“God()mend thine every flaw…”

The parentheses are intentional and would include the words “help us” if the lyric allowed. Mending is not His job; it’s ours.

In a January blog (#mypresident, #because), the line in today’s title wasn’t the focus, just a reference. More relevant, probably, was the part of the verse that added “Confirm thy soul in self-control/Thy liberty in law!” The year 2020 had by any estimation been a rough year. You know the details. It’s only human nature to move on and (if not forget) to explain. Indeed, the operative word was probably “self-control.” I can’t think of any other lyrics with that phrase.

God is petitioned elsewhere in the poem to “shed His grace on thee,” “crown thy good with brotherhood,” and “thy gold refine.” These seem actions for the Almighty. Somehow, “mend” is different.

Usually, it’s a word we use to mean “repair” or “correct” or “improve.” Socks get mended (well, used to) and bones mend, a fascinating process. In this case, however, the word doesn’t seem quite right. The reason? Mending flaws is something WE (lots of emphasis added) should be doing, and that not by divine intervention. This article offers four things to do, simple and to the point. The author, Seth Cohen, founded Applied Optimism and writes with specificity and insigh in the Forbes article. His first suggestion is “soften your heart,” an injunction found in most religions. Other articles exist, of course, but the ones easily googled seemed slanted at best.

Here is another idea to consider: Know thy country. The aphorism “Know thyself” has a long and wide-ranging history. Most of us aren’t even particularly good at that. We might know what flavor of ice cream we prefer, what insect we fear. Change, though, is hard. We’re prone to say “Well, this is how I am” when confronted with flaws. The effort of change—even if acknowledged as needed—requires more than most of us can usually manage. Our country, however, exists in writing as well as lived experience. Links to the founding documents are easy to find and have been given before. The differences can be explained with “should” and “shall.”

First, a “should.” The positioning of flags on Monday, May 31 should happen a certain way. They are raised quickly to the top of the flagpole, then lowered to half-staff slowly (or, more accurately, briskly up and ceremoniously down). At noon, they are returned to full staff. The morning honors the dead; the afternoon, the living. The instructions are all “should” and “should not”s, not musts and must nots; for a comprehensive discussion, see here. USC Title 4, §6a, for Memorial Day and others. Here is a summary of the traditions. The entire United States Code, the document in which laws are codified, is here. 

Now to some “shall” and “shall not” sections of the Bill of Rights. Amendment I: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Amendment IV: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” These are not traditions. They are framework, instructions, foundation.

When the Constitution has needed mending (amending), the process has been in place to do so (Article V of the Constitution). Changes are by design difficult and ponderous. Although Emily Dickinson said, “If you take care of the small things, the big things take care of themselves,” I disagree vehemently. This object lesson fits, literally (large rocks, then pebbles, then sand into a jar) and can be observed here. The structure of our country works that way as well: a solid scaffolding, a method for alterations when needed.

This Memorial Day, in the afternoon, you may or may not see flags at full-staff again. That’s just a matter of knowing a “should.” The mending, the changing, begins with—but does not stay with—our hearts. We, too, can be deliberate in our changes, acting and speaking with care and conscience, based on knowledge and conviction. We are truly here (elsewhere and everywhere) the hands God uses for the mending.





#mask, #nomask, #don’tjudge

  • May 19, 2021: Costco, Cox Farms Nursery, Aldi. Unmasked. Following the CDC change of recommendation for mask wearing, I went without a mask although I had one around my wrist. Just in case. The wording is mostly clear: “Update that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.” The summary section here.
  • I was pleased, liberated even. And yes, feeling a bit rebellious because not everyone was unmasked. Over the weekend and all afternoon Tuesday, I wore a mask almost constantly: 3 airplanes and airports, Deseret Industries, Ross required A few other places sported recommended, which I took to mean not required and didn’t.
  • As recently as April 19, 2021, CDC had extensive advice for the group referred to as “unvaccinated people,” although we remember that the same was also intended for the vaccinated. The main thrust seemed to be protection of others, with the wearer a secondary target. I also heard from vaccinated people that they continued to wear masks outside “to set a good example.”
  • Questions remain, of course. Did masks ever really help? Probably—maybe 50% per a Danish study that some tried to “explain.” That Dr. Anthony Fauci lied about not wearing masks early in the pandemic didn’t help, though he has said he doesn’t regret doing so. Will mask be worn from now on during flu season? The CDC says no except for healthcare workers. Droplets etc…just like COVID-19.
  • Some shouldn’t have been wearing masks anyway (children under 2, people who have trouble breathing, someone who is unconscious, someone who needs help getting one off), which seems both obvious and observable. There were obviously rebels before May 13, of course. Vaccinated and standing outside, I heard from a man inside a takeout window that I needed to put my mask on. Where’s the science in that? Droplets, people.
  • HOWEVER, some people still wear masks. The unvaccinated, regardless of their reasons: chemo, transplant recipients, high risk people (older, heavier, diabetic, afflicted with kidney or liver disease, pregnant, Down syndrome, full list). Yes, those who are scared of taking the mask off. And you know what? That’s ok. If you choose to or need to wear a mask, wear it. It isn’t any of my business. It isn’t anyone’s business. When we couldn’t go into Costco without a mask, the dynamics were different (Ricky Shroder’s short-lived boycott aside). Things changed quickly. Let’s not judge. Smile, and not just with your eyes. Let the wearers alone.

The Singing Voice (Part 2)

It took a minute for Violet to understand. Obviously, Joanna hadn’t lost her voice because they were having a conversation. Then, she realized she didn’t mean her speaking voice. It was her singing voice that was gone. Violet blinked a few times and said, rather quietly, “Oh no!”

The coincidental nature of the revelation needed to be addressed. However, Violet didn’t think she could say, “How odd! I woke up and could sing like Maria Callas!” She muttered, again, “Oh no! I’m sorry to hear that.” The “hear” was awkward, she realized, so she excused herself to the dessert table.

The meeting went well enough, with some charming pieces and attentive applause. Joanna had been last on the program, and when she stood and said she would not be able to perform because her voice was gone, shocked gasps preceded the questions: “What happened? Did you call your doctor? Have you tried gargling? Lemon honey tea?” Joanna kept her composure but said she could not really explain. It wasn’t a lost voice related to a medical condition. Her singing ability had disappeared, evaporated, gone, whatever verb might be strongest.

Now that Violet couldn’t make her own announcement, she struggled to decide what to do. Nothing was obvious. She would go home and sing to herself for a few days while she thought it through. When she looked at Joanna’s face, however, she knew she couldn’t. She’d offer to stay and clean up.

As they were rinsing the punch cups, Violet began timidly, “Joanna, I have something to tell you. It’ll sound crazy so just hear me out.”


“This morning, when I woke up and went in to wash my hands, I could sing ‘Happy Birthday’.”

Joanna frowned. “You always sing that when you wash your hands.”

“No, I don’t really. I sort of sing at it. Not really sing it. This morning, I could SING! As in beautifully, professionally. It’s not my voice at all.”

The expression on Joanna’s face didn’t change. “Are you making fun of me? Because if…”

“Never! Look, if everyone’s gone, I’ll show you.”

They went into the music room and sat down on the matching stools. Joanna took charge of the moment. She played a middle C and asked, “Do you know solfège?”


“Great. Let’s start here and find your range.” So for the next fifteen minutes Violet went up the scale with her do-re-mis and back down with her do-ti-las. Next were mi-may-ma-mo-moos and a host of other exercises Violet obediently repeated. Then, things got serious. Joanna opened up her book of arias and flipped through well-worn pages, whispering “no” at every one. “I know,” she said. “Just sing ‘Happy Birthday.’”

“Why not?” Violet began without hesitation, not looking at Joanna at first but just imagining that first, glorious realization from twelve hours before. Beauty, grace, and style—all still there.

Joanna was silent for a moment. She breathed deeply. “It’s mine. You have my voice. The range, the timbre, the inflections. My voice and my training. I don’t know what to say.”

“I’d say I’m lucky. That’s a compliment.”

“I’d agree. Now. What to do?”

“What do you mean? We didn’t do it so how can we undo anything?”

Joanna thought a minute. “You know all those movies? The ones where people accidentally traded bodies?”


“Freaky. Freaky Friday.”

“Oh yeah. I remember that one. There are others?

“Tons, actually. Stories, movies, novels, animé.”

“That’s random. How in the world do you know about them?”

“In grad school I did a thesis project on Gilbert and Sullivan. Gilbert’s first opera libretto was set by someone else, but the theme was body swapping. That’s sort of an odd term. The scientific one is metempsychosis, the fancy word for transmigration of souls. It struck my fancy, so I researched the literature.”

“Wow. So, how did things get resolved in these tons of things? Magic?”

“Sure. And alien technology or car accidents or AI transfers or lightning strikes. You name it.”

Violet was now the troubled one. “But we didn’t do any of that. We only see each other here. Is this…could we be in a dream?”

Joanna reached over to pinch her, but she stopped short. “Hey, I don’t know. It’s not a dream. My tears are real. Your…my…the…voice is real.”

“Think, then. I mean, magic is one thing. Lots of science looks like magic to me. Cell phones? The combustion engine? That green lipstick that turns pink?”

“Hey, I get it. But you’re the one who got the voice. I didn’t do anything but wake up. Done any wishing lately?”

Violet thought about the night before. Another beautiful night. “You know, when the evening star came up…”

“It’s Venus.”

“Yes, I know. ‘Evening star’ seemed more poetic. So remember when kids used to wish on the first star they saw? Then we had the Jiminy Cricket song? Maybe I did wish I could sing. It was silly. Not a real intent. It doesn’t work like that.”

“You never know. Stranger things have happened. Can’t argue with the outcome.”

“So what do we do now? You’re the expert.”

Joanna laughed, a little. “I don’t know about that. My thinking is just to do the reverse. Go home. Find Venus. Make a wish…upon a star.”

College requires certain challenges. Knowing she couldn’t sing, Violet dreaded the required two hours required for voice instruction. She went faithfully to the temporary building that had been up for thirty years, far back from the stately main building. Crunchy pathways, nicely tended, took Violet carefully along week after week until, finally, she had been scheduled. Her song? “People.” Because of its central place in the movie? No. Because Violet identified with its simple but stirring lyrics? No. Because she knew it was a favorite of the teacher’s? Oddly, also no. She had chosen “People” for the most obvious and best reason of all: She thought it was the easiest possible choice of any. While that may have not worked out exactly as she’d hoped, there she was on the morning of her performance, heart in her throat, pulse racing, accompanist ready. Truth be told, she did about as well as she could have. She’d listened to the teacher and even practiced a bit, but she couldn’t overcome her deeply held belief that nothing she could do would make any difference in the outcome. It was B- work all the way.

They were quiet a minute. Neither was a particularly enthusiastic hugger, so they finished the dishes, smiled at the door, and went their ways. Violet saw Venus…or maybe it was Mars. “Star light, star bright,/ First star I see tonight I wish I may, I wish I might, Have this wish I wish tonight.” She felt not at all silly. It was for a friend, a sister really. With a deep breath, she tried the do-re-mi again. No. Still beautiful.

The next morning, Violet did feel odd, but it had been a remarkable 24 hours. She was worried about starting to sing. What if it was really gone? Or still there? Was one wish enough? She washed her hands without singing, fixed some cereal, ate, dressed, and went to the piano. Tears came. Normally not a crying person, and even thought the events from the day before had a bizarre quality, Violet had loved the thrill of the beautiful notes. The songs she’d never sung. Deep breath. “Hap-py birth-day to you” was enough: It was gone. She called Joanna.


“Hey, I was waiting for you to call when you found out. Are you…okay?”

“Sure. Just one of those things. I still have nothing that resembles a logical explanation. There’s no way wishing works any more than magic does.”

Joanna laughed, in earnest now. “I know, right? But fact is, it did happen. We weren’t dreaming. I couldn’t sing, you could, now it’s done—or undone.”

Violet tried a little laugh, but it wasn’t much. “Luck of the draw.”

Joanna added, “You can still play the flute though. That’s great. Still…I did think of something.”

“What’s that?”

“I know you’ve had some voice lessons in the past.”

“College and a neighbor afterward. She was convinced she could improve me.”

“Did she?”

“Ummm…maybe a little. A very little.”

“Let’s see if we can make the most of this little adventure. You’ve got some music obviously, and I’ve got some exercises. What about getting together for some coaching? No charge for first five lessons.”

Violet breathed again. “Wow. That’d be great. But I’m really no good. I don’t think it’ll work.”

“But this time there are differences. You have sung. You have sung beautifully. No, it wasn’t your voice, but you will always remember how it felt. ‘Attitude more than aptitude determines altitude.’”

This time it was Violet who laughed. “You’re right. If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right. Sure. I can try.”

Joanna immediately had the next quotation ready: “There is no try.”

Violet agreed, and they picked a time. Monday morning, ten. A beautiful morning it would be. “One more thing, Joanna.”

“What’s that?”

“Would you…if you don’t mind…will you sing ‘Happy Birthday’? Surely it’s someone’s today. Just once, the 10-second version?”

Joanna smiled and began: “Hap-py birth-day to you, hap-py birth-day to you, Hap-py birth-day dear…Maria. Hap-py birth-day to you!” Beauty, grace, style.

Silence for a few seconds. “Thank you, Joanna. Thank you very much.”

“You’re welcome. It’s going to be work. Go warm up. We’ll get this done. Go brighten an hour.”


©Mary Ann Taylor 2020

The Singing Voice (Part 1)

Good habits are like good tools: If you take care of them, they’ll take care of you. Violet had lots of them and recommended them freely to friends. The advice, not the tools. So it was no surprise to find her washing her hands that fateful Friday morning for twenty seconds, as recommended. The surprise—and it was a stunning one—came when she opened her mouth to sing “Happy Birthday,” as was her habit.

May 8, age 11, the audition: Violet wanted to sing in the 5th grade choir. She didn’t play the violin or the piano, as some of the other kids did. She could square dance about as well as any, with a new dress of navy blue, a full circle of it bound with red and yellow rickrack. She could twirl and twirl. But she could not sing very well. Courage up, she went to the music room that warm afternoon. The crossing guard let those trying out run, for once. He was smiling, for once too, at their eagerness. The room was actually its own building, built long before the school itself. The wood floors, brown and marred, had seen and heard decades of songs, sung with earnest endeavor. Mrs. Lawson welcomed the students at the door as she did for class. They were to sing in alphabetical order, either “America the Beautiful” or “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.” Violet chose “America” and went to her place. She trembled and wondered why she had thought to try. Perhaps because she wasn’t able to study violin—no money. Or the piano—no piano. But her courage was up, and she began. “Oh beautiful, for spacious skies…” and it was that soon that Violet saw in Mrs. Lawson’s eyes that the intervals were all just a bit off, and the timbre was just a bit hollow, and that she would not be chosen.

Time altered in that instant the first note came out of Violet’s mouth, the water running, the soap foaming. In her subconscious, there was the “Hap…” and when it formed in the air, it was a vibrant, rich, full-throated “Hap…” not unlike a trained operatic soprano would have vocalized. Violet almost choked.

December 17, age 12, the Christmas program: Although she wasn’t in the select choir, Violet did sing with the rest of the 6th graders in the songs for the audience. It was PTA, Monday evening, when she first heard Mrs. Lawson sing. The windows in the cafeteria were covered with dozens of snowflakes cut by the 3rd graders. The walls were bedecked with carefully glued garlands of red and green loops, courtesy of the 1st graders. It was 72 degrees outside that evening, but Christmas was still in the air. Violet had a particularly good view of the audience. Parents and siblings were to the back, with the toddler in tow. She watched carefully as Mrs. Lawson approached the podium just in front of her, thanking the choirs and the parents and the teachers. She said she’d conclude with a song she’d prepared and nodded toward the parent/accompanist at the small console piano. “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose…” Violet’s eyes widened in amazement. Mrs. Lawson could really sing! Gone were the simple intervals she taught, or the long tones. The melody came out like honey—warm and golden and rich. Violet found herself wondering where this voice had been all these years. She exulted in its beauty. And then “Although it’s been said many times, many way, Merry Christmas to you” just like that it was over. Violet knew she’d never be the same.

She turned off the water and dried her hands, wrinkled her brow in worry, and opened her mouth to sing again. “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear…Maria Callas, happy birthday to you!” It was still there, the voice that didn’t belong to her, clearly. What could have happened? A quick check of her throat didn’t show anything. She rustled up a flashlight and checked again. Everything looked about the same as usual. Feeling her neck, she found no lumps or bumps. Perhaps a slight thickening where she supposed her larynx might be. Suddenly she realized that she knew virtually nothing about how her voice worked and spent an hour on YouTube looking at a throat endoscopy while the patient was singing. Many drawings, representations, models, CGI optics galore. The vocabulary began to take on a hypnotic quality. Mucosa, thyroid, cricoid, arytenoid, hyoid bone. Cuneiform corniculate. It began to seem almost poetic. Wait, she wondered. Isn’t cuneiform a kind of writing? Middle Eastern? She had to look it up and then couldn’t remember if she had once known the Latin word meant “wedge.” On one video, certain promises were made about improvement when following certain protocols. Again, she didn’t know the words the instructor was using. For that matter, she wasn’t sure even how to pronounce “larynx.” That took another 15 minutes, with the usual UK-US differences, or leh- vs. la-. It was all so overwhelming that Violet realized she needed a breakfast and a nap.

Sleep wouldn’t come. Violet thought back to her earliest musical training, with her great-great aunt Maggie. By the time they met, she was already in her 70s and quite frail at that. She had been a piano teacher for decades and decades. Her blind husband was a piano tuner. Their modest home—quiet and mothballed—had never seen its own children. The furniture held all sorts of surprises, with hidden storage beneath horsehair straps and the old upright, imposing, heavy, dusted. At some point, the family had decided that Violet needed piano lessons from her Aunt Maggie. Not that she would have access to a piano, but that was secondary to getting a bit of needed income into the house, with dignity. First, the learning: Every Good Boy Does Fine and FACE. Simple enough. Then, the positioning of the hands, right and left alike. No fingernails allowed, obviously. That was an obstacle of some substance, for Violet’s grew fast and wild even at her tender seven years. Finally, her own piece: “Five Little Chickadees” challenged her ten little fingers. Even more, however, the experience challenged her voice, for there were words. “Five little chickadees, sitting by a door/One flew away and then there were four” did not come out of Violet easily or well. She strained for the pitches, grasped at the rhythms. Poor chickadees, poor Aunt Maggie. Violet was not a willful child, not really, but for decades and decades she regretted those tears she caused.

Violet decided it was not to question this odd, very odd, change but to get the work of singing. She didn’t have much in the way of sheet music, of course, just the book of pieces from her college class in voice and some vocal pieces she’d played on flute through the years. The two—a clear, light soprano and the mid- and upper-range of the flute—were not so different after all. Once, playing at a wedding reception, the father of the bride sought out Violet and asked if she was singing, the melody was so sweet. She laughed and assumed he was kidding, but how would he know she couldn’t have if she’d tried? So, lots to choose from. Violet had so many favorites to choose from. Puccini “Un bel di vedremo” and “O mio bambino caro” came before Mozart’s “Alleluia” because she wanted the tears first. Which lied would she choose? She thought only briefly and decided on “Gretchen am Spinnrade.” Yes, the A was there. Flute players don’t know its number, so she had to look it up, 5. The G just below on “sein Kuß”  was her favorite, though, as it reminded her of a dear one, gone long ago. But considering that she could only squeak out a D the night before, all was well. A rest, a drink of water before Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise.” She knew how to conclude the morning’s program, of course. Tears first, a cleansed palate, a wordless ode must give way to the crown jewel, the piece de resistance, the true test, the Mount Everest: “Die Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen.” How Violet loved the Queen of the Night’s showiest, gutsiest, bad mommiest aria! Who would have thought? The raging cursing was not Violet’s way. Although she’d hated the idea of being a shrinking anything (a familiar taunt from her sister), decorum meant something to her. But that F6, unimaginable. Instrumental in its execution, brilliant in its glory, the metaphoric and magnificent knife at Pamina’s throat.

A year in the future, Violet imagined, her world would be different. A new wardrobe, of course, for dramatic recitals. Maybe a touch of …what? Eyelashes? Yes, it would take hard work. Determination and diligence. Coaching, lots of that. She’d make her debut onstage. All afternoon she’d sung the beloved songs, the ones that echoed from times past. She surprised herself for not being immediately thankful and turned to her hymnbook, a bit chastened after a fiery rendition. The family fortune still needed to be made, and with a voice like this, well, who knew? Actually, she might need some local auditions first. If her lofty dreams deflated, she’d open up again on “Happy Birthday” to feel encouraged. The science of the miracle, or the miracle of the science, eluded her. She contemplated a name change. Verdi’s Violetta was not her favorite and tried not to think of herself as “the woman who (would ever) stray.” Perhaps the narrowness of her choices would confine her—too early to tell, of course. In the high excitement of the day, she’d forgotten the night’s meeting of her dear music club. Exultant, she realized it could be a time to announce her change from average flute player to superior lyric soprano. She might even offer to sing for them.

A warm and charming May evening, Violet drove alone to the house of the month’s musical hostess. Joanna had two pianos and plenty of room for everyone. The acoustics were good, or as good as they could be in a home. The intimate setting, almost a salon, lent itself well to meetings. Everyone was there—Jackie and her twin Johnnie, fine pianists both; Angelica, the cellist; Naomi, the oboist who made her own reeds; Hermilio, the trumpeter and mariachi crossover; five or six new graduates who would be joining. Joanna, ever the gracious hostess, had made her signature cheesecake and also consented to sing a bit of Bach. Violet walked in, earlier than usual, and found her nametag on the entryway table. She couldn’t help but smile while thinking of her surprise. Eyebrows would go up, mouths would drop open, cheers might go up. Gone were all the years of apologizing for her poor singing voice. Gone the appraisals of “You can fit in well enough if you watch the upper range.” Waiting until the end of the meeting would be best and allow the performers their times. Of course, once she sang, Violet knew no one could continue, not only from the quality of the voice itself but also from the shock and newness.

It was something of a startle, then, to hear weeping in the kitchen. Joanna was clearly not herself—hair barely combed, lipstick askew, mascara down her cheeks. Her eyes were red and swollen, not the result of a brief outburst but more likely from hours of jagged crying.

“What ever is the matter?” blurted Violet.

Joanna sniffed and held her tissue to her nose. “It’s terrible. Awful. I can hardly talk about it. No way to explain it.”

“Kyle? Has something happened to Kyle?” Violet knew how much Joanna depended on her wonderful husband/accompanist.

“Kyle? No, heavens no. He’s fine. It’s me.”

“Has the cancer come back? Same place?”

“Violet, slow down. Don’t leap to things. It’s my voice. It’s gone. When I went in to vocalize this morning, I couldn’t even squeeze out a decent scale, mid-range, much less the ‘Jesus bleibet meine Freude.’ Not even Happy Birthday!”



“You Again” and “Within the Whirlwind”: Two Movie Reviews

Tears can’t always be explained. Perhaps you saw this video of a toddler crying as his sister plays Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor (“Moonlight”), first movement. She does a nice job, but he is feeling rather than talking, so there’s no telling. Speaking of inexplicable, this is the 3rd movement played beautifully in full as part of a motivating morning ritual that includes aromatherapy and oils; it’s an ad. Here is Glen Gould, who plays faster than most. Some say this version by Emil Gilels is the best. Perhaps. But it doesn’t make me cry. Whether it would the child we cannot know. Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, though, is the apotheosis of weeping. This short radio excerpt explains its history and impact as it was placed in the National Recording Registry. Here is the debut recording from 1938 with Arturo Toscanini.

There are bad ways to make people cry, of course. One sort uses the saccharin, the overly sentimental story. These have been passed around as long as there have been ways to share.  Someone invented the term “glurge” to separate them from real-life examples. Snopes, of course, is happy to sort the truth from the fiction, the legend from the unconfirmed. A few are even true and cryable as this one might: Jack Benny (a comedian in case you don’t remember) arranged for a rose to be delivered to his wife every day from his death to hers. I emphasize the “might.”

Sometimes, at the last moment, a directorial decision can go beyond sweetness and change tears to anger. In the movie The Notebook, we have Noah going to sleep with Allie. Spoiler: He doesn’t wake up. While we might have expected her passing, his was random and just a wee bit too much. Seriously, part of the pathos of the death of a spouse is that one has to go on without the other. It’s not easy, like this ending. And it doesn’t happen in the book. You can watch the scene here. But far worse was the ending of Downton Abbey Season 3. Spoiler: A baby is born, bliss expressed between doting parents, father killed on the way home. A clip here. I was so upset that I vowed not to watch another minute of the series and continued with that sentiment until the next season began. I figured they were as upset as I was, and I should support them. Knowing that the character left the series helps not a bit, but the actor was still apologizing as recently as 2019. Lady Sybil died earlier in the season, of course, but we were prepared via multiple foreshadowed, poorly decided medical decisions.

Another way to make people cry is meanness, except when it makes us laugh. This brings us to the first movie, You Again (2010). It didn’t get particularly good reviews on RottenTomatoes (19% critics, 43% audience). On Amazon Prime, however, it receives 4.5 stars from over 3200 viewers, with 88% giving it 4 or 5 stars. That’s quite a difference. The older Mean Girls (2004) has been wildly popular since its apparently quotable debut, but the premises are different. The latter is a teen movie, while the former film spans generations. In You Again, it’s not the audience crying; it’s the characters. We are laughing—not at their tears but at the pratfalls and complications. Not a spoiler: There is plenty of meanness to go around.

So what’s to like in You Again? The star power is remarkable, especially for a PG rom-com. The women—Kristen Bell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Betty White, Sigourney Weaver, Odette Annable (later Dr. Jessica Adams on House), Kristin Chenoweth—may be overdoing things a bit, but that’s part of Betty White’s schtick anyway. There are also cameos: Dwayne Johnson, Patrick Duffy, Hall and Oates, and another star not named in cast lists because any mention would give away a funny bit at the end.

The story is not entirely predictable, a good thing. We are prepared (manipulated?) to expect one outcome and get another, probably a better thing. More importantly, however, we learn something about redemption (the 4th  and highest “R” of literature) and even the 3rd one (revelation) as we understand our own misguided expectations. Well, as long as we’re on them—the 1st R is recreation, and the 2nd is recognition—and each has a role in this funny depiction of meanness for us and the characters.

Obviously, the term “meanness” doesn’t seem sufficient for the horrors of history. Because the Russians were allies in World War II, Stalin and the millions of deaths attributed to him are often secondary to their role in defeating the Nazis. It was the Russian Army that secured Berlin, leading to German surrender in 1945. Stalin had Hitler’s body returned to Moscow so that it couldn’t be used as a symbol for sympathizers. However, he failed to punish the soldiers who pillaged and raped afterward and broke promises regarding Sovietization of Eastern Europe. Purges of Communist Party members were common, the basis for Within the Whirlwind (2009).

Yes, this is the movie during which I cried. While there are some WWII movies and television that have humor— (JoJo Rabbit (2019), an amazing use of satire to portray bravery; Life Is Beautiful (1997), a true story; The Producers (1967, 2005), hard to explain; Hogan’s Heroes (1965-1971)—most are heart-wrenching. Within is also a true story, recommended by a friend because it’s about a literature teacher. Emily Watson (not Emma of Harry Potter) plays Yevgenia Ginzburg, a passionate professor and loyal Communist. In the beginning we see her with her classes. She is unrelentingly honest with students, offering pointed criticisms with kindness and honesty. An assassination of a Party official means someone must pay. Ginzburg is arrested and convicted of anti-Soviet agitation, protesting her loyalty all the while. Her husband will not help. She is sent to Siberia. Those of a certain age remember the place, the sentence that meant brutal cold, years of forced labor and deprivation, frequently death.

Without spoilers: The story is not always what you might expect. Fortunes rise and fall. We hear relevant literature (“What shall I do with this body they gave me,” Olip Mandelstam), and we see confused explanations of what Stalin is doing. The years go by, and Ginzburg hears news of her husband and children. Feeling the depths of her suffering and pain, we weep. Someone once told me that there is nothing one human being won’t do to another. I didn’t want to believe it, but I knew it was true. The 1981 review of the memoirs on which the movie is based adds details but, more importantly, explanations for survival (well, sort of a spoiler) and more.

You made me laugh. You made me cry. Both are gifts. Thank you.



Simply, Liv: A Queer LDS Woman Speaks

“What did she say?” was more like “Did she say what I think she said?” The theme of the day was “I Am a Child of God. His Promises Are Sure.” These are the words from the 4th verse of a children’s song, sung here inclusively but missing that verse. Here the Church website has all the words, in 25 languages. If all other hymns suddenly disappeared, this one would remain as the clearest statement of what we believe.

What follows are three reflections on what Liv said.


One sits listening, perhaps dozing comfortably here and there, to lovely speeches or talks of the day. Invited by a friend to watch the BYU Women’s Conference, I was happy to be enlightened and inspired and so on. I must have been happily such when I noticed a young woman standing beside Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the General Relief Society Presidency (the women’s group of the church) and director of the Church’s humanitarian work in the Middle East. Jessica Livier “Liv” Haynes was asked to introduce herself and said, “I’m a Young Women’s president. I’m a daughter, a sister, a returned missionary. I am queer. I am a person who loves going to the temple. And above all of those things, I am a daughter of Heavenly Parents who strives every day to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.”

Liv then goes on to discuss reasons why she stopped going to church for a time and adds how her bishop greets her: “Are you my sister in Christ?” (Watch here at 26:40 or 28:08.) It was short, sweet, and unforgettable. The message argued for inclusivity, though there was no discussion of what she meant by the word “queer” and, indeed, the definition may not be other than describing a person who is not heterosexual. There is a large section on the Church website that includes other member stories and videos. Non-church organizations also exist, such as North Star, a community of individual believers “exploring the complexities of sexual orientation and gender identity within the context of faith.” The website has member stories and videos. Liv is there, too.

Stunned and alert, I then realized that while the topic had been discussed in talks, I don’t think an individual member had ever addressed us. The picture today–a hen protecting her chicks–reflects the protective atmosphere in which we listened to Liv. It’s Biblical, of course: …”as a hen would gather her brood…” We just aren’t used to seeing it happen in real time.


What follows is part of a piece I wrote for the Dallas Morning News in March 2015. My editor had published everything I had submitted; this one he declined, twice. He said the second time that he would consider it if someone notable gave some sort of orientational statement. It was not convincing, and I wasn’t convinced. Still, I think of it from time to time.

For context, remember that Obergefell vs. Hodges was decided in June 2015, with the Supreme Court holding 5-4 that the Fourteenth Amendment rendered unconstitutional bans on same-sex marriages and compelled states to recognize marriages from all other states duly performed. Here I assume that a change was coming but argue a single, minor point.

“In a classic Sesame Street sketch, Carl brushes his teeth and washes his hands, water running the entire time. Frank the Fish has been humming along happily in his pond (connected directly to the faucet) as his life-sustainer drains away. He struggles. He calls Carl to ask him to turn off the tap and to remind him not to waste water. Carl agrees. It’s a 46-second lesson that’s lasted me decades, as I took away the idea that we need to think about the impact of our actions. But my topic is not water conservation but something startlingly different.

Regardless of the sense of joy or defeat for your particular opinion [on the pending court case], consider one word: Restraint. Some people will find this change difficult because of what it will make more open: same-gender displays of affection in public or in media. These individuals may not be members of the LGBTQ community because they’ve chosen not to be open about their orientation. Or perhaps they do acknowledge their orientation but choose not to act on it. They have chosen, instead, chastity.

As private as that decision seems, we need to think about Carl and Frank the Fish again. Our actions affect others, simply put. Why make life harder for someone else?  One person’s decision to announce his orientation is met with respect. Another person’s decision not to offer her inner thoughts and feelings should be as well. It’s an invisible choice, but that doesn’t mean it lacks validity.

Expressing affection in public has met with negative results for some same-sex couples. Strangers have come up and told them their actions are disgusting, for example. Perhaps that reaction will fade.  I expect it will.

What about those for whom those PDAs are not appalling—but appealing? I fear they will be forgotten or discounted as dishonest.  Restraint in the PDA area isn’t about judgment or morals or even good manners. It’s not even about Frank the Fish struggling for air. It’s about someone dear to me trying so, so hard not to look.”


So, several years ago, that was my message, largely unread. These days, and after seeing Liv, I think it wouldn’t be so different. Remember to be civil and loving. You literally don’t know who is dealing with what challenges. Stupid and/or thoughtless things get said all the time. If we didn’t need practice in and instruction on how to love, we would be angels already.

In May 1995, Russell M. Nelson, now the leader of the Church, spoke on tolerance. Here are three essential points: 1) “…there is a difference between tolerance and tolerate. Your gracious tolerance for an individual does not grant him or her license to do wrong, nor does your tolerance obligate you to tolerate his or her misdeed.” The old adage “Love the sinner, not the sin” misses the point; we are already all sinners who, on reflection, cannot cast stones. It is our actions that we can and should control. 2) “To Paul’s list I might add the regrettable attitudes of bigotry, hypocrisy, and prejudice.” The list he is referencing comes in Galatians 5. Beginning in verse 21, Paul lists things not to do; 23 has the “to do” list, by the way. Remember that this is 1995, not last week. 3) Finally, this statement: “Intolerance seeds contention; tolerance supersedes contention. Tolerance is the key that opens the door to mutual understanding and love.” I see a lot of intolerance these days on all sides. Rather than confronting it, too many are ignoring it. Again, again, again, let’s talk openly and not shut others out.