And on some dark days, there was only the voice of a little girl singing.

April 15, 2014



In the early 1990s, before the advent of the anti-retro viral cocktails that largely rendered HIV a treatable, chronic disease, I found myself at one of the many memorial services that punctuated those years.

In this case, the mourners included a group of children who, much too early in their young lives, were facing the reality of grief, the unforgiving fact of finality.

One of the children, a young girl with a beautiful voice, had never sung in public. But she knew the favorite song of the young man who had been lost, and the only reason she even considered singing My Funny Valentine was that she loved him and wanted to do it for him.

So she found a way.

She would sing the song, but she would turn her back to the assembled. She would share her voice, but not the sight of her tears.

She sang. And it was beautiful.

It was still several years before the cocktail. The deluge of losses wasn’t close to being over.  Courageous activists from Act-Up — the fearless, front line warriors in the battle against apathy and invisibility — were still struggling to wrench affordable drugs from stubborn pharmaceutical companies.

And on some dark days, there was only the voice of a little girl singing.

Ever in Our Memories; Our Daughters Forever

April 4, 2014

Addie Mae Collins

Cynthia Wesley

Carole Robertson

Denise McNair

“When the winds of changes shift”

February 24, 2014




May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift

“Forever Young”
Bob Dylan
Copyright © 1973 by Ram’s Horn Music; renewed 2001 by Ram’s Horn Music

Read more:

Yes. Yes.

February 9, 2014

Broadway To Dim Its Lights Tonight at 7:45pm In Memory of Actor and Director Philip Seymour Hoffman

February 5, 2014


Perhaps you’ve heard about the Broadway ritual of “dimming the lights.”

For over 100 years, and only on very rare occasions, an informal committee of the Broadway League has been marking the passing of members of the acting and directing pantheon by briefly and simultaneously  dimming  the lights of every Broadway theater.

Robert Simonson, in the September 12, 2010  issue of Playbill, described the ritual:

“The ceremony is brief and precise. On a show night just after the deceased has passed (usually little more than 24 hours passes between the death and the dimming), exactly at curtain time—usually 8 PM—the lights of all the Broadway theatres are shut off for a full minute. No announcement is made, aside for a press release issued by the League prior to the event. The lights then go up, and the show goes on.”

If you are in the  vicinity of Times Square this evening at 7:45 PM, stop what you are doing, look toward the nearest Broadway theater and watch the lights go out in honor of Philip Seymour Hoffman.

I’ve thought a lot about his work in the last few days and keep coming back to the idea of peculiarity.

Far too often, rather than relishing uniqueness and idiosyncrasy, we stigmatize difference with words like “peculiar.” We ridicule.

Hoffman, though, could excavate the quintessentially human characteristics in any outsider, revealing that  supposedly peculiar characters were  actually filled with the same fears and anxieties we all share.

Seeing him work made us more  compassionate, more aware of our collective fragility.

Dim the lights.


Mose Wright. Never Flinched. Never Hesitated.

February 2, 2014


This morning I was thinking about how quickly our culture anoints heroes. Some unspeakable act occurs and, in a desperate attempt to find a savior, heroes are selected and honored while the accused are demonized. In our infinite patience, we do this so quickly that medals are often presented before we even know exactly what the hero did.

Isn’t this backwards?

Doesn’t the magnitude of an act of courage only become clear with the passage of time, when we can look back and see the historical context in which an act was truly selfless? On the other hand, doesn’t time also occasionally reveal the self-interest and even selfishness that might have been the actual motive for an act initially hailed as courageous?

Here is my favorite scenario  for what makes a genuine hero:  A modest, decent person does something quintessentially selfless without regard for personal safety. Some people pay attention, but — for a whole host of reasons — the act takes place below the radar of public attention. Maybe the hero isn’t especially desirable. Maybe he or she is a member of a despised group. Or maybe the act itself is such a violation of current values that it is reviled rather than admired.

But then, as time passes, the magnitude of the act – the extent to which it fearlessly transcended the conventions of the moment — slowly becomes clear. And decades later we ask ourselves: How did anyone have the guts to do that?

And so I present my choice for a hero.

The 1955 murder of Emmett Till was a seminal moment in the history of the civil rights movement.Till was a 14 year-old African American from Chicago visiting his family in Mississippi. When he violated the unwritten laws of segregation by talking to a white woman, he was abducted and brutally murdered. Photographs of his open-coffin funeral, revealing an unspeakably savage beating, were widely circulated. Emmett’s mother Mamie became a passionate and eloquent voice for social justice.

My hero, though, is Mose Wright. Mr. Wright was Emmett’s uncle and a witness to the abduction. When two men were accused of the crime, Wright chose to be a witness at the trial and personally identified the two white defendants. At the time, observers at the trial could not recall another example of a black man testifying against a white defendant. Wright moved to Chicago, but once more – ignoring warnings that he would be killed –returned to testify against his nephew’s killers. He never flinched or hesitated.

There’s a lot more to the story. The defendants were acquitted, yet later admitted the killing to Look Magazine for $4000.

And even more, many year later.

Wright died at the age of 83 in 1973.

There is courage. There is heroism. There is selflessness. There is sacrifice. There is near-greatness. There is greatness.

And sometimes, there is a Mose Wright.

Philip Seymour Hoffman (July 23, 1967 – February 2, 2014)

February 2, 2014


We’ve lost one of our most versatile, idiosyncratic and masterful actors.

Philip Seymour Hoffman was only 46 years old and from early reports, it appears that he might have died  from a drug overdose.

Of all his work, nothing struck me as more deliciously peculiar, more “unsettling” in the best sense of that word, then his role as Allen in the 1998 Todd Solondz film Happiness.


Hoffman found the humanness and vulnerability in the most peculiar, even disturbing, characters. A master of his craft.

Dim the lights.


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