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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

My Brother, Still

When my brother was a boy, he loved to leave pennies on the railroad tracks up the street from our house and wait for the freight train to flatten them as it zoomed by.

This scared my mother to death. I don't know that she ever found a flattened penny in the pocket of his jeans or heard it rattling around in the clothes dryer. More likely, she got regular dispatches from the neighborhood gossips reporting for duty.

Every so often, I'd hear her yell his name and order him to stand in front of her — "Right this minute, Mister" — for a lecture about the violent death awaiting him at the tracks.

I was six years older, and watching Chuckie's face as Mom described his inevitable dark fate was the peak of entertainment for a teenage sister who loved her brother. God, that grin of his. Mom idolized her only son, the baby of the family, and he knew it. We all knew it.

I once wrote an essay claiming that, after having three daughters, my parents hired a marching band to welcome home their newborn son. "Connie Marie, that is not true," Mom said after it was published. "You know we didn't have that kind of money back then."

I think about Chuckie's pennies on those rails every time I hear Bruce Springsteen's song One Minute You're Here, which is often. It's on his newest album, Letter to You, and of course, I bought it the day it came out. As I taught Chuckie at a young age, Bruce is proof that our people have poets, too. Knowing that helped me believe I could become a writer. Chuckie, when everyone but family knew him as Chuck, once told me that Bruce helped him make sense of life as much as anyone could.

"I lay my penny down on the rails / As the summer wind sings its last song. / One minute you're here. / Next minute you're gone."

There it is. Damn, Bruce.

This is the eve of my brother's birthday. He would be turning 58 if he hadn't killed himself in the summer of 2019. Like so many people who've lost a loved one to suicide, I've discovered this final fact of his life comes with a grief that has no expiration date.

I was one person before. I am someone else now. That's not a complaint or a plea for sympathy. It's just another fact of life.

I know I'm not alone. Nearly every week since I first wrote about Chuckie's death, I've heard from someone else who has lost a loved one to suicide. Sometimes, it's so soon they can barely find the words. Other times, it's been years, and they still feel the torment of the unanswerable whys.

As I wrote soon after Chuckie's death, he was so much more than how he died. Earlier this week, I was rifling through stacks of old family photos and came across three Polaroids of Chuckie when he was 13, the age now of my oldest grandson.

He is sitting in Dad's recliner, which means our father wasn't home. In two of the shots, Chuckie is holding both of our dogs, Shilo and Sheba. His smile is biggest, though, when only Sheba is in his arms. He had rescued her from the streets and defied Dad for months by hiding her in the garage and in his room until Mom finally brokered the truce that let her stay.

Sheba was his first love, the first of many rescues. That was his heart, always. That is his heart, still.

In this last year, I've thought so often of Chuckie as this pandemic has ravaged our country. Before decades of alcoholism caught up with him, Chuckie was at the top of his game in pharmaceutical sales. He loved educating doctors and the public about medical breakthroughs.

In his last year, he had lost everything that mattered to him. But I keep thinking that, if only I had convinced him to hang on (I know, I know), he would have found his way back somehow, when so many medical professionals have come out of retirement to save us.

Chuckie could have helped us. My brother could have made a difference. I believe this. I guess that means I believe in him.

That is my heart, still.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University's school of journalism. She is the author of two non-fiction books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. She is also the author of The New York Times bestselling novel, The Daughters of Erietown. To find out more about Connie Schultz (schultz.connie@gmail.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com

Why I’d (Always) Rather Talk About Michael J. Fox

How do we acknowledge the death of someone who made a career of inflicting harm?

Perhaps I should start with a story.

I first met Michael J. Fox in 2006, not long after Rush Limbaugh had mocked his involuntary movements caused by Parkinson's disease. Michael was in Ohio for a rally in support of stem cell research that could save countless lives.

This is how I described our encounter in a book about my husband's Senate campaign:

"It is heartbreaking to watch this gracious, talented actor and father of four struggle to perform the simplest of tasks — like sitting still, for example, or completing a sentence. He has made it clear, time and again, that he does not expect to live long enough to benefit from the research he is championing — and yet there he was, sitting onstage with Sherrod along with a number of other people afflicted with diseases that stem cell research might cure.

"I got a healthy dose of humility from Michael J. Fox that day. Sherrod and I sat on either side of Michael, watching as a sixth-grade boy with Type 1 diabetes gave a speech. He was going on a bit, and I smiled nervously at Sherrod. I was worried that all of this waiting would tire Michael.

"Michael leaned over and whispered in my ear, 'You know, it is going to make him feel so good to get his whole story out.' He smiled at me, and I was appropriately reprimanded. When it was Michael's turn at the microphone, he turned to the boy and said, 'At any age, you feel the need to tell your story, and I consider you an inspiration.'"

This was my first thought after I heard that Rush Limbaugh had died on Wednesday. Lucky me.

Limbaugh died of lung cancer at age 70. The response on social media was the predictable ricochet of emotions. Many on the right tried to cast him as a fallen god; many on the left celebrated his demise. This is the world he created.

I kept trying to figure out how to publicly acknowledge Limbaugh's death in a way that didn't make me feel worse about myself in the typing. In the end, I posted the ultimate cop-out:

"This is one of those days when I know I'm still my mother's daughter because no matter how many ways I try to type my response to the news I feel her gentle hand on my arm as she says, 'But who does this help?'"

Some misinterpreted my words as a scolding or a recycling of the admonishment to never speak ill of the dead. This was not my intention. This was an act of self-preservation. I wanted to keep my soul intact.

On his show, Limbaugh had called me "brain-dead" and "blitheringly ignorant," and once speculated that I lacked "an IQ of three figures." Every time he mentioned me, his mob heard the same message: "Go get her." My inbox would fill with mountains of hate mail.

This was nothing compared to his attacks on other women, the LGBTQ community, racial minorities — anyone who didn't fit his idea of a patriot, which demanded loyalty only to him.

Now the video of Limbaugh jeering at Michael J. Fox and accusing him of faking his symptoms is making the rounds again. You may have seen it in some of the coverage. I don't know how this makes him feel, but I can encourage you to listen to what he has to say.

Last November, Fox released his fourth book: No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality. It is a meditation on aging, told by a man whose body betrayed him long ago. After 40 years in public life, he is "straddling the void."

"I'm probably the only person who has been featured on the cover of Rolling Stone and AARP in the same year," he writes. "I'm living the life of a retired person, a decade too soon. My world is contracting, not expanding. In terms of the space-time continuum, I'm closer to my exit than to my entrance point."

And yet.

"When I visit the past now, it is for wisdom and experience, not for regret or shame. I don't attempt to erase it, only to accept it. Whatever my physical circumstances are today, I will deal with them and remain present. If I fall, I will rise up."

Repeatedly, he insists, "With gratitude, optimism becomes sustainable."

Not one word about the rabid, millionaire talk-show host who held him up to scorn and ridicule.

Moving forward, I hope to follow his lead.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University's school of journalism. She is the author of two non-fiction books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. She is also the author of The New York Times bestselling novel, The Daughters of Erietown.To find out more about Connie Schultz (schultz.connie@gmail.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

We Can Stop Wondering Who The Republicans Want To Be

When Marjorie Taylor Greene was a teenager, she —

Oops, wrong age.

When Marjorie Taylor Greene was barely into her 20s, she —

I beg your pardon. Wrong decade.

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What We Owe Our College Students

Two weeks into spring semester at the University of Florida, groups of unmasked college students — 30 or more at a time, many hollering as they partied — stood in lines to enter bars and clubs in Gainesville.

Photos in The Gainesville Sun showed them standing elbow to elbow, ear to ear. I've seen more space between parentheses. This is precisely what we are not supposed to do as this pandemic continues to rage.

The beginning of this sentence in the accompanying story caught my eye: "Though most students were wary to talk to The Sun, those who did said they weren't afraid of picking up the virus because they weren't at risk of infecting elderly, vulnerable family members, would get tested before returning home or already had COVID-19."

So much hubris in that flotilla of thought bubbles, but their reticence to speak to a reporter suggests that some of them knew what they were doing was potentially dangerous. There's a lot of hope in that.

These are not bad kids. For starters, they're not kids. They're young adults whose brains are still developing, and we ask so much of them, especially now. College is supposed to be a time of growth and self-discovery, where students are encouraged to run at full speed, wings spread wide. Instead, we are grounding them and asking that they behave better than many of the supposed grown-ups in their orbits.

One of the reasons I have faith in these students to do better is my experience in teaching college ethics during COVID-19 in the journalism school at my alma mater, Kent State. While we try to stay focused on issues hitched to our profession, it has been impossible to ignore the other ethical dilemmas swirling around us right now.

Most of my students work hourly wage jobs to stay in school, and too many employers have been willing to put them at risk because they know their young employees can't afford to quit.

Families, too, can be unfairly demanding. Their grandparents miss them; their younger siblings need them as they struggle to learn from home. Parents with the best intentions succumb to exhaustion and turn to their college students to help keep home life afloat.

And so we've talked, twice a week in our Zoom classroom, about how to ethically navigate this scary and complicated time in our country.

I've heard the arguments, often voiced as complaints, that children should be taught ethics at a much earlier age. Agreed, but young adulthood is complicated, and we all benefit from their exploring what it means to be an ethical person at their age.

Ethics discussions help students discover who they are and what lines they won't cross. In every class, we explore the whys behind our values and biases. It's not as simple as dictating right from wrong, and it's so rewarding to see nearly universal values arise around the concept of the greater good.

They work at getting there. One of my favorite classroom pivots in discussions begins with, "Now, let me complicate it for you ... "

Before COVID-19, a common discussion involved how much one should endure for an employer. At first, students almost universally agreed they would leave a job if their boss asked them to violate their values.

Let me complicate it for you, I'd say: You're a parent with children to house and feed.

The discussion becomes more nuanced.

Let me further complicate it for you: You're a single parent, the sole provider.

Their groans are good-natured, and they are up for the debate. It is an honor to watch them help one another grow as they explore what they owe themselves and their world.

With COVID-19, we've pivoted again. How do they advocate for themselves and their co-workers? What is the appropriate response to bosses who don't care about their safety and angry customers who are wiling to put them at risk? How do they say no to loved ones? As one student put it: "I tell her, 'No, Grandma. I can't see you now because I love you and I want you to stay alive.'"

They sort out what it means to be a responsible person in the time of COVID-19, one discussion at a time. By the end of the semester, they're brainstorming family dialogues and workplace solutions because they care about one another.

We can judge those students lining up at bars in college towns across the country. Or we can ask how we are failing them. We can engage in conversations that help them find the best version of themselves, and hope they hold it against us for taking so long.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University's school of journalism. She is the author of two non-fiction books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. She is also the author of The New York Times bestselling novel, "The Daughters of Erietown." To find out more about Connie Schultz (schultz.connie@gmail.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

Christian Hate Is No Faith At All

Most of us who miss our mothers can name moments when our longing is most acute. For me, it sneaks up when I see people wielding God as a weapon.

My mother was one of the least judgmental people I've ever known. This came from her belief, steeped in her view of Christianity, that most of us are doing the best we think we can.

That woman almost never gave up on people. The parents who abandoned her when she was a child were welcome in her home in adulthood. Friends who hurt her feelings during the week were on her prayer list on Sunday. People who had treated her as invisible felt like family when they were in her care as a nurse's aide.

I was quick to express frustration when Mom let unkind people off the hook, but she was immune to my indignation. "If they knew better, they'd do better," she'd say. This was the Christian who raised me.

New York Times reporters Elizabeth Dias and Ruth Graham wrote this week about white extremists masquerading as Christians as they prepared to storm the Capitol. This passage curdled the blood in my veins:

"Before self-proclaimed members of the far-right group the Proud Boys marched toward the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, they stopped to kneel in the street and prayed in the name of Jesus.

"The group, whose participants have espoused misogynistic and anti-immigrant views, prayed for God to bring 'reformation and revival.' They gave thanks for 'the wonderful nation we've all been blessed to be in.' They asked God for the restoration of their 'value systems,' and for the 'courage and strength to both represent you and represent our culture well.' And they invoked the divine protection for what was to come.

"Then they rose. Their leader declared into a bullhorn that the media must 'get the hell out of my way.' And then they moved toward the Capitol.

"The presence of Christian rituals, symbols and language was unmistakable on Wednesday in Washington. There was a mock campaign banner, 'Jesus 2020,' in blue and red; an 'Armor of God' patch on a man's fatigues; a white cross declaring 'Trump won' in all capitals. All of this was interspersed with allusions to QAnon conspiracy theories, Confederate flags and anti-Semitic T-shirts."

For all my years as a columnist, I have felt outshouted and outmaneuvered by so-called Christians harming others in the name of God. To identify myself as a Christian often invited attacks from those who claimed to know just how much I've disappointed God.

For a while, I let the religious right bully me into silence. I didn't want to be mistaken for one of them. The hypocrisy of that ate at me until I decided that we liberal Christians had to stand our ground, and publicly. This was not universally applauded by my fellow liberals.

I still think about that man in the audience during one of my speeches years ago. When it was his turn at the microphone, he said to me: "You've written that you're a Christian. I don't understand how someone so smart could be so stupid." He asked if I believed in unicorns, too. I assured him that no unicorn I knew would be visiting him soon.

There are so many Christians who bear no resemblance to those using God as an excuse to be hate-mongers and traitors, but they are invisible because they are silent. I used to admire this as humility, but it now risks becoming aiding and abetting. As the late Rev. William Sloane Coffin wrote, "Christ came to take away our sins, not our minds." We know what we must do.

Earlier today, after a break from writing, I returned to my desk to find two small clumps of dirt next to a basket of potted bulbs. Long dormant, they recently exploded into sprouts that are growing an inch or more a day, lifting the topsoil with them. With each new flower, a little more soil topples out.

If I could call my mother now — if I could tell her about this messy burst of blooms — she would likely cast it as a metaphor for hope. For what is hope but a surprise, something beautiful rising out of the darkness?

It is time, good but quiet people of faith.

It is time for you to bloom.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University's school of journalism. She is the author of two non-fiction books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. She is also the author of The New York Times bestselling novel, "The Daughters of Erietown." To find out more about Connie Schultz (schultz.connie@gmail.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

After A Day Of Terror, Democracy Endured

Like so many of you, I remember what I was doing when I first heard that insurgents had stormed our nation's Capitol.

It was about 2 p.m., and I was on the phone with my son Andy as C-SPAN played in the background. He knew I'd be following along as both houses of Congress prepared to certify Joe Biden's election as our next president, despite efforts by a minority of right-wing Republicans trying to stop it. I was looking forward to bearing witness to this time-honored tradition of our democracy.

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We Are Not Helpless

This is a tightrope column, the kind you'd rather not write, about an event you don't feel you can ignore. You tread carefully, but you want people to pay attention as you do.

Four days after Christmas, five days before he was to be sworn into the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman-elect Luke Letlow died of complications from COVID-19 at a hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Letlow was 41 years old. He leaves behind his wife, Julia, and two young children, Jeremiah and Jacqueline. He is the highest-ranking politician to die of COVID-19.

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In Pandemic America, A Christmas Like No Other

So, this is Christmas.

No travel, and no family or friends outside our secure little bubbles. If we are to take care of one another, this is what we must do, one household at a time.

Many packages are arriving later than hoped, and social media is filling with laments from parents worrying about what to tell their children if Santa is late.

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Speaking Of Baby Jesus, Let’s Discuss Holiday Tipping

This is the time of year when I try to remind patrons of restaurants and coffee shops to tip generously, in the spirt of the season. I want us to tip well all year long, of course, but December can pack a special wallop of motivation for people whipping out their charge cards in celebration of the Christ Child.

Or so I want to believe.

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What The Students Teach Us Every Day

It's not my habit to write about readers' hate mail, which is as much a part of daily life as toothbrushing, and just as boring.

Hate mail comes with a columnist's job. After 18 years of doing this, I know that nothing riles a certain percentage of readers — universally right-wing and white, and usually male — more than a woman who is paid to give her opinion. Social media has magnified their voices but not their credibility. There's no masking uninformed rage, which has always been the hallmark of the intellectually lazy.

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On Thanksgiving, Please Choose Love (And Caution)

Thanksgiving is my favorite day of the year.

It's a holiday with none of the pressures of Christmas. I cook a lot of food and give a lot of hugs. Nothing makes me happier than our house full of the people I love.

This preamble is brought to you by a columnist who wants you and those you love to be here for next year's Thanksgiving.

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‘I Just Wanted To Let You Know’

I first heard from my old high school friend in an email in October 2011. Subject line: "Ashtabula High 1975."

"I am in complete shock over what has happened to compassion in the country I call home," Philip Kachersky wrote. "It is not the same country that I was raised in in Ashtabula in the 1960s and '70s.

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‘I Want To Feel America’

They waited in the pouring rain on Wednesday, six feet apart and some of them without umbrellas, to cast their ballots in central Florida.

One masked man caught the attention of another voter, and his video account made it to the ABC News Facebook page.

"You see how important this election is," the man narrates as he zooms in on a solitary voter getting soaked. "You see this? Unfazed. Us? Oh, we've got our umbrella." He zooms in closer on the voter. "Unfazed," he says again. "That's how important it is."

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After The Election, Hobby Therapy

A new right-wing lie, promoted by Donald Trump Jr. and making the rounds on social media, is that you never see people with Biden signs in their yards flying the American flag from their porches.

A conservative neighbor shared a version of this on his Facebook page, and the only reason I heard about it was because another neighbor wondered aloud if the man had ever looked out his own windows. A few doors away, here we are, with a Biden sign in our yard and an American flag whipping in the air over our front steps.

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This Isn’t How A Winner Talks About The Election

On Wednesday, this was the exchange between a reporter and President Donald Trump at a news conference.

In the White House, we must note:

Reporter: "Will you commit here, today, for a peaceful transferal of power after the election?"

Trump: "We're going to have to see what happens. You know that I've been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster and — "

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A Request To Keep A Pandemic Diary

Since April, I've been telling my students that their generation will be the ultimate storytellers of this pandemic, as COVID-19's legacy will surely endure for decades. This semester, I've taken it a step further and required them to keep pandemic diaries.

Their weekly 500-word entries will help me gauge their writing progress and give me glimpses into how they are doing in this challenging time. Just as importantly, they will create a written record of who they were — in their lives and in this time in history.

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How Polite Of Melania Trump

I don't care about Melania Trump's past life as a model. She has a right to do as she wants with her own body. Any attempt by liberals to shame her for that is an act of hypocrisy.

I don't care what she wears or how she looks. She is glamorous and beautiful, which has nothing to do with her character.

I would never mock her accent, because that's the stuff of racist right-wingers, the ones who shout at Latinos to speak "American" even as they show barely a passing familiarity with the English language.

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