{January 14, 2015}   Charlie Hebdo

“I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” – Voltaire.

“Je ne suis pas Charlie” (I am not Charlie) … but I sympathize with him.

Those were my words last week, and really, my thoughts on the terror attack on the French satirical newspaper can be summed up as such. Through the worst (murdered cartoonists, journalists and hostages) and the best (a brave Muslim police officer’s defending a magazine’s right to mock and demean his faith, a near-universal discussion and defence of free speech), all of the many facets and nuances of this case have been discussed in other forums and by wiser, better-spoken people than me, from all sides, all along the spectrum of identifying very personally with the magazine (#jesuischarlie) to hyper-criticism that by being so provocative, they knew they were antagonizing extremists. For me, what I know is this –

I cannot ever and will never sympathize with violence as an answer to our grievances. Period. The bottom line when it comes to free speech, is that perhaps the incendiary stuff Charlie Hebdo published was unkind, unwise, racist and all sorts of awful things – in fact, it almost certainly was. But it was also allowed. And if it wasn’t, if it started hitting up against the edges of ‘hate speech’, well, that’s something else to deal with too. But at the end of the day, that does not make the taking of life acceptable. Period. Write letters to the editor. Protest. File a complaint with whatever authorities look at hate speech,  standards and practices in the media, what have you. Start up a counter-publication. All extremely good options in a free society to express one’s great displeasure with one’s editorial stance. Expressing your displeasure at the end of a gun is unacceptable. And frankly, by rallying everyone’s sympathies around the very opinionistas you hate, you are doing your cause no justice.

I will admit I am not comfortable associating so personally with the #iamcharlie hashtag, because personally, viscerally, I disagree with a large portion of what they put out into the world. But like much greater minds (Voltaire – see above) before me, I will defend with my every breath their right to do so. And I will defend the right of anyone who wishes to criticize them. I might question the wisdom and motives (Charlie Hebdo), or the timing (critics at a time when perhaps compassion is called for), but this world is big enough that there is room for all, and there always should be.

I sympathize and pray (or send good thoughts, if they’d prefer) for those who lost their lives, and for the loved ones they left behind who are grieving. I hold in my thoughts as well Muslims who an all-too-bigoted world will yet again hold responsible for the actions of a few lunatics. And I pray that again, as France, and the world, face an incident of terrorism, that we see it bring out more humanity than hate, more compassion than fear. Because at the end of the day, it is our humanity we have in common … and that counts for much more than I think some realize.

{October 15, 2013}   Thanks-Giving

The bad news over the last 3 weeks is that I have been far too busy to blog. The good news is, a lot of what has kept me busy the last few weeks has been good stuff – family and friends, busy-ness professionally etc. But I have struggled to see that. The work I try to do on mindfulness and gratitude has been a bit of a failure. Instead of seeing ‘look, I worked every day last week, which means professional contacts, professional fulfillment and yes, money,’ for example, I saw ‘OMG when am I ever going to get my marking done and clean my house?’. And then, along comes Thanksgiving weekend. And there is nothing like fun and uninterrupted time with one’s family on beautiful fall days to remind you that even – and perhaps especially – in the midst of the crazy, there are so many blessings to be found.

So – at the risk of sounding like one of those obnoxious folks bragging about how wonderful their life is in the midst of others who might be struggling – I would like to take the time to practice some thankfulness and awareness that there are two sides to everything … and that perhaps Thanksgiving (even a bit belatedly) is a good time to look at the brighter one. So – despite my grumbling at times the last few weeks – I am thankful for …

  • Babysitters! And family who enjoy sharing in the freedom of sitters!
  • My family and friends – never before in my life have I felt so surrounded by loving and supportive people, and been so aware of it. It brings me great joy.
  • Especially my little foursome here – we’ve all of us had some cranky, tired, and some ‘just get us through the day’ moments over the last three busy, sick, tired weeks, (illness, new teachers, changing schedules with me working etc.) but I also realize a lot of it is a sign of new growth, new learning, new phases, and we have all been growing TOGETHER as a team … and that’s a cool feeling. And I am thankful that we are a family of strong people with minds of our own, even our littlest ones.
  • Fulfilling work! I am so happy being reminded each and every week why I do what I do at my church, how helpful eLearning is to my students, and even the supply teaching river has been flowing a bit more fully this year (a HUGE part of the busy-ness). It’s been busy, but it has been fun, challenging, aggravating, wonderful, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
  • Health. Between all of us, we have spent two of the last three weeks ill, and it is absolutely amazing to have finally shaken off the bug and to have a home full of healthy people again.
  • The lessons of patience. There is a particular, and very important, phonecall I have been expecting for a week now, and am still waiting. And while I perhaps dislike the suspense, I realize time passing might be a good thing, to teach me patience and to ensure the best possible outcome for everyone.
  • Special occasions. Thanksgiving is such a wonderful and inspiring holiday, and with Halloween and two of my three boys’ birthdays coming up, and the Holidays not far behind, here begins a few of the happiest months of my year … cheer in the cold of fall and winter.

Whether you are in a time of peace and comfort, or struggling at this moment – or perhaps, as so often in life, a blessed and difficult mix of both – what are YOU thankful for?

I just read the following article over at ThinkProgress (good folks, by the way):

Call To Ban ‘Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl’ Prompts Sensible Response From Michigan School.

And I have just two thoughts to throw out there.

  1. If in reading this book about a young Jewish girl hiding with her family during the Holocaust, who ultimately didn’t survive, the most objectionable and difficult material for the parent in question in the above article to absorb consists of Anne Frank’s thoughts and observations of her body’s progress through puberty/adolescence etc., then she really is missing the forest for the trees. And …
  2. Whatever material we might find difficult, uncomfortable, worthy of oversight and ‘parental guidance’ – be it sexuality, war, violence, or a little old thing like genocide – I can’t drive home enough that the answer is not ban, hide, ignore, head-in-the-sand-ism. Your children, in the course of their lives, are going to learn about all of the above and then some, whether you like it or not. And whatever values you wish to instill in them – non-violence, patriotism, abstinence, bigotry, inclusiveness – are not best instilled by ignorance, but by frank and honest awareness and discussion, lest – for better or worse – they stumble upon this material and (gasp! horror!) develop their own opinions on it anyway.


Whether you wish to participate in, or nay, even control, your child’s education, the answer is not  to prevent their education, but to educate yourself so that you can help, participate, advocate. We don’t owe our children ignorance – we owe them frank, honest lessons and as much knowledge and wisdom as we can cram into their heads. Lest they, too, grow up one day thinking the answer to ‘I don’t like that’ is to hide it forever from public view.

{December 6, 2012}   A Photo Worth Dying For?

On Monday, Ki-Suck Han, 58, was pushed onto a subway track and killed by an oncoming train during a confrontation with a clearly-deranged homeless man (who has since been arrested). Photographer R. Umar Abbasi – a freelance paparazzo for the New York Post – snapped the scene before submitting the photos to the Post. An incredibly clear shot, which looks to be from reasonably up close, was splashed across yesterday’s Post cover with a tacky, almost jubilantly morbid headline that I will not repeat here (nor will I republish the photo).

Now I try to be cautious about judging – especially in situations I’m not aware of (although I suppose my nasty little piece on Nicole Kidman awhile back might demonstrate to the contrary … but I was careful to base that on her public behaviour and comments, not assumptions about her private life to which I bear no witness). Especially a gruesome scenario like this – a man on a track in the face of an oncoming train, with the madman who pushed him there still lurking around (and clearly willing to hurt/kill), I know that I, for one, am a panicker and am all too familiar with the inartful habit of freezing in urgent moments (ask my husband about my (non-)reaction to our dining table going up in flames several Chanukahs ago). But it flabbergasts me that in this picture, there is not one hand reaching out to help this man, no evidence of anyone even trying, although the photographer, Abbasi, stated there were others around. Reports suggest there were 22-60 seconds between Han’s landing on the tracks and the train making impact; honestly, no one in that time could have reached in, hit an alarm button, screamed for help, something? Plausible I suppose – and not something I can really get on my high horse about, as I wouldn’t have had a clue what to do or how to help myself and probably would have panicked and shut down – but every last person on the platform? Perhaps not evil or worthy of rage, but … perhaps a sad and disappointing commentary on our coping and survival skills, our compassion and willingness to help our fellow man, etc.

And what about photographer Abbasi? I’m willing to acknowledge he might have been too far away to actually be able to reach this guy in time to save his life. However, in that time, Abbasi had the opportunity to take several pictures (with a flash, clear enough to merit front page placement in the NY Post) – granted photo technology can be an amazing thing at all, but I guess … in this case, I’m just thinking that here is someone who  didn’t panic and freeze, who had the presence of mind enough to pull out his camera and take several (in)decent shots … who took them to the NY Post and sold them thereafter … while he speaks to taking the photos being almost instinctive, to it happening oh so fast, he didn’t realize how well they’d turned out, he hadn’t even looked at them … I’m just having a hard time reconciling these two realities; the panicked journalist almost nervously taking flash photos either because ‘that’s what he does’ or because he was trying to get the subway driver’s attention to see if he could stop quickly enough (two stories the photographer has told), who didn’t even look through his viewfinder while taking these pictures, with the quick presence of mind he demonstrated to get those pictures – perfectly framed, zoomed in and clear –  back to his newspaper, and sold in time for the next day’s edition, with no editorial say over the use or placement of said picture. Someone that shrewd was alert enough to do SOMETHING … or at least try … I can’t help but think.

And as for the New York Post … I’m not even going to try to get in your head or mitigate this or justify it. The photographer and other bystanders may or may not have had a story, a reason for panicked ‘in the moment’ behaviour, decisions good and bad in a crisis. I doubt it in some cases, believe it in others, but that’s at least a discussino with two sides. You, on the other hand, made an insensitive, greedy, cold, calculated choice to sensationalize that which needed no sensationalizing; to put on the front page a huge, provocative picture with little journalistic value (the story has been told well elsewhere simply with pictures of the subway station itself) and an almost snearing-gloating headline. Those who were there witnessed and went through a harrowing ordeal and to the extent anyone could have done anything more, I think the memories of that day and the conversations they will inevitably be having with their God – or conscience – is more than enough punishment to mitigate that guilt. You, on the other hand, have no excuse. The real tragedy here is and will always be the (possibly needless) death of a New York City commuter at the hands of a violently ill individual; the tragedy for the news media is that you, NY Post, continue to be referred to as anything other than a tabloid rag.

et cetera