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

Here’s To Motherhood — Or Not

Recently, a friend and I were talking about our younger parenting days when she said, "You know, you still talk about your single mother days, but that was years ago."

She is right, but not really.

I've been married for 17 years now, to a man who became so important to my two kids that my daughter asked him to give the father's toast at her wedding. There are other reasons I love him, of course, but in this context, it's his relationship to my children that matters. Certainly, I have not felt alone in parenting for a long time.

And yet.

In my experience, being a single mother is similar to being from the working class. No matter how big your world becomes, you never forget that time in your life when you had less and worried more. It's a lesson that sticks with you long after everyone around you has moved on.

Predictably, the days leading up to Mother's Day take me back to that time in my life. When I became a single mother, my son was grown, but his younger sister was still home with me. That first December, when she was 8, she pointed to our three stockings hanging from the mantel and asked if we were still a family. I assured her there are many ways to make a family, and it had nothing to do with size. That was also the year I started making Christmas stockings for each of our pets to fill up the mantel.

Without my son and devoted friends, my daughter would not have been able to give me Mother's Day gifts when she was little. This would have shattered her. No matter how much I assured her that it didn't matter, it most surely did. I think that's when I first started resenting the holiday. I hated the pressure my little girl felt to prove her love.

Twenty-six years later, my feelings about Mother's Day have only grown more complicated. You might view this as overthinking. Welcome to the center hallway of my mind.

There are many ways to be a mother. Some mothers fail miserably and inflict great harm, which can make the holiday painful for those who wish they had a mother they could celebrate. Most mothers are better than they know, but it seems everyone, including the marketing industry, has an opinion about mothering. Which makes it easy to imagine all the ways you've fallen short.

No matter how good your own mother, if you live long enough, you'll eventually find yourself without her on Mother's Day. My mom has been gone for nearly 22 years now. You'd think I'd be used to that singular fact about my Mother's Day. Doesn't work like that. The longer I've been a mother, the more I understand just how much she influenced who I've become. I'd sure like to tell her that.

My mother wasn't a writer, but her ability to tell stories about her life helped me find the words for mine. I took too long to see how my mother's seemingly small acts of living would loom large in my world. She encouraged my biggest dreams, in part because she was so young when she gave up on her own. Our country has a long history of encouraging women too briefly, and even then, only when they are young and in the crosshairs of male ambition. The New York Times

One of the gifts from my mother and her generation of women — one that I recognized only after I turned 50 — is my refusal to volunteer for invisibility. A strong woman repels weak men, which gives us room to keep growing. In this way, I'm my mother's dream come true.

And so, my mother keeps mothering long after she is gone. That makes me hopeful for my own children and now my grandchildren. For me, too, to be honest. Have I done enough? Have I been enough? If they could pick who gets to be their mother, would they still choose me?

I don't know, but I get to keep trying, and that's enough for this mother on every day except you know when.

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.

This Whiteness Of Being

It's Wednesday morning. I sign into the eighth one-on-one student videoconference but immediately see that, on this call, with this cherished student, there's no oxygen for talking about the final, mundane details of spring semester. The young Black woman looking at me through the computer screen is in almost unspeakable pain.

We are meeting less than 24 hours after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted on all counts for the murder last May of George Floyd. Chauvin knelt on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes. I always try to remember to include that because, in my experience, young people can't forget it, and neither should we. It's the very least we can do for Floyd and for Darnella Frazier, the brave 17-year-old Black girl who held up her phone that day and bore witness to the last minutes of his life. It's hard for me to believe a person can watch even part of her ten-minute video and not feel something break inside.

The Chauvin verdict is an accountability, but it is not justice, my student says, and I agree. Justice would mean George Floyd was still alive and able to hold his 6-year-old daughter Gianna in his arms.

But this Wednesday morning is worse, so much worse, because minutes before the Chauvin verdict was announced, a 16-year-old Black girl named Ma'Khia Bryant was shot and killed in the street by a white police officer in Columbus, Ohio. An investigation is pending, but surely, I don't have to tell you how that sounds to my student less than 24 hours later.

It's too much on top of more than one can bear. My student, this talented and spirited young woman who has been such a fierce presence in my class, has no energy left to talk about what's due by the end of the semester. She is the first of several Black women, current and former students, who tell me that day, without hesitation or doubt, "That girl could be me."

I am a white woman who has never had a minute's worry that the color of my skin would lead to the cause of my death. What is my role in this moment as a professor, a colleague, a friend?

I try to take guidance from Black friends, students and colleagues. The instruction is pretty simple: Shut up. For the sake of all that is right and holy, just shut up for a while and listen. To ignore their pain is to magnify our indifference, and filling this space with our words, our feelings, is just another way to say, "I don't see you."

If your daily life includes no Black friends, colleagues or neighbors, it is by choice. You can argue your "very good reasons" all you want. No one believes you, even if they like you. Try explaining, for example, how your all-white neighborhood reflects your commitment to racial equality. I speak from shameful experience. When you don't want to tell people where you live, it's time to move.

There is one space in which white Americans should always be outspoken allies of Black people, and that is in the company of other white people. So often, our most uncomfortable moments are the most important ones.

For all of my 19 years as a columnist, there has been no rival for the hate mail about racism from people who look like me. The message, sometimes cloaked in Scripture but often just raw with rage, is always the same: You have betrayed your people.

If your primary requirement for love or camaraderie with another human being is a matching skin tone, your world is but a thimble bobbing on a wondrous sea. My mother would want me to pray for you, just as many of you claim to be praying for me. She'd want me to mean it, though, so I keep trying.

It's Thursday evening now, and my mind is full of the thoughts my students have bravely shared in this sad week of never-ending pain. I am slowed by the weight of their words, struggling to imagine what it is like to be them right now.

I do not know because I cannot know, in this whiteness of being. But for them, I will keep trying.

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

Get Thee Vaccinated, Evangelical Friends

Sometimes, I wonder if I'm ever going to get over how some humans have behaved during this pandemic.

First, the good news: As of this week, more than 65 million people in the U.S. have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Millions more are well on their way.

Now, the pull-out-your-hair news: A Pew Research study reports that, of the 41 million white evangelical adults in the U.S., a whopping 45 percent of them said in late February they don't plan to get vaccinated.

From The New York Times: "'If we can't get a significant number of white evangelicals to come around on this, the pandemic is going to last much longer than it needs to,' said Jamie Aten, founder and executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College, an evangelical institution in Illinois."

See what I mean?

Humans.

Also from that Times story: "Lauri Armstrong, a Bible-believing nutritionist outside of Dallas, said she did not need the vaccine because God designed the body to heal itself, if given the right nutrients. More than that, she said, 'It would be God's will if I am here or if I am not here.'"

See, this is where I stop and say out loud to our dogs, "I did not just read that."

I read it again to make sure I understand Lauri. She did not improve upon closer acquaintance.

I'm related to many evangelicals, and some of them I love, but we are at an impasse here. Listing all the reasons to get vaccinated is like reading a restaurant menu to a giraffe. They are smart and attentive, but we're not speaking the same language. If I hear one more person tell me, "It's in God's hands ... "

When did white preachers stop telling the helicopter story?

I grew up with various versions of this story, in our family and at church. Whenever our pastor was winding up to tell it, Mom would shoot that look at me from the choir that meant this was exactly the story I needed to be hearing, young lady.

My mom's version, sort of:

A town's river has overflowed. Floodwaters are headed for the home of a woman — let's call her Laurie, with an "e" — whose faith in God is unflappable, she'll have you know.

A police officer knocks on Laurie's door. "Ma'am," she says, "Your house will soon be underwater. Come with us, please."

"Oh, no, thank you," Laurie says. "God will save me."

An hour later, water is starting to seep into Laurie's second-floor hallway. Emergency workers paddle a boat up to her bedroom window and yell, "Ma'am, you're going to drown. Get in the boat, please."

Not our Laurie. "God will save me," she tells them, waving goodbye.

An hour later, Laurie is sitting on her roof. A helicopter hovers overhead, dangling a rope ladder within her reach. "Ma'am!" a man yells over the chuff-chuff-chuff of the helicopter blades. "This is your last chance! Climb. Up. The rope!"

Laurie cups her hands around her mouth and yells, "God. Will. Save. Me!"

Minutes later, our Laurie drowns.

She arrives at heaven's gate, and she is in a mood. "Why?" she yells at God. "Why did you let me drown?"

God looks as Laurie always thought he would look, with adjustments. Think Santa if he were on a whole-foods, plant-based diet. Lean and bright-eyed, with great skin.

God pulls his hand out of the pocket of his robe and starts counting on his fingers as he answers Laurie. "I sent you a police car. I sent you a boat. I sent you a hel-i-cop-ter."

I learned about God from my mother, a devout Christian who insisted that we're called to love everybody because that's what God does, no exceptions. I once told Mom I was pretty sure God didn't expect me to love — and here I made air quotes with my fingers — "everybody."

"Think again," she said, marching me up to my bedroom to spend the next hour doing just that. God's soldier, that woman.

I've been trying to figure out how Mom, a nurse's aide and thus a believer in science, might have convinced the beloved evangelicals in her life to get this vaccine. She was so patient and kind — and always at the ready with examples from Jesus, her favorite activist.

Then again, even Mom had her limits. More than once, I heard her say, "If you want to die stupid, God will let you." (I may be paraphrasing.)

Get in that boat, my evangelical friends. Grab that rope ladder, and get yourselves vaccinated so that we can keep disagreeing for years to come.

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

A Moment Of Unexpected Wisdom From Alaska

This week, I had an email exchange with a person who had every reason to be disappointed in me.

Instead, he insisted his faith in me was steadfast, and I'm not the least bit embarrassed to tell you I wept in the way I've always imagined people do after Superman sweeps down for the rescue. One moment you're staring wide-eyed at the bus about to run you over, and the next you're up in the clouds bracing for a gentle landing.

The morning after our exchange, I woke up still thinking about it and realized I had stumbled upon an essential truth: The people who have been the kindest during this pandemic will be, for the rest of my days, the kindest people I have ever known.

It takes a special brand of spiritual stamina to assume the best in people when you've seen so much of the worst in recent times. I aspire to be that compassionate, and on days I come close, I have to give a lot of credit to our two rescue dogs, Franklin and Walter. There are humans who love me very much, but only our pups repeatedly stop and stare at me during the day with the devotion of a first love. It's hard to overstate the reassurance of that.

I've wanted to write an entire column about how dogs have gotten so many of us through the pandemic, but I'd hear from a lot of unhappy cat people, and I'd feel really bad about that. I've loved my share of cats over the years, I tell you. Especially Winnie and Reggie, who were part of my family's life long before my husband showed up.

Winnie was your classic kitty who had two favorites and stalked everyone else. I felt special every time we crossed paths and she didn't hiss at me. Reggie was like a dog, except more agile. He once managed to climb into the attic and then dropped two stories, landing behind a wall. This was during my single-mother days, and I will never forget our handyman coming to the rescue after I called him and described through tears how Reggie was stuck in a closet wall.

"I'll save the kitty!" he bellowed as he walked through our door wielding a mallet. And he did. By the time Reggie was free, he was covered in plaster dust and mute from yowling and ready to eat dinner.

So, in memory of Reggie, I won't devote this column to dogs. Also, you aquarium people are on your own. I understand fish can be mesmerizing, but where's the adoration?I'm needy right now, one could argue. And one has, but we won't name him.

By the way, I wonder if you've heard that former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has COVID-19 and is now encouraging all of us to wear masks.

Bet you didn't see that coming.

And don't send me another round of angry emails about how you're tired of my tricking you into reading my column about something else and then pivoting to the pandemic. This is strategy, my friends.

From Palin's statement to People magazine: "Through it all, I view wearing that cumbersome mask indoors in a crowd as not only allowing the newfound luxury of being incognito, but trust it's better than doing nothing to slow the spread."

COVID-19 can "really knock you down," she added.

As of this week, the virus has killed more than 550,000 people in the U.S. Nevertheless, a recent PBS Newshour/NPR/Marist poll recently reported that 41 percent of Republicans, and 49 percent of Republican men, are not planning to get vaccinated.

And here I am, insisting that I want those Republican men to live.

I am grateful to the former governor of Alaska for speaking out, and I hope her recovery is swift and full. I also hope all those Republican men who admire Sarah Palin will now find the courage to bare their mighty arms for that little needle that is saving lives.

As for the rest of you: Be Sarah, my fellow Americans.

For a little while longer, wear a mask.

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.

My Covid-19 Vaccination, Part I

There were many times, I'm sure, when my mother was disappointed in me, but one memory is seared into my brain like rice scorched into the bottom of a forgotten pot on the stove. Imagine it's your mom's favorite pot. The one she inherited from the good grandmother.

I was 16, and for reasons I can't remember, I had to get a blood test at the hospital where Mom worked as a nurse's aide. This was the age when I was diagnosed with severe asthma, so maybe this was a test to see if I was going to die. I may be exaggerating.

Anyway, this blood test was a very big deal to both of us for different reasons.

For Mom, this was a chance to introduce her oldest daughter to dozens of co-workers before I left for college and immediately forgot the names of the parents who raised me (Mom's fear).

For teenage me, it was the daylight version of a slasher film, in which someone you trust coaxes you down the hallway and into the arms of the guy wielding a pickax. You might call it a needle.

Seventeen years earlier, my mother had to give up her dream of becoming a nurse because she became pregnant with me. She never put it like that. I was a gift from God, she always said, who helped her see that she was destined to be a mother.

Still, wouldn't it be nice, she often added, if her oldest daughter decided it would be her dream come true to become a nurse? Purely coincidentally, of course.

I was all in, until the day we went for that blood test. Again, I don't remember the details, but that never mattered as long as Mom was alive, because she remembered it with the accuracy of that witness to multiple crimes who nails the police lineup every time.

Apparently, it took a lot of negotiating to get me into the one-armed chair. After the needle pierced my skin, I started to hyperventilate. "What a performance," Mom said every single time we talked about this, which was often. For decades.

After the blood test was over, I reportedly stood up and said, ever so softly, "Uh-oh." Down I went, taking Mom with me.

Here comes the part I do remember: We're in the car in our driveway, after a silent trip home. Mom cuts the engine, looks at my bandaged forehead and says, "Maybe Leslie will be the nurse."

And God said, "It is done."

My sister Les became the nurse Mom had always wanted to be.

I still hate needles. Two years ago, a friend started describing over dinner how she loves to watch her blood shoot up the line when she donates it. I ended up with my head between my knees to keep from fainting right there in the restaurant. "Just looking for an earring," I said.

"Where is this going?" you may wonder.

Come with me. I'll drive.

We're sitting in my Jeep, made by union workers in Ohio, as we turn into the county fairgrounds. We are joining dozens of other cars slowly streaming in front of us and behind us. Remember that last scene in "Field of Dreams," when that long line of cars is winding its way to the magical baseball field in the cornfield? It's like that.

Friendly people wearing masks and smiling eyes are welcoming us, nodding hello to you, my passenger, as they check my license. One nice woman directs me to veer right because, being my mother's daughter, I have already printed my medical form and filled it out before leaving the house.

The sun is shining (it really was), and something is happening inside me as I slowly pull into what looks like a 4-H barn at the county fair. It's a feeling I've never had before.

I can't wait to get that shot.

I lower my car window, shove up my sleeve and offer it to the masked man with the needle. "Thank you," I tell him as he injects my first dose of the Moderna vaccine. "Thank you, thank you."

A week from today, I will be 28 hours out from my second dose of this vaccine for COVID-19. I may experience some side effects, but I can't wait to get that next shot. I'll let you know how it goes.

If Mom were here, she'd tell you that if her oldest daughter can get this shot, so can you.

Then she'd tell you a story. You know the one.

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

Praise Jesus, But Not Really

After I first started writing a column, in the fall of 2002, it wasn't long before I heard regularly from those who brandished God as a weapon in opposing LGBTQ rights.

This was not surprising. Back then, I was on staff at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, and I was long familiar with the bigotry in my home state. Most of the hate mail came from strangers, but I got my share of lectures from blood relatives, too. Few things anger right-wing Christians more than a family member insisting she's acquainted with a different version of God.

Goodness, the hate. That stuff stays with you. Just last week, I was reminiscing with a friend about a 2004 speech I gave at a women's event. More than 500 women in the audience, but when it was time to take questions, the first came from one of the handful of men in attendance.

Why, he demanded to know, did I have to "go on and on about the homosexuals?" Grasping the microphone with both hands, he yelled, "I don't want to think about those people having sex."

I assured him that nobody I knew in the LGBTQ community wanted to imagine him and his wife having sex, either, so it looked like he had more in common with them than he was willing to acknowledge. When he refused to stop shouting, the floor manager cut off his mic, and many of the women cheered. Of course they did.

That same year the Rev. William Sloane Coffin published his book Credo. It was a collection of excerpts from his sermons and writings, and it was a lifeline for me. Worn down by the rage of right-wing believers, I was becoming a too-quiet Christian out of fear of being associated with them. Coffin helped me find the words for my heartache and the map to higher ground.

"The problem," Coffin wrote, "is not how to reconcile homosexuality with scriptural passages that condemn it, but rather how to reconcile the rejection and punishment of homosexuals with the love of Christ. It can't be done."

If Coffin were alive today, I'm certain he would include all of the LGBTQ community. That's what a Christian should do.

Yesterday morning, one of the first things I heard was an NPR report about conservative faith leaders' opposition to the Equality Act, which would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to ban discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation and gender identity. It has passed the House twice and is headed to the Senate, where there is no longer a Republican majority to block it.

A partial list of those who oppose it: the National Association of Evangelicals, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Seventh-day Adventist Church and Orthodox rabbis' Coalition for Jewish Values.

As NPR reported, their concern is that, if the Equality Act passes, their institutions will no longer receive federal funds if they discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community.

"Many faith-affiliated schools, however, require that students abide by strict moral codes related to sexual conduct, or they have gender-segregated housing that does not accommodate transgender people. Critics of the Equality Act say such policies would mean that students attending those schools could lose access to government aid programs."

In 2021, this is their grievance.

I'm back to 2004, when Ohio voters, egged on by too many pastors and priests, passed an amendment that was the harshest such legislation of its kind in the country. It banned same-sex marriage and all civil unions, and stripped health benefits to unmarried couples — gay or straight — at public colleges.

This, because of who they loved.

As I wrote at the time, in word and deed, Ohio told thousands of gay and lesbian couples that they, and their kind of love, aren't welcome here.

An elderly man left a long phone message for me. He felt bad for having voted for the amendment. He was raised to be conservative, he said, attended conservative schools and belonged to a conservative church. He was trying, he said, to get where I was on LGBTQ rights.

"Please be patient with me," he said.

For years after that, I tried to be. I found one way after another to nudge people like him to open their hearts — to catch them off guard, which is how love seeps in. Throughout that time, though, I was mindful of what one of my dearest friends had said to me over dinner one evening: "I don't want to be tolerated. I want to be accepted."

We've seen progress, but it's not enough, which is why the Equality Act is headed to the Senate. And once again, here they are, those self-declared Christians claiming they can love Jesus while, in his name, conspiring to inflict further harm.

It can't be done.

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

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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