Those what if questions

As we age, we sometimes reflect on what might have transpired if something happened differently. It is an interesting exercise, but also makes you ponder what is important to you. With this in mind, here are a few what if questions.

  • What if the girl or boy you felt madly about reciprocated with the same fervor? If that happened, then you may not have met your wonderful spouse and had your terrific children
  • What if you turned down a drink invitation from someone who would become the most important person in your life?.
  • What if you got the job you desperately wanted in another town? Would your career path have dramatically changed?
  • What if you had not changed your mind about leaving a job and went to another employer? Would you have shortchanged yourself?
  • What if you had not said yes to joining a charity group to help people in need? Would you be less open minded about the plight of others?
  • What if you not said no to a road less traveled and did not veer off to explore some wonderful venues?
  • What if you did not mend a fence with an old friend or relative before it was too late?

We are the compilation of our life experiences. Some of those experiences were heart breaking and some were exhilarating. Yet, we benefit from the learning. We benefit from the relationship, even if it ended some time ago. We benefit from the reflection we could have handled something better than we did. We benefit from opportunities as they teach us so much.

We each have loved and lost. We each have had relationships with people who cared either more or less than we cared about them. That is one of time’s oldest stories. Relationships are hard work. Finding and keeping one where you are on the same path forward is also hard, but oh so very rewarding.

Freedom Summer Project – those who braved Mississippi burning (a reprise)

The following post is a reprise of one I wrote in the summer of 2014. I felt the story needed a new telling during Black History Month.

Fifty years ago this summer, over 700 students from across the country, joined in the Civil Rights battle in Mississippi, where African-Americans had been demonstratively and, at times, violently denied their basic civil rights, especially the right to vote. These students joined together with the Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee (SNNC) under the guidance of Bob Moses, who had been slowly organizing SNNC since 1960. These students, were predominantly white, but included all races and ethnic groups.

The fact that many were white helped bring further attention to the ongoing tragedy going on Mississippi, perpetuated by those in power as the young students lived within the African-American community, taught through Freedom Schools young students about African-American history, literature and rights, items that had been absent from their curriculum. The Freedom Summer project can be viewed up close with an excellent documentary being shown on the PBS American Experience. A link is provided below.* I would encourage you to watch the two-hour film as it can tell a story that requires footages of violence, overt racism, and brave people who spoke up, like Moses, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rita Schwerner and countless others.

Hamer is the face of the effort as evidenced by her speaking passionately in front of the 1964 Democratic Convention committee about how she was arrested, beaten, and tormented when she and others tried to register vote. Schwerner is the widow of one the three Civil Rights workers, Michael Schwerner, who along with James Chaney and Andrew Goodman, were abducted and killed by the KKK who came to abet the efforts of those in power in Mississippi. The widow rightfully pointed out the fact that two of the abducted (at the time) were white, was the only reason people in America started paying attention. She noted it is a shame that many African-Americans had died or were injured merely trying to exercise their right as citizens. Before the 1965 Voting Rights Act, less than 7% of African-Americans in Mississippi were allowed to register due to ostracization, intimidation, and complex constitutional literacy tests.

Since I cannot begin to do justice to this subject, I encourage you to watch the documentary. It will make you ashamed that this could happen in America, while at the same time making you applaud the magnificent courage of all involved, especially those African-Americans who had lived and would continue to live in this Apartheid like state once the freedom summer students went home. Yet, it took the deaths of these three young folks to galvanize and empower people.

It also took the organization of a more representative Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party of whites and blacks that went to the national convention to unseat the representatives sent by the state party, who were all white. Since morality was on their side, they almost succeeded, but they ran into the politics of Lyndon B. Johnson, who used his power to squelch the effort for a greater good – he could not help in matters if he did not get elected and he saw this as a means to interfere with that mission, no matter how noble the cause. LBJ accomplished great things for African-Americans, but politics is an ugly thing to watch up close and he looks manipulative in the process.

While their efforts fell short at the convention, their efforts were huge contributors to the passage of the Voting Rights Act the next year. But, one of the young folks who went to the Freedom Schools and is now a PhD., noted that learning about their African-American culture and civil rights that had been denied them, may have been the greatest achievement. I applaud their efforts and bravery. We still have a way to go and are seeing some battles having to be refought with several states passing restrictive Voter ID Laws. Three states have had their new laws ruled unconstitutional, while others are in court now. Yet, just because our President is multi-racial does not mean we are there yet. So, let’s keep in mind the battles these brave folks fought and not let their civil rights be stepped on again, no matter how cleverly masked those efforts.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/freedomsummer/

The quotable John Adams

Per Wikipedia, “John Adams (October 30, 1735 – July 4, 1826) was an American statesman, attorney, diplomat, writer, and Founding Father who served as the second president of the United States, from 1797 to 1801. Before his presidency, he was a leader of the American Revolution that achieved independence from Great Britain, and he served as the first vice president of the United States. Adams was a dedicated diarist and regularly corresponded with many important figures in early American history, including his wife and adviser Abigail Adams and Thomas Jefferson.”

Since he was prolific as a writer and thought leader, Adams left us with many quotes to demonstrate his thought process in context of such an important part of our history. Here are only a few courtesy of “The Quotable John Adams” edited by Randy Howe.

“I am a mortal and irreconcilable enemy to monarchy.”

“My fundamental maxim of government is never to trust the lamb to the wolf.”

“You ask, how has it happened that all Europe has acted on the principle, ‘that Power was Right’…..Power always sincerely, conscientiously….believes itself right. Power must never be trusted without a check.”

“The substance and essence of Christianity, as I understand it, is eternal and unchangeable, and will bear examination forever, but it has been mixed with extraneous ingredients, and they ought to be separated.”

“Old minds are like old horses; you must exercise them if you wish to keep them in working order.”

Is there no way for two friendly souls to converse together, although the bodies are 400 miles off. Yes, by letter. But, I want a better communication. I want to hear you think, or to see your thoughts.” (note from one of many letters to his wife and best friend Abigail).

“I cannot be, I know, nor do I wish to see you, an inactive spectator….We have too many high sounding words, and too fee actions that correspond with them.”

“I am more and more convinced that man is a dangerous creature; and that power, whether vested in many or a few, is ever grasping, and like the grave, cries ‘Give, give!'”

The above covers concern over power to a limited few, to the need for separation of church and state, to admonitions of the need to have a thirst for learning. HBO did an excellent mini-series on Adams derived from the many letters between John, played by Paul Giamatti, Abigail, played by Laura Linney.

The most impactful part of the mini-series is when John impressed his more rambunctious cousin Samuel Adams that the rule of law is important. This came to a head when John defended in court some British troops who had been unfairly accused of killing some rabble rousers before the American Revolution. Samuel wanted them to hang, but John said they must get a fair trial.

Doing things the right way matters. The rule of law matters. Even in times of strife.

Oh, those dating miscues

My wife and children seem to love stories about my dating miscues. I share them to impart an important lesson is to always carry with you a sense of humor. Laughing at yourself, means the world laughs with you. As I have gotten older, I think on some of my miscues, faux pas, etc. in the dating arena.

My loudest miscue occurred at a community theater which was held at a church hall. The fold out chairs were placed on elevated choral risers to give an amphitheater effect. My date and I were on a double-date sitting on the back row, about two feet elevated. After intermission, where we picked up a plastic cup of wine, we proceeded back to our chairs Unbeknownst to me, one of my rear chair legs had moved off the riser. So, when I sipped my wine, it appeared my date was moving forward. To my surprise, I was falling backward to a loud crash. Fortunately, I was alright, but the whole theater and my three companions got a huge laugh later.

Another funny incident happened at this same woman’s parents’ home, which I had to tell her about later. She had moved back home for a time living in a basement apartment in her parent’s house which was outside of the city.. Since she had younger siblings, her mother asked me to leave before the night was over, so as to avoid their seeing me the next morning. Leaving the first night, it was very dark outside and the drive way was near a fence. As I sheepishly opened my car door, a horse in the pasture close by snorted and scared the life out of me. If I had to go, I probably would have. The next day I called her and said “I did not know you had a horse”

Different woman, same city. I was supposed to be on a date with someone who I had gone out with a couple of times in college. I had traveled early with some friends back to the city before classes started and asked her if we could use her car, so my friends could use mine. She said no. After driving thirty minutes to her house whose drive way was diagonally up this hill, I learned my request to use her car was offensive, so she did not want to go. So, in a huff I tried to back down this diagonal drive way. Bad move. I ran off into a rock garden and my car got stuck. While she fumed at me from the window, her father had to tow me off the rock garden.

Blind dates can be a challenge. After moving after college, I met many good friends, many of whom were married. And, what married people like to do is set single people up on blind dates. I met a lot of nice folks on such dates, but chemistry was lacking in many cases. Of course, this goes both ways. My favorite story is about a lunch date who was quite the conversationalist, asking many questions about what I did and liked,. When I said, that is enough about me what do you do? She said I am minister. I did my best not to flinch. I am a Christian and have been a church goer, but meeting someone who is already minister is different than falling in love with someone who becomes a minister. I recognize this is petty, but I felt I would not measure up and lusting after a minister might send me to the bad place.

It is funny how different one can become. If I met the minister later, I would have been more mature and handled it better. My wife and I met at the right time. I had been through dating some folks who were very nice, beyond the blind dates, but was not ready for the one. The irony is my wife asked me for a drink as our first date joining her brother and his wife. Then, she asked her brother to join us. He came alone and they worked out a signal for him to leave if our date was working out. He left and the rest his history.

Laughter is the best medicine. It can salve many funny situations. And, it certainly can remind us of our frailties and shortcomings, then and now.

Martin Luther King’s advice on avoiding violence – a reprise

The following post was written about nine years ago, but still resonates today.

Martin Luther King once said, “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very things it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, it merely increases the hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

These aspirational words ring true even today. A historian made a comment on the news the other day, saying the only thing man has been very good at since the beginning is killing people. To many people have died when leaders say I want what you have or you are different from us or you worship the wrong way. On this latter point, one of the keys to our founding father’s separation of church and state in the US constitution and bill of rights was a comment made by Thomas Jefferson who noted that Europe had been awash in blood due to religious zeal and he did not want religious zeal doing the same in our country. This runs counter to self-proclaimed constitutionalists who want a national or state religion and don’t realize they are advocating against the constitution.

My blogging friend George Dowdell has written a thought-provoking post about “No More Us and Them.” A link to his post is below.* When religious leaders exclude, they create this kind of divide. Yet, when religious leaders are inclusive, religion is at its finest. Just witness the actions of the people’s Pope Francis to see what one leader can do. We should follow his lead. We must do our best to be bridge builders. We must do our best to condemn intolerant thinking and action. We must do our best to not condone violence. We must do our best to control the proliferation of violent tools to people who should not have them and govern all owners of them well, as these tools are designed to kill. We must do our best to work toward civil discourse when disagreements occur. And, we must not tolerate treating women as second class citizens or even assets, which is even further demeaning.

I recognize we all cannot be like Atticus Finch (see Emily J’s post on “The Perfect Book: To Kill a Mockingbird” with the link below **) and wipe the spit away borne from someone looking for a fight, but he shows us what real courage looks like. It takes more courage not to fight back when it would have been so easy to do so. I recognize we cannot all be like Gandhi whose example was studied, admired and copied by Martin Luther King showing that civil disobedience is far more powerful than violence. I recognize we call cannot be like Mother Teresa who just went around helping people and praying with them not caring how they worshiped. And, I realize we cannot all be like Jesus who uttered the words we should all live by and can be found in other religious texts – treat others like you want to be treated.

We must treat others like we want in return. We must elevate women in a world to equal footing with men. We must challenge our historical texts which were written by imperfect men to diminish women. We must be the ones who lift others up. If we don’t then we will continue to be our own worst enemy and do what we are good at – violence and killing.

http://georgedowdell.org/2014/06/10/no-more-us-and-them/

** http://thebookshelfofemilyj.com/2014/06/09/the-perfect-book-to-kill-a-mockingbird/

More than American Pie – a tribute to Don McLean – a reprise

The following post was written almost eight years ago, but with some recent posts on Don McLean by others, I thought I would dust this one off, as it goes beyond his most popular song. My wife and I had the pleasure of seeing him perform with a very good opening act in the person of Janis Ian. McLean said that little woman can sing her hind end off.

When you hear the name Don McLean, your first thought is likely his magnum opus “American Pie.” That song was voted the 5th best song of the 20th century and is truly a classic. Yet, McLean produced a significant body of work that often gets overshadowed by that song’s huge success.

My wife and I had the pleasure of seeing McLean perform in a theatre venue which was perfect for his style of singing and it was truly an enchanting evening. His voice is underestimated, so he can make his wonderful words and music come to life.

Here is a small sampling before we get to his main event. I have several favorites, but let me start with  “And I love you so” about how his life becomes complete when he meets his love:

The people ask me how
How I’ve lived till now
I tell them I don’t know

I guess they understand
How lonely life has been
But life began again

The day you took my hand

Probably his second most popular song is his tribute to Vincent van Gogh, called “Vincent” or more commonly known as “Starry Starry Night.” McLean’s melancholy singing and strategic pauses make this song both haunting and compelling.

And now I understand
What you tried to say to me
How you suffered for your sanity
How you tried to set them free

They would not listen
They did not know how
Perhaps they’ll listen now

Another favorite is a reflective and sad song about the emptiness when his lover finally leaves hims. It is called “Empty Chairs.”

Morning comes and morning goes with no regret
And evening brings the memories I can’t forget
Empty rooms that echo as I climb the stairs
And empty clothes that drape and fall on empty chairs

And I wonder if you know
That I never understood
That although you said you’d go
Until you did I never thought you would

McLean began as a folk singer in the 1960s and was mentored by Pete Seeger. He also knew Jim Croce before he left Villanova University after four months (he did complete his college degree at Iona). So, he spent a lot of time in small venues along the Hudson River and was able to hone his craft. I mentioned his voice. He did a cover of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” and it became a number one hit record internationally before it was brought back to the US. To sing that song, you must have some vocal chops. And, he truly does Roy proud. Another great song of his is “Castles In The Air” and here is a taste:

And if she asks you why,
you can tell her that I told you
That I’m tired of castles in the air.
I’ve got a dream I want the world to share
And castle walls just lead me to despair.

But, any tribute to McLean would have to include “American Pie.” When we saw him, Madonna had just done a cover of the song, so he referenced he would get to that Madonna song later. He references so much musical history in the song beginning with day the music died when the plane carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper crashed. I particularly like one of the final stanzas where it is believed he references Janis Joplin.

I met a girl who sang the Blues, and I asked her for some happy news
She just smiled and turned away
I went down to the sacred store where I’d heard the music years before, but…
The man there said the music wouldn’t play
And, in the streets the children screamed, the lover’s cried, and the poets dreamed, but…
Not a word was spoken – the church bells all were broken
And, the three men I admire most: the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost, they…
Caught the last train for the coast the day the music died

You would think I would close with that classic, but I have personal observation which may not be correct, but I like it anyway. Let me run it by you. He has a wonderful song lamenting George Reeves who played Superman on TV. It actually destroyed his career and he could no longer get good acting roles and for some reason was alleged to have committed suicide. My thesis is McLean had such overwhelming success with “American Pie” that he did not want to only be remembered for that song, hence his fascination with Reeves. Here is a glimpse of the song “Superman’s Ghost.”

I don’t want to be like old George Reeves
Stuck in a Superman role
I’ve got a long way to go in my career
And some day my fame will make it clear
That I had to be a Superman

Don McLean, you may not be a Superman, but you are an American treasure and much more than the writer and singer of “American Pie.” Yes, that is one fine song, but so are the above and many others. Thanks for sharing your words, music and voice with us.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night – a reprise

I wrote the following post six years ago after watching an old interview with Paul McCartney. Its lyrics and context still resonate today.

The title is from a line of The Beatles song “Blackbird” which is a tribute to the struggle for African-Americans for their civil rights. The song was sung by Paul McCartney with writing credits to both him and John Lennon, although McCartney was the lead.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free

Blackbird fly, blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night

Blackbird fly, blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Here is what McCartney said about the origin of the song in an interview in 2002.

“I’ve got a poetry book out called Blackbird Singing…..I was in Scotland playing on my guitar, and I remembered this whole idea of ‘you were only waiting for this moment to arise’ was about, you know, the black people’s struggle in the southern states, and I was using the symbolism of a blackbird. It’s not really about a blackbird whose wings are broken, you know, it’s a bit more symbolic.”

I added McCartney’s quote as I wanted the clarity around what the song means. African-Americans are still fighting an uphill struggle for their civil rights. What has happened in Ferguson, Cleveland, New Jersey, Charleston, Charlotte and Baltimore is tragic, but evidence of the disenfranchisement of African-Americans. The lack of opportunity, the malaise, the maltreatment, the deterioration of the neighborhood, the lack of respect given to people of color in our country continues.

I have noted before that Warren Buffett has said he was born lucky. He was born a white male in America. All three components of that phrase are important – white, male and America. Yes, he worked hard, but he was afforded opportunities that African-Americans do not get.  Not only do many whites like me have a hard time knowing the challenges of being black, but we also do not fully realize the advantages of being white. As I wrote recently, as a white man, there are not too many places I cannot go no matter how I am dressed. But, there are far too many stories of how a black man can be dressed in his Sunday best, yet still be stopped by the police and think “be careful as this may be the last thing I do on earth.”

I would encourage three things. First, please do not look at those committing violence and rioting as indicative of the African-American community. The community knows this is not the path forward. Second, people who look like me need to do our best to understand the challenges we have in America for people of color, but also for all people in poverty. Third, as always, talk is cheap. These issues are complex and solutions have to address many underlying concerns. There are no sound byte answers as some politicians have espoused.

I mention this last point as we must address the wide disparity in American between the “haves” and “have-nots.” This is not just an African-American issue. It is an American issue, as most people on food stamps are white. Please re-read this previous sentence. Poverty exists in urban areas, in rural areas and even in the suburbs. We have to stop the “war on poor people” and make this a “war on poverty.”

We must invest in our infrastructure and deteriorated assets repurposing them. This will spawn jobs as well in places where it is needed. We must revise our minimum wage to be consistent with a living wage for one person, which varies, but is just over $10 an hour. We must invest in education at all levels. We must embrace the Affordable Care Act as it is helping so many people and fully implement it through Medicaid expansion in the remaining 20 odd states. For some politicians to say we have a poverty problem and be against the ACA is hypocritical and shortsighted, especially when it is working pretty well.

Remember McCartney’s words and lets help these folks with broken wings learn to fly. To do otherwise, goes against what our country is all about and any of the teachings found in religious texts.

The better part of me – a reprise

In search for another old post, I came across this one which uses a melancholy song about the flawed superhero in all of us. Even Superman is not perfect, so we should cut ourselves a break and accept our flaws and mistakes and those of others.

One of our favorite songs since the turn of the century is “Superman” recorded by Five for Fighting and penned by John Ondrasik. I am intrigued by the humanity afforded Superman in the haunting lyrics. But, the words that resonate the most with me are the lines spoken as Superman, “I’m just out to find, the better part of me.” Here is the first half of the song.

I can’t stand to fly
I’m not that naive
I’m just out to find
The better part of me
I’m more than a bird. I’m more than a plane
More than some pretty face beside a train
It’s not easy to be me
Wish that I could cry
Fall upon my knees
Find a way to lie
About a home I’ll never see
It may sound absurd, but don’t be naive
Even Heroes have the right to bleed
I may be disturbed, but won’t you concede
Even Heroes have the right to dream
It’s not easy to be me

To me, the song reveals even a superhero has insecurities, wants and dreams. Even a superhero is searching to find “the better part of me.” We are an imperfect people. While we have true heroes that live and breathe amongst us, they are imperfect just like everyone else. So, we should not hold people up to a higher standard, as they will only fail to live up to those standards. Even if heroic or a great leader, they will also be imperfect.

One of the finest people ever to walk the earth was Mother Teresa, a true light for many. Yet, Mother Teresa noted in her journal that she prayed to God when she felt less pious. When she was broken down and tired, she prayed that she could get back to a better place. She prayed to rekindle “the better part of me.” In a recent survey published in Reader’s Digest, ministers also noted that there are occasions when they feel less pious and need to find their way back.

Gandhi was in a similar predicament. Here was an attorney who decided his life’s calling would be to fight for the disenfranchised. He would use his voice and body to say things are not right through civil disobedience. Yet, he was imperfect and had enemies as well. Martin Luther King took to heart Gandhi’s civil disobedience and adopted the strategy in the US during the civil rights fight. Yet, MLK was not perfect either. But, both Gandhi and Martin Luther King lived “the better part of me” and because of that, helped millions and are heroes to many.

I wrote recently about the wonderful series on PBS by Ken Burns on The Roosevelt’s – Teddy, Eleanor and Franklin. All came from the elite and were by no means perfect. Teddy could be a bully and liked notoriety. But, Teddy hated unfair advantage and wanted folks to have equal opportunity, a “square deal,” he called it. Eleanor was strident in her convictions, but was shy and aloof and turned many off, until she learned how to cultivate relationships and use her powers of persuasion to do great things. Franklin would use his version of the bully pulpit to get things done. He also had several affairs. But, he helped save the world from tyranny, promoted the New Deal and helped America focus its manufacturing muscle on the war effort. Each accomplished a great deal for this country and our world is better place because of them.

These folks are all heroes. Yet, they are all imperfect. For some reason, we have forgotten this and want our leaders to be perfect in every way. By the numbers, Bill Clinton may be the best president we have had in the last fifty years, yet he had a wandering eye and an impeachment scandal evolved when one tryst occurred in the Oval Office. Ronald Reagan is touted as the paragon for conservative presidents and did many good things, yet he was almost impeached over the Iran-Contra affair and did not believe we should sanction South Africa for Apartheid, his veto fortunately being overturned. Yet, Reagan’s ad lib comment in a speech helped bring down the Berlin Wall among some of his other accomplishments.

We are not perfect either. We will  make mistakes just like everyone else. We should do the best we can and find “the better part of me” for ourselves. If we can do this, we can more legitimately expect others to do the same, especially our leaders. We can also treat others like we want to be treated. And, that includes forgiving others for mistakes, as we would hope they would do with ours.  No one is perfect, not even Superman.

Hank Aaron – quiet dignity, quiet strength

A great baseball player passed away yesterday. His name was Henry Aaron, but he went by Hank. He was a very quiet man growing up in the south in the middle of the Jim Crow era. But, arguably he is on a very short list of the greatest baseball players ever.

Rather than bore non-baseball fans with endless statistics indicating how great he was, let me focus on how poorly this African-American was treated as he chased records set by white ball players. He received multiple death threats and family kidnapping threats and was openly called the N word both aloud and within the many letters of vicious hate mail.

Like Jackie Robinson before him, he took all of this with quiet dignity and a heavy dose of quiet strength. Racism and bigotry was dumped on this man like garbage. But, he stood strong.

When he chased the greatest of records for home runs held by the legendary Babe Ruth, the threats were at their worst. Yet, when he broke the record on national TV, he quietly ran the bases. Then, he tipped his cap to the home crowd. Ironically, a teen came out of the stands to circle the bases with him, but he was all about touching all the bases first.

When we think of the white supremacists and nationalists who have crawled out from under the rocks, I think of all the great Black ball players who came before Robinson and Aaron that did not get the chance to play in the Major Leagues. When they were allowed to join, the Major Leagues got better.

To show how racism impacts results, the National League integrated faster than the American League, so when All Star games were played in the late 1950s and 1960s, the National League had an impressive win streak against its annual opponent. Taking this one step further, the Boston Red Sox had an opportunity to sign both Aaron and Willie Mays, arguably the two best ball players, and signed neither because they were Black. The Red Sox had a long dry spell of winning championships.

Hank Aaron received the Medal of Freedom for his success, but also for the manner in which he carried himself. Quiet dignity and strength. He did not boast. He just succeeded when too many did not want him to.

This is a big effing deal

The swearing in of Joe Biden as the 46th president is a huge deal. We can return to more normalcy in governance as he tries to unite us. But, let me set that aside and say the inauguration of Kamala Harris as vice-president is a big effing deal.

Seeing a woman sworn in as vice president is a long time over due for a country that touts democracy. Other democracies have preceded us with a woman being president, prime minister or chancellor. Angela Merkel, Jacinda Arden, Indira Ghandi, Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May all come to mind.

Harris is not just breaking the ceiling as a woman, which is a big effing deal by itself. She is the first African-American, the first Asian-American, and part of the first multiracial couple and family to occupy the home of the vice-president. She is uniquely American, as representative of our melting pot as one can get.

But, as a man, let me attempt to address this walk-in-the-shoes moment and what it means. My wife wore pearl earrings to honor Harris’ alma mater as she watched. And, she was crying after Harris was sworn in. A man does not realize how a woman feels to be treated in an overbearing way. Or, to be condescended to. Or to be belittled. Or, to be sexually harassed or even assaulted.

Sheryl Sandberg wrote the excellent book “Lean in,” which tells women to lean into opportunity or push back. It was and is a great title in that men are very skilled at leaning in. There is a line, I think from this book, that says a man with lesser skill sets will often feel more qualified for a job than a woman with more skill sets.

Then, we must layer into Harris’ make-up the fact she is a multiracial woman of color. In an interview on CBS Sunday Morning, she noted she has been told “no” at every step of the ladder. Then, she smiled and said “I eat ‘no’ for breakfast.” That embodies Sandberg’s theme. Just think of all of the young women and young women of color she will influence going forward. Be a leader, be a scientist, be an engineer, be a doctor….don’t accept no as a reason you cannot.

This is a big effing deal. I wish her, Joe Biden and their families and staffs the greatest of success. We need them to succeed in uniting us.