A Sunday Morning Meditation
Nelson Mandela

He is 86 years old now and has returned to live out his life in the place where he was born - Qunu, Transkei on the eastern Indian Ocean side of South Africa. He retired from the Presidency of South Africa five years ago after marrying his third wife, Graca Machel, on his 80th birthday.

South Africa was first colonized by the English and the Dutch in the 17th century for its fertile farmlands and in 1900 when diamonds were discovered, the two powers clashed in the Boer War. In the 1940's the Afrikaner National Party invented apartheid as a way to keep economic and social control by white domination. This situation worsened by the 1960's when it was called "Grand Apartheid" and enforced by police repression.

Mandela was born into a fairly powerful family in 1918, his father being the counselor to the main chief of the surrounding territory, and when his father died he was groomed for the chieftainship. As early as 1940, when he was 22, he was expelled from college for participating in a student strike and finished his BA degree by correspondence. Three years later, at 25, he joined the African National Congress as an activist. He married for the first time and formed the Youth League of the ANC. By age 34, he had opened a law office in Johannesberg and married his second wife, Winnie, who was also a famous activist. Four years later, he was arrested and charged with treason and was finally acquitted in 1961 but arrested the very next year again for inciting a strike. While in prison this time he was put on trial for treason and received a life sentence. He was then 44. It would be 28 years before his release in 1990 at the age of 72. During that time, he twice refused release because it was on the condition that he renounce violence. He said only a free man can negotiate. In 1990, the African National Congress was finally unbanned and Mandela was released from prison to the great joy of his countrymen. The next year he became President of the ANC and in 1993 received the Nobel Peace Prize. He then became the first black President of South Africa, holding the position until 1999.

Well, this is my little history lesson for today. The word "apartheid" is a South African word, but it's an old story - bullying of one group of people by another for the sake of greed and power. Kind of like what's happening in Iraq today. Sometimes one man, when he becomes a symbol of resistance, is enough to turn the course of history. Mandela went to prison for almost three decades of his life because he was a true patriot on a mission. Each time someone steps forward in this way on the world stage, it gives the rest of us a little added push to know that there are just some things up with which we will not put. I hope he spends his final days in truly deserved peace.

Paul Newman and Jack Nicholson

Okay, I'm just too pooped from Christmas to offer up something very deep this morning, but here are two film greats who have given me, and most of us, so much wonderful entertainment over the years that I'd like to say thanks. The films are three each of my own personal favorites above. Newman and Nicholson have similar wild, sexy screen personas, but off screen seem to be very different personalities - Nicholson carrying on with women and the Lakers and showing up at the Oscars regularly; Newman married for years to his wife, Joanne Woodward, living a quiet life out of the spotlight. What they have in common is a life devoted to their art, a real filmography of gifted acting roles, and a great generosity in giving back to their communities through charity work. They are both only 5'9" - Newman is now 79 and Nicholson 67 - and these two giants are still going strong. It works for me and thank you for the memories.

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986)

I think I probably found Georgia O'Keeffe by college age. My family was a word family, not so much taken with art, so in my farm years nature itself was where I turned for eye candy. And this is mostly what O'Keeffe used for her subject matter. You can't mistake those sensual abstract detailed paintings of flowers for the work of anyone else. Born in Wisconsin in 1887 and educated in the east, she took her first job at 25 teaching in Texas, and began scandalizing the locals from then on with her pacifism during World War I, her black clothes, and her poker playing. She began to paint the landscapes and artifacts of the wide open plains and was discovered by the famous photographer, Alfred Stieglitz, who took the photo above and became her promoter and later husband when she was 37. In 1929 she visited New Mexico and after Stieglitz died, when she was 59 she moved there for good. She lived there for the next 40 years until her death and became a reluctant feminist icon. All kinds of pilgrims came to her, including Allen Ginsberg. She eventually lost her central eyesight but continued to paint until the end. I guess if I could have any different life than I've had it would be one rather like hers - finding a creative focus early on, being able to make it your living, having a long-term relationship with another artist who adores you, making an independent oasis in beautiful natural surroundings for your home. And staring deeply into the center of those passionate blooms for inspiration. Oh yes....

Samantha Power
I had quite a little short list of candidates to write about this morning (including Sean Penn, Rosa Parks, Linus Pauling, Picasso, Steve Prefontaine) and decided on the one I knew least about so I could expand my knowledge of this very timely subject - genocide. With the release this week of the film Hotel Rwanda (which I haven't seen yet) that deals with the murders in 1994 of 800,000 Tutsi in Rwanda, it will be once again a hot topic for discussion. Looking up the legal definition of genocide I found that there was a UN resolution passed in 1948 stating:

Article 2 In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group

Samantha Power won the Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for her book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. She was 31 then and had already moved to this country from Ireland at age 9, graduated from Yale, covered the war in Bosnia as a freelance reporter, and obtained a law degree from Harvard Law School with the purpose of answering the question, "Why does the U.S. consistently do so little to prevent genocide (Bosnia, Iraq, Cambodia, the Holocaust, Armenia, Rwanda)?" She is now the founding executive director at age 33 of the Carr Centre for Human Rights at Harvard. You'd have to read her book to get the long answer to her question, but the short one is that the last 30 years of American leaders knowingly and deliberately decided it was not in the country's interest to stop the genocides that occurred during their term of office. She has been criticized as providing a reason for the preemptive war in Iraq (stopping Saddam's genocidal regime), but she says this is a misintrepretation. "The war in Iraq very plainly was not about Saddam's genocide against the Kurds and human rights. It was about a perception of Saddam as a threat to very traditional American security interests." As a citizen observer of the current world scenario, it would seem to me like bringing a war to Iraq (for whatever reasons) which causes the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians is beginning to sound like yet another example of what that 1948 UN resolution defined. And this time, it is not our country standing by, it is our country creating it. It is relieving to know that there are alert young minds like Samantha Power watching closely and making sure we know exactly what we're up to.


Consider the case of private first class Jeremy Hinzman. Only one of a growing number of conscientious objectors to the ruthless war in Iraq, he had already served in Afghanistan when he began to attend Quaker meetings and felt that he could not go with his unit to Iraq when it was deployed there. Today he is fighting his case in Canada.

Years ago, my first awareness of the Quaker religion was the movie Friendly Persuasion. My family was not religious and I knew no Quakers in my personal life. Still don't. A few years ago I went to what I thought would be a Quaker service, but I think it was actually more of a business meeting that I wandered into and I heard a little too much of what sounded like traditional Christianity to go back. Nevertheless, I decided this morning to read up and pass on a brief overview of this group.

Actually, the official name is The Religious Society of Friends. Consider another young man: George Fox. The name Quaker originated when he, as the society¹s founder, told a judge he was facing in court to "tremble at the word of the Lord," whereupon the judge called him a "quaker" and the name stuck. Fox (1624-1691) left home at 19 in England on a four-year search for answers to his own spiritual questions. He came to believe in an "inner voice" and that the spirit of God is within each person's soul. Therefore, no priests or churches are necessary, all persons are of equal worth, and there is no need for elaborate religious ceremony. He taught his followers to worship in silence and to speak only if moved by this spirit at their meetings. He promoted simple living and prohibition of alcohol. They referred to themselves as "friends of truth" and so became known as Friends. They were, of course, widely persecuted in England in the 17th century.

They were also persecuted when they came to America but found a sanctuary in Rhode Island colony, where William Penn, a Quaker, played a major role in founding the colonies of West Jersey and Pennsylvania. They were the first to protest slavery in this country. During the Revolutionary War they were again persecuted for refusing to fight or pay military taxes. After the war, they played a major role in the "Underground Railroad." Over the years, their beliefs began to split into different groups until in the 20th century they became four different groups: Hicksites, Gurneyites, Wilburites, and Orthodox. World War II was a crisis for them because there was such a nationalistic fervor. Many joined the Friends Ambulance Unit. All four branches of the church joined to form the American Friends Service Organization at this time, which allowed Quakers to help alleviate suffering while avoiding the draft. In 1947, they received the Nobel Peace Prize for their work. Today there are 125,000 members in North America. And today the American Friends Service Committee is still providing advice, support and counsel to those who wish to be classified conscientious objectors. They have called for immediate withdrawal of the troops. Visit them here.

Today the unreliable rightwing TV news is saying that all looks peachy-keen in Iraq for the elections. I'm not a Quaker nor will I likely become one, but I now know of one place to turn should the draft come for my son or my grandson. And for that, I am grateful.

Robert Redford

He should get an Academy Award just for his hair, which at age 67 is still sun-bleached and wind-tossed (though my guess is he works harder at that now). But this Hollywood legend is so very much more than that. Like Newman and Nicholson whom I reviewed back at "N" he's not that tall (5'10") but over the years he's turned in some giant performances - Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Three Days of the Condor (my favorite), All The President's Men, The Sting, The Electric Horseman, The Natural, being among many, many, many - though only 10 in the last 20 years. Born in California, he won a baseball scholarship to the University of Colorado and then when his mother died the same year drank it away. He then took up painting, earning the money to go to Europe to study in Italy, but by the time he was 21 he gave that up too and moved back to L.A. where he met his wife, Lola, a Mormon who encouraged him to stop drinking and keep at painting. They moved to New York where he studied at Pratt Institute and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in theatrical set design. And that's where he got his first acting part in the Broadway production of Tall Story. It was slow going at first but eventually he played the Sundance Kid (at 32) and the rest is history. His only Academy Award has actually been for directing the film, Ordinary People, in 1980 (at 43). From behind the camera, he's turned out beautiful films like The River Runs Through It, Quiz Show, and The Horse Whisperer. As if all that wasn't enough, Robert Redford has contributed in a major way in two other areas. He founded the Sundance Institute in 1981 (at 44) and out of it came the Sundance Film Festival created to promote the development of new screenwriters and directors of independent films. Today 20,000 people show up each year for this event. He is also a founding board member of the Natural Resources Defense Council and has worked tirelessly to educate the public about environmental issues. He has won many awards for his work in these areas, as well as advocacy on behalf of Native Americans and solar power issues. He's been outspoken against the Bush administration for its responsibility in the area of dependence on fossil fuels. He's kept his personal life discreet - divorcing in 1985 and currently involved with painter Sibylle Szaggars though they live apart. For all of the above, because he had great looks, fame, and tons of money and chose to use it to give something back of real value, and because he admitted to Butch Cassidy that he couldn't swim, I say thank god the fall didn't kill you, Mr. Redford, and thanks for what you've done with your life.

Jon Stewart

Anyone who has felt frustrated and/or powerless about the role of the media in shaping the events of our daily lives was astounded, admiring, and deeply appreciative to stumble upon (either live or recorded) the October 15 appearance of our favorite comedian on CNN's Crossfire (see transcript and video here.) It was a moment of personal vengeance and supreme uppityness for all of us in the world of minions. But what do we really know about our hero? Here is a web site that lists every detail you could possibly imagine, but a few of my favorite facts are:

Name at birth: Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz
Born New York City 1962 but raised in New Jersey.
Dad is a physicist who has never seen him perform.
Pets - a cat named Stan and two pit bulls.
Graduated from William and Mary in Psychology but was miserable there and racked up his knee playing soccer.
Proposed to wife via crossword puzzle.
Wife is a vet and they both love animals.
Among many early jobs - Live Mosquito Sorter for the NJ Department of Health
Most of us know he came from standup and slowly gained momentum until on January 4, 1999, he moved into his office at The Daily Show, where he had just seven days to prepare for his first show as host and co-executive producer of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
Basketball Team: NY Knicks
Baseball Team: NY Mets (also frequently photographed wearing a Giants cap)
Musician: Tom Waits
Ice Cream: Mint Chocolate Chip

There's been talk that he's being courted for a big-time talk show and while I'd love to see that too, I kind of hope he¹ll stay where he is to keep my/our hopes up that out of the darkness will keep coming those tiny rays of light he represents. Find one today. (And oh by the way Tucker Carlson of Crossfire is coincidentally no more.)

Alan Turing

This week Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn won the 2004 Turing Award for inventing TCP/IP, the basic protocol behind the internet. If you're a geek, you'll know what it is and if you're not just know it's bottom line. But this is not about them...Alan Turing was born in 1912 in London and lived only 41 years. In that time, he discovered the central limit theorem (math geeks will know about this one) at age 23; invented the Turing Machine (a forerunner of the modern computer); helped to develop the Bombe, which from late 1940 was decoding all messages sent by the Enigma machines of the Luftwaffe during World War II; at age 34 designed the ACE (Automatic Computing Engine) which was not built because of the size of storage it would take up but was the first computer in the modern sense; became a prize-winning distance runner; and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London at age 39. Two years later he was dead by cyanide poisoning. This man - who was essentially abandoned by his parents, who had fought his way through early schooling where he was criticised for his handwriting, struggled at English, and even in mathematics was too interested with his own ideas to produce solutions to problems using the methods taught by his teachers, whose only close friend died during his adolescent years - happened to be homosexual and in the '50's in England this was illegal. He was arrested, tried, convicted, and given the choice of prison or estrogen injections. He chose the latter and proceeded with his work. But then came a second blow - his security clearance, obtained when he helped break the Enigma code and save the battle of the Atlantic, was taken away and he was continually harassed. The cyanide was found on a half-eaten apple beside him in his laboratory. His mother maintained it was an accident but his death was pronounced a suicide. It would be another 13 years before same-sex relationships were decriminalized in England in 1967. Alan Turing would have been only 55 by then. Who knows what else he might have given us had he lived.

Shoen Uemura

Once upon a time in faraway Kyoto in the spring of 1875, a little girl was born who would one day be given Japan's highest award for cultural achievement. Her father having died soon after her birth, she grew up with her mother and aunts in a famous little tea-shop where the patrons came to learn the refined art of Japanese tea. Her earliest drawings were so astonishing she was considered a child prodigy and encouraged by her mother she won a painting competition that enabled her to become the first female to enter the Kyoto Prefectural Painting School at age 12. In those times, Japanese women were not expected to be anything but wives and mother or servers of men¹s wishes. She had a strong interest in "Bijinga" drawings (images portraying the beauty of women) over her lifetime and developed them into works of art rather than sketches. At age 15 she made a dazzling entrance into the art world by winning a first prize at the Third National Exposition for the Promotion of Industry and her painting was bought by a British Duke. She went on to study with various painting masters and in 1903 when she was 28 she began to work as an independent artist. Besides breaking ground as a woman in the Japanese art world of her time, she also was accused of having an affair with one of her teachers, who was probably the father of her son, though she never revealed his name. In spite of breaking one of Japan's most stringent taboos - bearing a child out of wedlock - her art was too great to be denied by the scandal. She became the first woman member of the Japan Imperial Fine Arts Academy in 1941 at the age of 66 and in 1948 was the first woman to receive the Order of Cultural Merit at age 73. Within a year she died in her cottage in the mountains with her brush in her hand, leaving behind a son Shoko and grandson Atsushi, who also became artists, and a great legacy of painting. It is said because of the war years approaching she did not have the international career she might have had. Without access to the large North American market, no Japanese artist can make an international career even to this day. But in her own country she is famous and beloved for fighting for the rights of women and for her achievements as a great artist. Her name is Shoen Uemura. (See more of her beautiful work here.).

Suzanne Valadon (1865-1938)

Born in 1865 in France to an unmarried laundress, Suzanne Valadon was a strikingly beautiful girl who became a circus acrobat at 15 and after a fall ended that career took up artist modeling in Paris. She modeled for Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Renoir and had affairs with them all. (Guess which painter did the paintings I posted. The last one is hers.) She also observed their techniques and became an artist herself. She was good enough as a painter to have acclaim and financial success but was overshadowed by her famous son, also born out of wedlock to a father whose identity she never revealed. Her son's name was Maurice Utrillo. Valadon painted still lifes, floral art, and landscapes but was best known for female nudes. She also did portraits, including one of Erik Satie with whom she had an affair when she was 28. It was the only intimate relationship of his life. The following year she became the first woman admitted to the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. A perfectionist, she worked for thirteen years on her oil paintings before ever showing them. A free spirit, she was known to wear a corsage of carrots, keep a goat in her studio to "eat up her bad drawings," and to feed caviar to her "good Catholic" cats on Fridays. At 31 she married a stockbroker but at 44 she left him for the 23-year-old painter, André Utter. She married Utter in 1914 when she was 49, but this marriage too did not last. She died on April 7, 1938 at 73. Amongst those who attended her funeral were her artist friends Andre Derain, Pablo Picasso, and Georges Braque. Today, some of her works can be seen at the Centre Georges Pompidou, in Paris and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. Now there's a woman who must have said (like Molly Bloom) "yes I said yes I will Yes." Lordy lordy. (Read another blogger's take on her here.)

Florence Wald (1917-present)

A little over 20 years ago I started working at the hospital where I still work part-time today. There were four doctors in my department and all of us were about the same age. Two weeks ago, one of them came into the office on a Friday and announced that his doctor had ordered him to stop working. That weekend he went into the ICU and never came out. It turns out he'd had a rare blood disorder the last 7 years of his life and had kept it so low-key that I was unaware he was sick until this past year. It was quite a shock to me, the first time someone I knew that well and who was close to my age just up and died. It's been kind of a gloomy few weeks for me since then and I've had dying on my mind more than I would have ever wished. So I picked someone to write about today who did something about it.

Standing five feet tall at 88 years old, this is the person who founded the hospice movement in America. Her name is Florence Wald. She was born in New York City and began her nursing career at the Henry Street Settlement there and served in the Signal Corps in World War II. By the late 1950's, she became aware of an Englishwoman named Cicely Saunders who was writing articles in medical journals about end-of-life care. By 1963, she was Dean of Yale University School of Nursing when Saunders was invited to give her first talk on hospice care in this country. Wald invited her to speak to the nursing students and faculty. Saunders described the core of hospice treatment today: generous control of symptoms; attention to the patient's psychological and spiritual needs; care and support for the family as well as the patient. Florence Wald was so inspired that she resigned her deanship at Yale and started working with a small group in New Haven toward founding the first hospice program in the United States. Connecticut Hospice would treat its first patients in 1974. Today the Hospice Movement is taken for granted pretty much anywhere you live. Medicare began to cover it in 1982. Medicaid covers it in most states. Most private insurance companies cover it. You can find out pretty much anything about it here. My old friend, the doctor, went fast and in the hospital, but for many the end of life takes longer. Thanks to Florence Wald, families have a resource today to help them all make this journey as peacefully as possible.

To visit segments A-L click here. and X-Z click here.