Sunday, July 10, 2011

Feminine Empowerment: A Tribute to Betty Ford

Water Lily by Lynne Hurd Bryant
If one could point to one woman who changed the late 20th Century, that one woman would be Betty Ford.  She changed the way we view femininity, allowing frankness and honesty to become part of the definition.  She made it possible to be definitively lady-like and speak one's truth. She proved that wearing a dress didn't mean weakness or fragility.  We owe her much.

Mrs. Ford was the first woman to speak publicly about breast cancer and addiction.  The Betty Ford Center is her living legacy, giving a better life to tens of thousands of people who would not otherwise have sought help.  It is impossible to know how many breast cancer victims would have died, had she not encouraged all women in being examined and tested.

In thinking about the ever increasing openness she encouraged, it is easy to name a multitude of issues that are now discussed openly; homosexuality, impotence, incest, child abuse, alcoholism, HIV/AIDS, and the list goes on.  This free discussion of previously personal issues has lead us from Jerry Springer to reality TV, the down side of being able to discuss anything publicly.  These shows miss the point that Mrs. Ford brought us:  Dignity.

Reality TV, which seems to be every other show on television these days, is a chance to let people with problems bare it all.  This is summertime, my younger daughter is home from college and she loves this garbage, so I have had this inflicted upon me, once again.  These shows have always struck me as people behaving badly in front of a camera, and for the all the world to see.  Having challenges in life does not entitle one to behave badly, in front of a camera or in life.  Letting it "all hang out" doesn't solve the problems and it is anything, but dignity.

There is a fine line between being honest and saying too much, between honoring your personal reality and attention seeking, between being a good example and serving as a warning to others.  Mrs. Ford walked this line with great skill, and I admire her for it.  She was one of the last great American ladies, and a true lady, she was.

As my grandmother used to say:  It is not what happens to you, it is how you take it. Betty Ford met her challenges with grace and personal integrity, which we would all do well to remember and emulate.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Firecracker day

July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress unanimously voted for independence from British tyranny.  Our founding fathers risked their lives in this pursuit.  Under British law, this was considered treason, punishable by death.  The document ratified was written by Thomas Jefferson, a Virginia slave owner.  Benjamin Franklin and John Adams had a hand in editing some of the superb language, but felt that Jefferson's work was exquisite, as do we today. However, we feel somewhat differently about freedom than Jefferson did.

John Adams was an intense personality with a fiery temper.  His views arose from deep sentiment and a strong sense of morality.  On July 3, 1776, he wrote three letters to his wife, Abigail. He expressed a great deal of excitement in the last letter of that day, the day before that most auspicious of days, July 4, the day that would change the world, the day that set forth radical ideas and would ultimately change the course of mankind.  Adams sensed this and with his usual verve, he wrote Abigail with his visions for the future.  He felt that July 4th would be celebrated as a national holiday with fireworks and parties in the streets.  He understood the magnitude of this event before it had even taken place.  He could not have envisioned the magnitude of current events.

I live in a small town in Wyoming where people are allowed to shoot off fireworks.  Families often spend more on fireworks than on Christmas so that the air is heavy with sulfurous smoke and the roads littered with garbage. This is done without understanding the purpose of the day.  In the last couple of years, I have asked neighborhood children why we shoot off fireworks on July 4th.  The reply?  Because it is firecracker day!  I said no, it is the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.  What is that?  The day we celebrate the end of British rule and British tyranny, the day we became a nation in our own right.  They looked at me as if I were speaking Greek.  It would seem we have taken Jesus Christ out of Christmas and now we have taken freedom out of the 4th of July.  I wonder what Adams and Jefferson would say to this. 

George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were the first three presidents of a great nation we call the United States of America.  Washington lead an army for freedom.  Adams lit the flames on the torch of patriotism for the new nation.  Jefferson gave us heart and inspiration.  Today, our army fights for freedom, though not ours. The flames of patriotism are often merely the smoke that blinds us to the needs of one another.  Our heart and inspiration have become an attitude of individuality that cares not for the common good. 

These 235 years on, it is time to revisit our history books and our forefathers.  It is time to understand that while we fought back tyranny of one kind, we traded it for another; a tyranny of apathy, disinterest and ignorance.  We have come full circle to taxation without true representation and to the type of bloated federal machine that has no more concern or understanding of its citizens than King George III had for the colonists.

This is the year to declare our independence once again.  It is time to understand history so we are not doomed to repeat it.  It is time to understand that the gift of freedom carries a burden of responsibility, and that those responsibilities belong to all of us.  The unalienable rights, to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is the American definition of freedom, but freedom is not freedom without equity.  It is time to go back to the source, read it and understand it; create a few fireworks of home grown variety.