Silence is not an option

If you are going to truly be an advocate for equal rights there are a few things I’d like to share with you.

First, there will be times when you will be wildly unpopular. People in positions of power and those whose advocacy efforts are primarily a form of self-serving lip service will not like it when you bring their realities into the light. But, if your commitment to equal rights is sure and heartfelt, bringing their realities into the light is a must.

Second, there will be times when the facts, as you honestly understand them, will bring you to places and circumstances you wish they didn’t. Nevertheless, these are places you must go if your allegiance is to the equal rights of each and every individual. Sometimes the facts will lead you to places where you will discover people you may like are, in fact, part of the very process that is impeding or outright denying equal rights. Still you must proceed and bring the truth into the light.

Third, at times you will pay a price. Some advocates have lost their lives. Others have lost jobs, financial stability, relationships, and much more.

Fourth, find ways to replenish your spirit, your body and your mind. For me it’s nature, conversations with those very close to me, thinking about and reading the words of people like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Father Mychal Judge, Gandhi, Shirley Chisholm, Soujourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and others of similar ilk. And then, of course, the people whose rights you are fighting, in my case primarily individuals with brain injuries. My life is all better and then some for knowing as many as I do. As remarkable and resilient and courageous a group of human beings as one can imagine. And then, lastly, for me, reading books!

No matter what you do to keep your spirits up, there will be times you’ll want to give up. There will be times the fear and heartbreak will be so bad you’ll want to curl up into a ball and vanish into the earth. Please don’t give up. For if you give up, you hand those who deny equality a victory because giving up means you’ve surrendered your humanity.

While I will not get into specifics at the moment, I am beginning to realize I may need to  bring certain things into the open that may bruise people I like and, perhaps, in some instances, end friendships or acquaintances. Then again, perhaps some of these individuals will look into their hearts and discover that they too will put equal rights ahead of their honest, but perhaps misguided allegiance, to governmental or private agencies as well as for-profit and non-profit companies.

We’ll see. Being an advocate can be an unsettling, upsetting, heartbreaking, and scary experience. But, the experience of remaining silent in the face of people be denied their rights would be immeasurably worse.

Now, if you’ll permit me, I’m going to go read. I wish you the best.

The Roads Less Travelled

John Steinbeck once wrote, “We are creatures of habit, a very senseless species.” He was right. We all get caught up in patterns and relationships in life that hold us back, that result in our taking part in life with one hand tied behind our back. We don’t do this consciously, so, when we notice these patterns, we are wise to treat ourselves (and each other) with kindness, not harsh judgment. After all, new beginnings, while often rewarding and wonderful, are inherently scary, at times terrifying.

Recently I got to contemplating a passage from the Robert Frost poem, “Road Less Travelled”, 

Two roads diverged in a wood
And I took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference

and Henry David Thoreau’s words,

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.

Contemplating both passages brought me out of the darkness of indecision and led me into the sunshine of clarity. As a result, I have been able to make some changes that will free me to walk the roads less traveled. Both passages helped me to make these changes because when I read them, to myself or out loud, and then align them with those I admire most: Mandela, Elie Wiesel, Dr. King, Beethoven, Geronimo, Tolstoy, Teddy Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, Steinbeck, Rosa Parks, Dickens, my father and more, it is strikingly clear that all of them lived the lives they imagined. All of them took the roads less travelled.

New beginnings often are the roads less travelled and they are often the roads best taken.



President Theodore Roosevelt said, “Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president.” President Gerald R. Ford knew this, believed this and lived this. The current White House doesn’t have a clue.

In 1974 America was staggered and battered after 11 years of trauma: the heartbreaking and often bloody civil rights movement, the assassinations of President Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Robert F. Kennedy and Malcom X, the carnage of Vietnam, the Watergate scandal, and President Nixon’s resignation. Mr. Ford took office and in 30 days pardoned President Nixon and in the next breath gave amnesty to 200,000 American men and women who had evaded the Vietnam draft. Both decisions were necessary for the country’s healing and both decisions likely cost Mr. Ford the 1976 presidential election.

Mr. Ford’s integrity, honesty and courage brought an end to our national nightmare 33 years ago and now, in death, he may be helping us end another nightmare; the Iraq War, a war based on lies, misinformation and greed. As a result, we are again a country battered and bruised. We have a White House incapable of admitting human frailty or error. Thousands of Americans and Iraqis are dead and wounded and more carnage is on the way. American oil companies have made record profits while hard working Americans have had their wallets and purses drained at the gas pumps. Few, if any, were surprised when gas prices decreased before the election and increased after the election.

Mr. Ford, and recently the 10-member Iraq Study Group, prove it is possible to live the content of TR’s country-first mandate. Just ponder the composition of the ISG: James A. Baker III, Lee H. Hamilton, Lawrence S. Eagleburger, Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., Edwin Meese III , Sandra Day O’Connor, Leon E. Panetta, William J. Perry, Charles S. Robb, and Alan K. Simpson. That is a diverse group to be sure.

Unlike many, if not most of America’s leaders today, Mr. Ford put the good of the country ahead of his party and his political aspirations. He did not ride the intoxicating wave of greed or power-hunger. Instead, he strode the solid ground of human decency.

In his eulogy today in Grand Rapids, Michigan, historian Richard Norton Smith said Mr. Ford “never turned to a focus group for his convictions” and understood that “the greatest of all freedoms is the freedom to be one’s self.”

In his eulogy to the man who had become his close friend, former President Jimmy Carter said no words were more fitting than the ones he used “almost exactly 30 years ago. I want to thank my predecessor for all he did to heal our land.”