Being Comfortable in Your Own Skin

By Jackie Cushman

Published on

You are born alone and you die alone. Don't dump on anyone else for your decisions. You're a big girl and you make them yourself," was the quote that I remembered at the end of the night. These were words from a Jewish great grandmother based on more than 90 years of living. Not stated as a cliche', but heartfelt and serious.

Good advice.

It reminds us that, in the end, no matter what, we have to be comfortable with who we are, with who we have become. We have to be comfortable in our own skin.

Recently, my kindergartener used the phrase "the man in the black skin," in reference to the person he was talking about.

This was a description. Not a derogatory statement or a put down, as it might have been in generations past, but a simple descriptive statement.

As if he had said, "the man in the red shirt."

After reflection, I realize the two descriptive phrases are not quite the same.

"The man in the black skin" is not able to take off his black skin and put on a skin of another color, while "the man in the red shirt" can easily change shirts. While my kindergartener sees the color of a person's skin as a simple attribute, it is one that cannot be easily changed by dye, diet, or a new outfit.

This makes skin color inherently different.

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was 39 when he was assassinated in 1968, two years younger than I am now. It fills me with sorrow to think of his wife and children left behind, and the work that he could have accomplished.

It also leaves me in awe of a man who accomplished so much in his all-too-short life.

Dr. King not only dared to dream that our nation would be one where "all men are created equal;" Dr. King also provided us with a picture of what that dream would look like:

"All of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

"This past week, I attended the opening of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. The organization's Web site notes that the American Jewish Committee "is a national advocacy organization that works to build bridges of understanding between ethnic, religious and national groups around the world. The Atlanta Chapter produces a film festival because we believe that film is one of the best ways to tell stories and stories are the best way to share experiences."

It seems fitting that the AJFF spans the weekend when Martin Luther King's birthday is being celebrated.

The ideas of building bridges of understanding and using stories to share experiences are ideas that Dr. King might have considered worthwhile.

When a friend remarked that I might not want to go to the film festival because it might be bombed, I knew she was kidding, but it made me stop and think.

Keeping a sharp lookout for bad drivers and paying attention in dark places or in areas with little pedestrian traffic are all part of my daily routine. However, I rarely consider that that I might be targeted due to religious beliefs.

Dr. King was probably aware of the physical risks that he ran while leading the civil-rights movement and, as with many soldiers, he probably believed that the possibility of his personal sacrifice was worth the risk in light of advancing the greater good.

"I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream."This dream has come a long way since Dr. King's death, but we are not there yet.

In trying to live the dream, our society has focused on building political correctness rather than building individual character. The overwhelming political correctness of our society today puts everyone into a group. Once groups are created, it is easy to focus on differences rather than to focus on similarities. The continued categorization and labeling creates continuous friction rather than fostering solidarity and unity for Americans who are interested in how we can help each other move forward.

It makes no more sense to group together people born with white skin than it does to group together people born with black skin. Skin color is not determined by an individual, but by genetics. What each person can control is the person who fills that skin.

If we really are to live the dream of Dr. King, skin color and religious background should be mere descriptors, and the focus should be on the person inside the content of the character and how this character is reflected in everyday activities and actions. Make sure you feel comfortable with whom you are as a person. After all, you did not create the skin, just the person who lives inside it.

Copyright 2008 by Jackie Cushman

All Rights Reserved

Stories and Tall Tales

By Jackie Cushman

Published on

A few days ago, while I was telling my children a story to convey a lesson, Maggie, my oldest child, asked me if the story was real, or a tall tale. She explained to me that she was learning about tall tales in school, and that tall tales had an element of truth, but were made-up.

This is an excellent question, even for people past the third grade.
Stories create the narratives that take otherwise uninteresting facts and figures and link them to people, making those same facts and figures interesting and relevant. Facts and figures in a vacuum are often unmoving.

There are numerous ways stories are communicated. Stories may be spoken (as they were before the creation of writing), written, sung, or conveyed through images. All of these methods can be combined to create movies. Stories have always held a special place in my life. When my sister and I were very young, our dad would tell us PeeWee PeteTM stories. He told these stories while driving long distances. PeeWee PeteTM was a small person (2' 3 inches) who was constantly getting into and out of trouble. Possibly our dad was trying to warn us of challenges we would be encountering throughout our lives against larger forces. More than likely, he was simply trying to find a distraction for his two children who were rarely quiet.

As we grew older, we moved from oral stories to written stories. Reading was an escape, transporting me to another time and place, allowing me to become someone else for a while and to leave behind the daily challenges of growing up. Many nights and weekends passed with all four of our family members glued to our books. My sister and I would lie on the floor. Dad would pace back and forth across the room as he read and my mom would sit in a chair.

My love for books and stories grew as I did. By junior high, I had begun placing a paperback inside my math book, enabling me to read during math class. This was a low risk activity as my mom was a math teacher and could review the material with me at home prior to a test.

Movies were also one of our family staples. One of my earliest memories is waking up in the theatre during a western film, peering over the seat in front of me, and seeing a cowboy jump off a cliff onto an Indian, knocking him off of his horse. As they began wrestling, I put my head in my mother's lap and went back to sleep easily, as I knew the movie was fiction.

As I grew older, my family would often travel an hour from the small town of Carrollton in west Georgia to midtown Atlanta to attend movies at the Rhodes Theatre and eat at Zesto's. We would often remain inside the complex and move from one theater to another, frequently seeing two or three movies on a Saturday afternoon. I remember a Bruce Lee double feature action movie where good triumphed over evil.
When I was still a teenager, we watched the 1979 Academy award-winning movie Kramer vs. Kramer at the Rhodes Theatre, which was so crowded that my sister Kathy and I had to sit in the aisle, away from our parents and each other. This movie fictionalized the real and heart-wrenching impact of divorce.

Many people try to affect us through stories that are not true, which is fine if the stories are identified as fiction. Just yesterday, I received a fax of what appeared to be a newspaper article. A handwritten note on the top of the page said, "I thought you'd find this interesting. At first glance, the article appeared to be true, but on further examination, (the fax didn't identify the sender, nor did it identify where or when it was published and it ended with this giveaway: "The preceding story is a dramatization of every day frustrations experience by many customers.") I determined it was an advertisement rather than a real article. So into the trash it went.

The purpose of a story can be to enlighten, inform, entertain, and most importantly inspire. So what makes some stories resonate with us, while other stories are not able to keep our attention for more than a few moments? Possibly it's the connection of the elements within the story to important elements within our own lives.

Before we allow ourselves to be swept up in the emotional impact of a good story, we should be thoughtful enough to determine where the story comes from, whether it is true, why it was told and what its planned and real impact might be.

It could be that compelling stories, even if fiction, contain an element of truth that speaks to our human existence. But let's be careful that we can determine which ones are based on truth and which ones are simply fabricated with a possibly not-so-noble goal in mind.

Copyright 2008 by Jackie Cushman

All Rights Reserved

December 28, 2007

News for today - Mostly focused on Sports after all its the time of year for bowl games.


Two interesting articles from todays Atlanta Journal Constitution:



Brennan has put conviction behind him

Star QB works hard to restore imageBy THOMAS STINSON
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 12/28/07 Honolulu  What Colt Brennan does is walk into the youth detention center, sit down with the newest line of delinquents and spin a tale of redemption sought. His."I look at them and say, 'Hey, look. You're looking at a convicted felon right now," Brennan said. "And I've not let that hold me back one bit. You can decide your fate in this world.'

I love the Colt Brennan story and wish him well in the bowl game (even though he is playing Georgia). I first heard about his story earlier this year and references him in a story regarding Michael Vick. Maybe Michael Vick will watch the game and learn a bit about moving forward after a conviction - hope springs eternal.

The second story is about Patrick Kerney, former Atlanta Falcon now playing for Seattle - he is really having a great year.

Ex-Falcon Kerney happy in Seattle
Defensive end has made a timely, successful escapeBy STEVE WYCHE
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 12/28/07 Flowery Branch NFL-wise, Patrick Kerney is about as far away from Atlanta as he could possibly be. Lucky guy.



Patrick Kerney (97) stays in touch with at least one former teammate, Falcons end John Abraham.



Defensive end Patrick Kerney, playing in his first season with the Seahawks, has been selected to the Pro Bowl for the second time in his career.



More Falcons



Just 10 months ago, he bolted from the Falcons, for whom he played eight seasons, for the Seattle Seahawks, whose salve of $39.5 million over six years eased his emotionally taxing departure. He had no idea then that he might have just made the best football decision of his life.

"We miss him," Falcons interim coach Emmitt Thomas said. "He's had a hell of a year. He's going to the Pro Bowl. Kerney is one of those guys that when you look at him you say, 'Where is he getting it from?' It was deep in his heart. He was a compassionate player, a tough player and I'm happy for him. I wish he was here."

I too miss seeing him around the neighborhood - But I am glad he is having one heck of a year - and wish him well in the Pro Bowl.

After this year - its nice to read about two stand up guys in the sports arena. I am looking forward to seeing the results of this weeks games.

Counting Blessings

By Jackie Cushman

Published on

We began getting ready for Christmas the first Friday of December with the purchase of our Christmas tree from our children's elementary school.

The tree went up the next day in the center of the windows in the back of our living room. My husband carried all the Christmas boxes down from the attic and our children Maggie and Robert and I spent the weekend decorating the tree and the inside of our house while my husband strung the outside lights.While unpacking one of the boxes, I ran across one of my favorite movies - "White Christmas" starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney (who my mother keeps reminding me was George's aunt) and Vera-Ellen.The following Friday night, Maggie and Robert opted for watching "White Christmas," and we have watched it five more times since.The story about friendship, service, anticipation, love and fulfillment begins on Christmas Eve, 1944, during the war, somewhere in Europe. Capt. Bob Wallace (a successful entertainer played by Crosby) and Priv. Phil Davis (an aspiring entertainer played by Kaye) are entertaining U.S. troops with a song-and-dance act. During it, they pay tribute to Maj. Gen. Thomas F. Waverly, their 151st Division commanding officer who is getting a transfer to the rear. Once the tribute is over, shelling begins. Davis pulls Wallace to the side as a wall falls, saving Wallace's life but injuring his arm in the process. While Davis is recovering, Wallace visits to thank him. Davis asks that they team up after the war as an entertainment act. After initially declining, Wallace succumbs to Davis' entreaties made as he rubs his injured arm.

Fast forward to post-war America. Their act a success, Wallace and Davis begin producing and directing shows. While in Florida with their show, they receive a letter from "Freckled-Faced Haynes the dog-faced boy," an old army buddy, asking them to watch a duet of his sisters, Betty (Clooney) and Judy (Vera-Ellen).

Wallace and Davis go to the club and watch the act. After they meet, Betty tells Wallace that the letter was really from her sister Judy.

When the sheriff and an irate landlord arrive to collect deposit money from the, Wallace and Davis - dressed as women sing and dance Betty and Judy's "sisters" act as the girls escape.

All four wind up on a train headed from Florida to Vermont, where they have plans to perform, Davis gives the women the hotel room reserved for him and Wallace, while giving Wallace credit for being thoughtful. The women thank Wallace for his generosity, and the four of them look forward to snow, typical in Vermont this time of year.

But upon their arrival in the Green Mountain State, they see that Vermont has no snow. The four go to the inn where Betty and Judy have been booked to perform for the holidays.
The manager informs the sisters that they will not be needed, as no snow means slow business. As they are trying to figure out what to do, they are astounded to see Major General Waverly enter the inn carrying a load of firewood. Wallace and Davis drop their suitcases and salute.

The lack of business threatens to force the general to close his inn.

Determined to help, Wallace and Davis call their cast and crew to the inn to prepare to put on a show, one that has been reworked to include the sisters. During all this, Davis tries to set Wallace up. Once Davis and Judy meet, they plot to bring Wallace and Betty together. One night, they get Betty and Wallace into the inn lobby for a midnight snack and they sing together, "Count your Blessings.This scene serves as a pause in the story line, a time to give thanks in the midst of uncertainty: will people attend the Christmas Eve event and support the general, will Betty and Wallace end up together, will Davis and Judy end up together, will it ever snow? Soon after this respite, Betty mistakenly comes to believe that Wallace is trying to take advantage of the general's precarious circumstances. Disillusioned and angry, she leaves for a gig in New York. Wallace, who is also going to New York to appear on a radio show to request all 151st Division personnel living in the area to visit the Inn for Christmas Eve, attempts to persuade Betty to return, to no avail. But after Betty hears Wallace's appeal to the troops, she understands she was mistaken and returns to the inn for Christmas Eve.The show's last scene takes place at the inn. The general enters a room packed with men of the 151st Division; Betty and Wallace make up and kiss; Davis and Judy kiss; it begins to snow.

Davis remarks that the production was a success and they must get ready to travel and perform; Wallace replies that he will be busy seemingly with Betty. In the final number, a happy cast toasts to "May your days be merry and bright; and may all your Christmases be white."Last week, I was traveling, and I woke up a few times in the middle of the night. Instead of worrying about future events as I normally would, I have begun lying as still as possible and counting my blessings.In reviewing this year's blessings (which include you, dear reader), I realize that I have written a column for 60 consecutive weeks. I will be taking next week off during which I plan to continue to count my blessings.

Copyright 2007 by Jackie Cushman

All Rights Reserved.

A Place Called Hope

By Jackie Cushman


Published by

The town of Hope, Arkansas, settled in 1852, became famous when Bill Clinton ended his acceptance speech at the 1992 Democratic Convention with "I believe in a place called Hope."
Hope's population of slightly more than 10,000, represents about three thousandths of one percent of the U.S. population. Yet Hope is the birthplace of a disproportionate share of national political figures: Bill Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States, and Mike Huckabee, the current surging Republican candidate.

Clinton was born in Hope in 1946, three months after his father died in an accident. Clinton lived with his maternal grandparents in Hope while his mother went to nursing school.

Huckabee was born nine years later, by which time Clinton and his mother had moved 90 Miles away to Hot Springs.

Having a president and a presidential contender from Hope makes me wonder, what is it about this place called Hope? Why would such a small town produce one president and one presidential contender within 15 years? Why Hope?

The City of Hope was named for the daughter of James Loughborough, the Cairo and Fulton (railroad) land commissioner, who drew up the city plat. It is the county seat of Hempstead County, located 25 miles northeast of Texarkana and 120 miles southwest of Little Rock Arkansas.

Hope is "a nice little quiet town," said Arkansas resident Tommy Horton.

This description reminds me of Carrollton, Georgia, the town where I grew up.

In the early 1970s, my family moved to the town of about 12,000 residents located an hour west of Atlanta. Though Carrollton might now be considered more of an Atlanta suburb, back then it was a small, close-knit community.

I called Hope Mayor Dennis Ramsey to learn more about Hope and why it produced a president and presidential contender.


"Everyone knew what everyone was doing" and back then "we didn't have locks on the door," said Ramsey, the president of Summit Bank in Hope, and a Hope native.

This too sounds similar to Carrollton. Growing up, we often left the door unlocked and, wherever we went, people knew who we were and who our parents were. They would look out for us as if we were their own children.

News traveled fast in Carrollton, as it probably did in Hope. I know from experience that news of a child's misbehavior outside the home often had reached that child's parents by the time she got home.


According to Ramsey, Hope students had a "great educational system and support, teachers took an interest." Ramsey reminisced that his former civics teacher, Josephine Vesey, took her topic to heart and Anna Williams, an English teacher and sponsor of the Student Council, worked hard to encourage young leaders.

Americans believe in the importance of education as imparted not by a school system, but by individual teachers who reach out and inspire children.

Work ethic

Offering an additional reason for Clinton's and Huckabee's success, Ramsey noted that both former state governors Clinton and Huckabee had humble beginnings. Clinton lived with his grandmother and Huckabee's father was a fireman.

As boys, both Hope residents learned that working hard pays off, that success and achievement follow hard work, that success does not happen by itself, but requires real work.


"Big things come out of small packages," said Hope Vice Mayor David Johnson in a telephone interview. "People here dream and their dreams come true we had parents that would allow us to dream."

"Allow your kids to dream," Johnson recommended. These dreams provide a vision of what is possible. Hope for what might be.

Johnson said that he had "always dreamed of going to the White House." He visited the White House during the Clinton Administration.

It is good to know that dreams can come true.

Hope the name asked if he believes Clinton and Huckabee might have been inspired by the town's name, Johnson responded, "I do, I do. I always want to have hope."

Hope, a place of community, education, work ethic and dreams, sounds like Hope's motto "A slice of the good life."

What role will Hope play in the current presidential election? We already have one president from a place called Hope. Will there be another? While pundits will continue to call the race from now until election day, as a veteran of over a dozen elections, my experience is that you can never fully anticipate what will happen, and that its not over until its over. The election is a long way off.

I can tell you this much, there are real nice people in Hope, Arkansas. And it sure is nice to believe in a place called Hope.

Copyright 2007 by Jackie Cushman

All Rights Reserved


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