted at the time, the America Boehner grew up in (the 1950s) featured things like strong private-sector unions, a 90 percent top income-tax rate, enormous public-works projects, and a moderate Republican party, presumably all things Boehner wouldn’t like, not to mention Jim Crow, terrible discrimination against women and gay people … you get the point.”

Paul Waldman, who wrote the Prospect piece, also quotes from an interview in Salon, where Adam Goldberg, creator of ABC’s The Goldbergs, expresses a similar sentiment:

Why do you think audiences will be interested in a family show specifically set in the 1980s?

“I think the ’80s works for a TV show because it’s the last time the world was simple. It was before the Internet really changed everything and made the world really small. Today the whole notion of family is a bit different: You can reach out and if you don’t get any support at home, you can find a like-minded family on blogs or on Facebook. In the ’80s your family was the people in your house, at your dinner table, and the people you went to school with, those were your friends. You basically couldn’t find other friends. So it was really the last time where the world was still simple and small.”

No, no, no. The ’80s wasn’t “the last time the world was simple,’ ” Waldman writes. “The ’80s was the last time when your world was simple. Can you guess why? Because you were a child!” Continue Reading

We went too far when we ridiculed Clint Eastwood

She’s now 23, but my daughter’s voice sounded like it did when she was 11.

“Mom, they’re making fun of Clint Eastwood!”

I figured that wasn’t the time to tell her I had also shaken my head and chuckled at the many tweets and jokes that came after the actor interviewed an empty chair onstage at the Republican National Convention.

“I think that’s wrong,” she said.

And, of course, as she has been many times, she was right.

America has spent five days making fun of an elderly man. We didn’t think about it because that man was once the lean, tough, handsome cowboy and cop who had made our day many times. Except we weren’t talking about Rowdy Yates from “Rawhide” or Harry Callahan from “Dirty Harry.” We were talking about a real man with nearly 60 years of acting experience, who has spent decades giving us a persistent persona that made him seem invincible.

We would never have made fun of an 82-year-old man sitting on a bus or eating at a restaurant. But let him take a stage with no one to tell him he shouldn’t, and Katie bar the door.

We shouldn’t have done it.

Not for politics.

Not for entertainment.

Had Clint Eastwood not been a performer, an entertainer, who took the stage on his own because of what he believed, we never would have laughed.

Or would we have?

I can’t help but remember Rachel Maddow’s nearly speechless reaction to the interview with the chair. All of us should have stopped and thought for a moment.

That would have been me when my daughter was younger, always worried about how things looked to her.

I should still worry about how things look to her.

We spend years teaching our children. But what we don’t remember is that they spend years teaching us.

My daughter wasn’t happy about how Clint Eastwood was treated. And in hindsight, neither should I have been – because when you think about it: We made fun of a senior citizen, of an old guy.

Shame on us. Continue Reading

A reminder of patriotism

There are plenty of things I like about visiting a Rotary Club meeting: the singing, the updates from members about their children and careers. But near the top is an opportunity to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Simple words written 120 years ago this month, it became a country’s mantra when it was adopted by Congress in 1942.

As I recited the words I learned as a child, it dawned on me that I probably say the pledge about once a year – when I visit a Rotary Club. That’s not often enough.

We sometimes get

mad at our country, especially during presidential elections, major Congressional debates and times of war. We question our leaders. We wonder why we sent some leaders to Washington. We decry the lack of civility and the problems we have, as Americans, getting along.

But what the pledge does is remind us that no matter what else bothers us or how much we fight, we remain one nation, indivisible, where we fight every day for liberty and justice for all.

The past, the present and the future

I watched three children walk down the sidewalk on my street. They were like The Three Bears. The oldest was texting on a Smartphone, as sure of her step and the girl in the viral video who walked into a fountain so intent she was on her screen. The middle child was a few years younger, her phone a little bigger. She was watching her screen. But she occasionally looked around, pigtails moving with the motion, to notice the things she passed, a cat on a wall, a passing car. The third child was a boy of about seven or eight. He was carrying a feather. He moved his fingers along the plume, watching them move back into place. He was the one with the right idea. My favorite line in literature comes from Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple,” a story of powerful, hatred, survival, redemption and love. Shug walks a compliant Celie, who has been abused and mistreated her entire life, through a gorgeous field of nature, a field of glory. They pass purple flowers and Shug says, “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it. People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.” The greatest show on Earth happens around us all the time. If we occasionally put down the phones and the tablets and the work and the bagge of life – and just watch, oh the things we’ll see.

New “Muppet Movie” for children of all ages; grouches need not attend

Folks – you know, those people who determine pop culture – will say that the best moment of “The Muppets” is when Academy Award-winning actor Chris Cooper breaks out into rap, sort of like that moment when Tom Cruise, playing nasty studio exec Les Grossman, begins rapping in “Tropic Thunder.”

But there were two better and more important moments for me when I saw it Saturday evening in a theatre full of parents and kids – and one grumpy couple.

One, near the movie’s end, was when Kermit sat in a sliver of moon and began singing my favorite song . . .

“Why are there so many songs about rainbows
and what’s on the other side? . . .

I couldn’t believe the lump that rose in my throat as I listened to a song that was more than three decades old.

“Rainbows are visions, but only illusions,
and rainbows have nothing to hide.”

I had gone to see the movie for the same reason that I had dragged my daughter to “Aladdin” and “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King” and “Finding Nemo” – because I love fantasy and magic and the color of rainbows – even if she just tolerated them.

“So we’ve been told and some choose to believe it.
I know they’re wrong, wait and see.”

I wanted to connect her with the beauty of escape and to feel what I did as I’ve gone to the movies for so long: Film can take you anywhere you want to be and some places you didn’t even know you wanted to do.

“Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection.
The lovers, the dreamers and me.”

The great Paul Williams and Kenny Asher co-wrote the “The Rainbow Connection” for the first “Muppet Movie.” It was nominated for an Academy Award in 1979 for Best Song. Williams later spoke with great reverence about the song, which opened and closed the film:

“It’s one of two favorite songs I’ve written in my life, and oddly, they’re both from The Muppet Movie. (The other is “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday.”) When we started working on the film, Kenny and I and Jim (Henson) and Jerry Juhl (the late Muppets head writer) all agreed that we had to establish Kermit’s soul from the very beginning. And to do that, he has to ponder some big questions. Kenny and I began to write this song — the song addresses that inner voice that tells Kermit he can try to do these big things. Then Jerry Juhl did this great thing in the script at the end, when the stage explodes and the end of the rainbow appears — the actual “rainbow connection.” That’s the proof of the whole Muppet philosophy.” Continue Reading

9/11 began as horror, became about heroes

I am grateful that, 10 years later, I wake up in bed, in my house, in a free America and my first thought is: “I have to water the dog”- not anything else, anything bad, anything ugly. Minutes later, I remember the heroes . . . and the smoke . . . and the children . . . and the heroes.

It isn’t that I wasn’t prepared for today and hadn’t been reminded that today is today. But my goal is not to treat the anniversary of America’s worst day since World War II, since the assassinations of JFK and King, like a holiday. Unlike Christmas, that has its own smell and feel from moments before you wake, I didn’t want this to become a day devoted to sadness and memories of death.

I wanted to wake today, oblivious to terrorists and fully embracing the life I can have only in America. I wanted today to be about living harder than ever, with more purpose, because I am living for some who aren’t here.

When recalling 9/11, as my newspaper asked me to do, my memory was instant – the children, those who watched strangers and those who watched their parents die. (Read my column at freep.com/rochelleriley.)

But to really recall the first moments of 9/11 I had to call my daughter. As always she was my first thought, and her memory was stunningly clear. She recalled it in that breathless get-it-all-out-at-once way that I used to write:

“We were in art class and our art teacher, Ms. Rubel got pulled into the hallway by the principal and we didn’t know what was going on, but we thought it was weird that we were allowed to still talk in class. They came back, and and she said we weren’t going to have class today and they turned on the TV, and we were all sitting there watching it and right then, the second plane hit the second tower and at that point, I remember we were watching, but didn’t understand. From what I remember, a newscaster said a second plane just hit the World Trade Center, and they showed a picture of the plane hitting, and they were talking about how we might be under terrorist attack. The teachers wer all sitting on art stools and it went from one’ teacher in the room to five or six teachers. We didn’t know what to do. Then Gabrielle started crying and everyone else started crying and said they wanted to go call their moms and dads. They took people in groups of three to call. I said, “Mom there’s something going on with some airplanes. And you said, ‘Did they tell you about it?’ And you came and got me. (My daughter, when she was even younger, thought I had the ability to fly over cars when I needed to arrive in an emergency).. . We went back to the newsroom. I was sitting there watching it. . . You turned to something else for me to watch, and I had lots of food and pen and paper so I could draw. I wasn’t that scared because I didn’t understand. The only time I was scared was at school when someone said they were coming there next. You explained it to me. We called Grampa to see where he was, and you told me he hadn’t gone into the city.” Continue Reading

Rachel Beckwith: Girl’s passion to help others lives on

She was trying to help.

Rachel Beckwith decided last spring that her friends should skip the birthday presents and instead help her raise money to provide clean water to African villages. She was trying to raise only $300.

On the page, she wrote this message: “I found out that millions of people don’t live to see their 5th birthday. And why? Because they didn’t have access to clean, safe water so I’m celebrating my birthday like never before. I’m asking from everyone I know to donate to my campaign instead of gifts for my birthday. Every penny of the money raised will go directly to fund freshwater projects in developing nations.”

By the time she turned nine on June 12, she had raised $220. She closed her page.

Rachel didn’t live to see her tenth birthday.

She was killed last week in a 13-car pile-up not far from Seattle. The pastor at her church, Eastlake Community Church, reopened her page. Rev. Ryan Meeks gave Rachel a second chance at her goal.

By Thursday morning, she had raised $518,916 – and counting.

From tragedy, miracles rise like phoenix from ashes.

Her heartfelt effort keeps Rachel alive for her community and for her nation. That moment when she decided to put passion to action meant she would continue to make a difference for people she ever met. Her generosity of spirit should inspire us all.

When the pastor takes the money to whatever country Rachel had in mind, I hope the TV cameras go with him. Or maybe he can call the folks at www.water.org, the charity that actor Matt Damon supports, and they can make the trip for him – and for Rachel.

We’ll be watching – and remembering a little girl whose heart was as big as the world and whose passion could inspire a generation.

Thank you, Rachel.

To contribute to Rachel’s medical bills and her cause to bring water to an African village, visit http://mycharitywater.org/p/campaign?campaign_id=16396.

Give us your tired, your poor – and keep your reality TV

My friend, LC, and I were at it again this morning, lamenting the state of American television, which has been sharked to death by so-called reality shows.

What was making us happy? The fact that some networks are re-making some of our favorite TV shows (Dallas, Hawaii 5-0).  This means two things:

First, we’ll have even more great shows to add to our must-see TV list that already has: “The Good Wife,” “The Closer,” “Burn Notice,” “Suits,” White Collar” and “Rizzoli and Isles.”

Second, it might hasten the demise of fake reality TV. The difference? “The Amazing Race,” a travel game show, is good reality TV.

Any “Housewives” show? Baloney.

Reality? Really?

Seriously, if cameras followed us around all day, they’d see carpet cleaners come and go with the dog barking the entire time, us sitting with piles of papers paying bills, us putting away groceries, which these women never seem to buy. They’d see real desperate housewives trying to fit 30 hours worth of into a 24-hour day.

“We are CEOS of our homes, and our children have ballet recitals, dance recitals, swim lessons,” LC said. “And that’s what we’re doing.”

Moreover, she and I are both working moms, so we’re among the women who run the house and run companies or work at full-time jobs.

We don’t know any housewives who walk around in designer clothes on soccer day or drink champagne every weekend – even though some could if they wanted to. But they don’t because they’re too busy dealing with real life. And real life is not loud, unless it’s the children, or boisterous unless a football game is on or the children are moving. We don’t do battle in heels.

“At what event have we ever attended have we seen two women go at each other in a fistfight?” LC asked.

Not one. Not ever.

Critics have panned reality shows for years, pointing out that they’re scripted, not spur-of-the-moment, that we don’t see the real stuff, just the horribly embarrassing stuff that makes the audience laugh at these women who think they’re stars. Continue Reading