from tinkering to transformation: the intersection of equal justice under the law


The United States Supreme Court ruled early yesterday morning that gay and transgender people are protected from workplace discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  I heard the actual Breaking News on my tv as I sat in my favorite blue recliner with my dog Charly who really didn’t understand my sudden outburst into tears – not my usual response to the Breaking News recently.

My commitment to social justice issues for more than 40 years made this news especially sweet to an old dyke growing up in the 1950s in a tiny town in the piney woods of southeast Texas. The marriage equality decision by the Supremes in June of 2015 had been huge and one I never thought I would live to see. And now, another unimaginable move forward for the gay and trans communities with protection in the places we work. We can no longer be fired for who we are. The 6 – 3 decision was written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, a Trump appointee, whose phone must be ringing off wherever he keeps it today. Good on you.

Charly has become more accustomed to outbursts of anger with expletives directed at the perfect storm created by the Covid-19 chaotic governmental responses to a pandemic that continues to spike in my home state of South Carolina as it rages along in other states having similar numbers – always sure to warrant choice words from me – plus the murders of two black men by white policemen in recent weeks that have called to our public consciousness once again the systemic racism we have continued to address and ignore sporadically for more than 400 years of our country’s history. As Maya Wiley, an attorney and American Civil Rights activist, explained “We must move from tinkering with change to true transformation.” Amen to that.

My Texas sister Leora called me early today and shouted a loud “Congratulations!” over the phone. I was not quick enough to understand what she meant. When I asked her, she said for the Supreme Court decision yesterday for you and Pretty and all the other people who are trying to find equal justice where you work. I was overwhelmed and told her my celebration had been muted by the other horrific acts in recent days to which she responded: “You can breathe right now in this one place so celebrate the moment. We can all breathe again when we get the knees off our necks because of George Floyd’s death.” My African American sister gets it – the intersection of all of our hopes for a day when equal justice under the law is more than just empty words. I love Leora for many reasons, but today I love her for reminding me to be happy.

Stay safe, stay sane and please stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

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a moment’s pause from the madness – enjoy!


In the midst of continuing spikes in the coronavirus in our state of South Carolina and yet another senseless killing of a black man by police brutality in our neighboring state of Georgia last night, Pretty and I took the afternoon off from pandemics, systemic racism and mayhem to spend a few hours with our 8-month-old granddaughter. We invite you to share these moments of joy with us.

Billy Blue is my Go-To toy at the Nanas’ house

NanaSlo has a shiny watch

NanaT is in charge of the most important bottle

Pool Time!

NanaSlo, here’s your shiny watch

Hm. 

Now where did I get this Happy Birthday toy?

It’s hard work standing up all the time

Luckily I found my best friend Passy

Hooray for the Passy!

Charly is ok, but I think I make her tired

NanaT is in charge of the food, too – she does it all

My name is Ella James – the Nanas love me the most! 

Stay safe, stay sane and please stay tuned.

 

 

 

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I can’t breathe


Webster’s Thesaurus defines moral as “ethical, or right and wrong, or proper conduct, personal. Ethical, right, proper, virtuous, just fair, aboveboard; pure, honest, high-minded, saintly…”

Democracy is defined in the same dictionary as “government by the people, representative government; state having government by the people. Fairness, equality, political equality.”

After the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmad Arbery in recent days, we have an opportunity to become better people – I hear the voices of our higher angels calling us to be just fair.

Stay safe, stay sane and please stay tuned.

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notes of two native daughters, a native granddaughter, and a native daughter-in-law


Two years ago Pretty planned a trip for us and two other family members who live in Texas to visit the newly opened Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama plus several other historical sites related to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. We called it our Civil Rights tour, but we could just as easily have called it our Black Lives Matter tour. This post was originally published here in May, 2018 – I dedicate it to the memory of George Floyd whose funeral service is today.  The work of equal justice for all is never finished.

This quotation from Maya Angelou is written on the walls of what is now The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration located on the site of a former warehouse where slaves were kept in prison while awaiting their fate in Montgomery, Alabama before the Civil War and the emancipation proclamation. Pretty, our tour guide, had made reservations for us to visit this museum at 9:30 last Saturday morning so our group of four was up and about very early on a gorgeous warm day. Our motel was right around the corner from the museum so we all walked over – still laughing and teasing each other about the winning and losing from the card games the night before.

The museum itself is open to the public by reservation, but it is not staffed by tour guides. Everyone is allowed to wander at their own pace to read the explanations of the artifacts, documents and jars of dirt collected at verified lynching sites across the country from 1882 to the present. The number of sites is still undetermined but from 1882 – 1968, nearly 5,000 African Americans were reportedly lynched in states across this country. Congressman John Lewis who wrote the foreword for the book Without Sanctuary calls these lynchings the  “hangings, burnings, castrations and torture of an American holocaust…what is it in the human psyche that would drive a person to commit such acts of violence against their fellow citizens?”

Our group split up as we meandered around through the various amazing exhibits. Pretty and I wandered in one direction, Leora and Carmen went off on their own journey through time as we all saw the intimate lives of American slaves come alive through the magic of hologram technology that portrayed the heartache of families savagely separated from each other, the pleas of the children looking for their mother. Interesting fact:  approximately 12 million people were kidnapped over the three centuries of slave trade to America, according to The Legacy Museum. 12 million living, breathing individuals. I felt overwhelmed by the atrocities with each turn Pretty and I made on our visit.

Overwhelmed, ashamed, guilty, angry – those are the emotions that swirled around in my mind with each personal account of my legacy as a white person in America. The pictures that showed cheering crowds of us – sometimes in the thousands – while an African American man was hanged, shot, burned…pieces of his body sold as souvenirs…post card pictures made…popcorn sold. I dreaded looking at the people watching the horrific acts in a party mood with as much fear that I would recognize someone in the crowds as the fear I felt for forcing myself to look at the actual horrific acts perpetrated by the mob violence. I couldn’t even begin to imagine how Leora and Carmen felt.

“The museum connects the legacy of slavery with subsequent decades of racial terrorism and lynching. Visitors see the link between codified racial hierarchy enforced by elected official and law enforcement with both the past and the present. Contemporary issues surrounding mass incarceration are explored with interactive exhibits and examination of important issues surrounding conditions of confinement, police violence, and the administration of criminal justice.”  (Legacy Museum – Equal Justice Initiative)

Interesting fact: One in three black male babies born today is expected to go to jail or prison in his lifetime.  One in three. The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. In 1979 when Richard Nixon declared the war on drugs, roughly 320,000 people were in prison in our country. Now, the current total incarcerated is 2.1 million people with a higher percentage of people of color.

As Pretty and I were getting ready to leave the museum, Pretty wheeled me to a very large interactive map of the USA. By merely clicking on an individual state, the number of lynched persons discovered to date in that state was highlighted. I foolishly couldn’t resist my native state of Texas. The total number was 338. The interactive map also showed the details by county: the name of the person and the date of the lynching. I made the mistake of going to my home county, Grimes, and saw the names and dates of 10 black men lynched there. Right in my home county. Where were my grandparents on those days, or did I really want to know?

Shortly thereafter, Pretty and I left the museum. Leora and Carmen were not far behind us. We were all truly lost in our own thoughts and the walk back to the hotel was very quiet.

As usual, Pretty saved the day by encouraging us to finish packing for checkout, finish the leftover food in our room, and call for our car. We were headed for what turned out to be redemption for us all at the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church and a woman named Wanda who helped us shift our focus from evil to good. Hallelujah!

daughter-in- law Pretty, daughter Leora,

granddaughter Carmen,  daughter Sheila

(clockwise left to right)

Stay safe, stay sane and please stay tuned.

 

 

 

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STOP KILLING US – a peaceful protest in Red Bank, South Carolina


 

Protest in Red Bank, South Carolina, USA on June 02, 2020

WISTV.com

If all lives matter, then why are you not OUTRAGED by Americans being murdered, tear gassed and arrested for peaceful protests? (sign held by woman in the middle)

If a small percentage of looters discredits an entire movement, THEN what does a small percentage of BAD COPS DO??? (sign held by woman at the end)

My thanks to our friend Michelle who came to take Spike for his walk this morning and mentioned the protest this week in Red Bank, South Carolina. She told me two of our local TV stations, WISTV and WLTXTV, had aired a brief broadcast about the gathering this past Tuesday, June 2nd.,  in the midst of the much lengthier coverage for the larger protests continuing this week in Columbia, the state capital.

Minneapolis, St. Paul, New York City, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Phoenix, Seattle, Boston, Philadelphia, Houston, Atlanta – I’ve watched this week as hundreds of thousands of Americans have taken to the streets of our major cities to protest the senseless murder of George Floyd by the police in Minneapolis. The news coverage has been 24/7 since the crime was committed on May 25th.

Red Bank is not an incorporated community, but it is locally recognized and identified by name as a census-designated place in Lexington County which is distinguished primarily as the politically conservative next-door neighbor of the more liberal larger city of Columbia in Richland County. Crossing the Congaree River from one county to the next sometimes reflects more than a geographical change on a map.

According to the news reports, Highway 55 Burgers Shakes and Fries teamed up with Sandpit Fitness in their shopping center to offer a place for the protesters to peacefully gather to make their voices heard on the matters involving the death of George Floyd. Like their counterparts in Columbia and other cities across the world, their messages were direct, simple, profound. Stop killing us, won’t you?

The police were called by someone who feared these people and their signs in Red Bank. However, no arrests were made.

Amendment 1 to the Constitution of the United States says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The people of Red Bank are citizens of the United States; they are entitled to petition our government for equal justice and fair treatment by police officers who are sworn to serve and protect all citizens. They may not have a town hall, but they have a right to their voices.

The events of the past week since the murder of George Floyd have weighed heavily on us in our home. Pretty and I are outraged by the police actions we have seen with our own eyes as we are also outraged by the ongoing failure of the leadership of our country at the highest levels. The president is a shameful disgrace devoid of any pretense of compassion. He stood as the fairy tale emperor with no clothes when he held a Bible in front of a church after an assault on peaceful American protesters to make way for him to pass by.

And yet as I have watched the diversity of the crowds peacefully protesting, I share a hope with former President Obama who admonishes us to look to the next generation for answers to the problems of race we leave them as part of our legacy. We should have done better. Now they must do better if our democracy is to survive.

To the Red Bank peaceful protesters for a better nation, I say thanks to you for your courage to exercise your rights. Onward, together.

Stay safe, stay sane and please stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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the murder of George Floyd in america – anger, fear, hatred, uprising


Videos of the killing of a 46-year-old black man in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25th. by four policemen responding to a call concerning a fake $20 bill allegedly passed at a nearby corner grocery store have spread as fast as Covid-19 in nursing homes and have been viewed more than once by hundreds of millions of people around the world.

No video viewer is likely to forget the final nine minutes of George Floyd’s life in which he repeatedly begged for breath from policeman Derek Chauvin who sat nonchalantly with his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck while two other policemen, Thomas Lane and Alexander Kueng, held him down on the ground to further impede his breathing. Ton Thau, the fourth policeman, walked around the scene but also ignored Mr. Floyd’s cries for help.

The Minneapolis Police Department fired the four policemen this week. Yet, while local, state and federal agencies investigate the murder, no arrests have been made as of this morning. Black people and their allies are outraged by a failure of the justice system to press criminal charges against these four policemen, another failure in both a long and short list of police brutality against people of color – particularly black males – with no end in sight.

I am angry, but my anger is unlike the anger of our black citizens who must couple their anger with fear for their lives. As commentator Joy Reid said this morning, “Every black person in America now considers themselves to be hunted.”

As for the uprisings in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area this week, I rely on the words of Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said a riot is the language of the unheard. Point taken. We must do better.

Finally, heed these words from Dr. King that hit home to me today as clearly as the daily death number updates from the Covid-19 pandemic:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

We must do better.

Stay safe, stay sane and stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

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how did Stella really get her groove back?


Getting our collective “grooves” back across the world will be far more complicated, doubtless a much lengthier process than Stella’s in the 1998 film shown above. But hey, we have to start somewhere. Originally published here in February, 2013, I’m dedicating this re-run to the groove seekers during Covid-19. 

I was talking to Leora (who is one of my favorite soul sisters) tonight when she said something that crackled across the phone and smacked me upside the head with a satellite wave whack. It’s time for me to get my groove back, she said; and I understood immediately what she meant because I knew that was my problem, too. I’d lost my groove. Somewhere in the midst of the vicissitudes of life, as my daddy used to say, I’d buried my groove as surely as I’d buried the ashes of my mother in the little Fairview cemetery in Grimes County ten months ago.

I hadn’t heard the reference to “getting your groove back” since I watched the movie How Stella Got Her Groove Back years ago, but I remembered the essentials. Apparently a young sexy shirtless Taye Diggs was the spark plug for a middle-aged Angela Bassett’s recovery of her misplaced spontaneity, the optimism for her life. As I recall, Stella (Ms. Bassett) located her groove in less than two hours of screen time to happily rejoin the human race she had forsaken. Sigh. Now, that’s what I’m talking about. Fixer-upper for lost groove. Quick, fun, and easy.

Let’s not kid ourselves. I’m fairly confident a shirtless man won’t be the impetus for getting an old lesbian’s groove back.  I can also say with certainty the process will take longer than two hours. Regardless, I do recollect Stella’s outlook became brighter – she seemed more hopeful for her future at the end of the film.

I’m beginning to feel a small crack in the tortoise shell of grief that has covered me during the last year. Death and dying are two separate but equal tragedies that exact a price on those who watch and wait. The tragedies remind me of my own mortality which brings questions of legacy and the life I chose to live. For those of us who tend to be contemplative about the meaning of life on a regular basis, facing our own mortality is a daunting undertaking. Undertaking. Hah. Get it?

The grieving doesn’t end, but the images I carry from the tragedies dim and dwindle away leaving me with a knowledge of the importance of this moment in this day in this time because I am not promised another breath. I’m thinking that’s my first step toward getting my groove back.

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Stay safe, get groovy and stay tuned.

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a man of letters – prejudice by any other name is still prejudice


Two years ago in the summer of 2018 I published posts containing letters written by my father to family members from his teenage years in the early 1940s to his death in 1976.  I called the series “a man of letters” – it became one of my favorites published here. I included letters from other members of my family in the series. On this Memorial Day I remember with shame and sadness this exchange between my grandmother and her two sons who would be swept up in WWII in the European theater. 

While the war took center stage in everyone’s mind in 1942 and my dad noticed that his hunting and fishing buddies in Richards, Texas had a younger sister, apparently hormones were also raging in my dad’s brother Ray who would have been almost twenty years old in April of 1942 when he received a surprise letter in the mail from his mother. It was dated April 27th.

“Dear Ray, Your daddy and I were tickled with your surprise visit this past weekend. You always have to work, and it was a treat for us to have you home for a whole weekend. I am pleased to see that your appetite is still good. I’ve never seen anyone love chicken and dumplings the way you do!

Now, son, I need to have a serious talk with you about Geneva Walkoviak. I know that you had two dates with her while you were home. We can’t have you getting too serious about Geneva. And, I’m sure you know why. Even though she is pretty and seems sweet enough, the facts are that she is Polish and Catholic and those are two things that don’t mix in our family. You may not be able to appreciate the problems with that, but take my word for it. You stay with your own kind. Now, let’s leave it at that. I know you wouldn’t want to let us down.

Try to make it home for your daddy’s birthday this summer.  All our love, Mama and Daddy”

Polish. Catholic. Prejudice takes twists and turns through the years, decades, centuries. The names change, but the sentiments do not. Polish people in Richards at that time had a distinct accent – they were often first and second generation immigrants who farmed the contrary Texas land. The children rode a small yellow school bus to the red brick schoolhouse in town carrying the hopes and dreams of their families in tiny brown paper lunch bags. The men and boys got their haircuts at my grandfather’s barbershop. Their money, as is always the case in prejudice, was evidently neither Polish nor Catholic.

Today bigotry is often based on what language is spoken, skin color, or country of origin. Hispanic refugees and others seeking asylum in this country are subjected to inhumane treatment that is unacceptable to all of us who respect the values our nation was founded on: everyone is entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We do not separate children from their mothers and then put them in prison camps. We’ve done that before to African-American slaves whose families were ripped apart and scattered to the four winds. That is not who we think we are. That is not who we are, is it?

Catholics – Jews – Muslims. The religion roller coaster ride continues with death-defying speed and mind-boggling ticket prices.

What a tangled web we weave in a small rural southeast Texas community consumed by the thought of a war in 1942, and yet my grandmother decided to set aside time to write a letter to my uncle which sadly exhibited the same kinds of prejudice that created anti-Semitism in Germany which was the impetus for the war in the first place, where a name like Walkoviak and a pretty Catholic girl named Geneva could become the target of pointed prejudice.

I am ashamed and saddened by this letter. I do not find it surprising, however, because I remember my grandmother as a wonderful strong funny woman – but flawed. She would have been 39 years old when she wrote that revealing letter to her son. I’m not sure her positions changed during the next forty-five years of her life. She agonized over voting for the Democratic candidate John Kennedy in 1960 because of his Catholicism, for example; but I do recall she relented in later years when her grandson, one of Ray’s sons, married a Catholic girl.

My dad, on the other hand, must have been blissfully unaware of the family drama because three months after his mother’s letter to his brother, he wrote to his parents following a visit  for his father’s birthday on July 29th. His father turned 44 on that birthday. This letter is dated August 1, 1942.

“Dear Mama and Daddy, It was good to be home for Daddy’s birthday this week. I’m back at work today, and the grocery store is still standing. And, I’m still stocking shelves. Talk about boring. At least, it gives me money for school and to help Lucy and Terrell with the bills. It’s hard to believe I’ve been in Beaumont for a whole year. The War is the big topic on campus and off. Doesn’t look like we’re doing very good against the bad guys. Daddy, you better go up to Washington and see Mr. Roosevelt. I think he needs some good advice for a change. You could get things going in the right direction.

I didn’t see much of Ray while we were home. He spends a lot of time with Geneva Walkoviak. She’s the only one he likes to spend money on. Of course, I guess you didn’t see much of me, either. Selma and I went to see the same movie three times. I’m beginning to like her more than her brothers.

Probably won’t be home again until Christmas. The classes are a little harder this year. But, you’ll see that my grades are hanging in there really good. I want you to be proud of me. Your son, Glenn Morris”

Obviously my uncle Ray rejected his mother’s ultimatum and continued to date the pretty Polish girl who happened to be Catholic. That made me smile.

Throughout 1942 the impact of the war came closer and closer to home as more  young men enlisted – teenage boys were leaving their farms, day jobs, and classrooms to join the armed forces. They would soon cross oceans by sea and air to defend their country from the Axis powers.

Stay tuned

Ray and his mama

my Uncle Ray 

my grandfather George, my daddy Glenn and my grandmother Betha

My Aunt Lucy

Stay safe, stay sane and stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

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Ella James, today is your NanaT’s birthday, and you are her greatest gift…


 

Once upon a time your NanaT visited a faraway place called Greece, and she loved that place very much. One night she was going out to eat the yummy Greek food with your NanaSlo and their friends because the yummy Greek food was one of her favorite attractions while she visited the faraway place.

On their walk to get  the yummy Greek food, a little white dog appeared on the steps in front of your NanaT.  The little white dog was very dirty with curly fur that had not been combed for a long, long time.

Your NanaT stopped to sit on a large stone next to the steps. And can you guess what she did next?

She petted the little white dog for a long time, gave it one of her best smiles and then followed the little dog home to make sure it wasn’t lost.

The End

This story has a moral for you, Ella James. Your NanaT has always believed in rescuing both people and animals in distress. As you grow older, you will most assuredly see her strength and determination to make your world a better place in action. You are a very lucky little girl. Imagine the love your NanaT will give you, her special granddaughter, if she made a place in her heart for a little white dog in a faraway place.

Happy Birthday, Pretty – thank you for rescuing me twenty years ago – you’re simply the best.

Pretty’s Greatest Gift

Stay safe, stay sane and stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

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is this our fifth set – match point?


The year was 2001 (much more than a space odyssey) – the setting was centre court at Wimbledon – the round of 16 for the men included a 19-year-old newcomer named Roger Federer playing the 29-year-old four time defending Wimbledon champion, an American named Pete Sampras. Since I have been in tennis withdrawal for the past two months without my favorite clay court season in the spring, I tuned in to the Tennis Channel this afternoon and stumbled on to one of their Tennis Classics which happened to be this passing of the guard match on the green grass of the hallowed grounds of the All England Club in London. Federer, whose career over the past twenty years has earned him the title Greatest of All Time by some, beat Sampras in five sets that afternoon but lost in the quarter finals that year. The match deserved inclusion in the Tennis Channel Classics – wow. 

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Whether the surface is a hard concrete one,  one made of red clay or manicured green grass, the goal is the same: to win. To beat someone. To play better, smarter and mentally tougher than the opponent. To be more physical and aggressive. To charge the net when an opening appears. To cover the baseline when the shots go deep against you. The court is a battlefield where the scales of justice are often tipped by net cords and fractions of inches along white lines. The game is tennis.

For men who play singles, the winner is usually required to win two of three sets.  In Grand Slam (French Open, Wimbledon, US Open, Australian Open) events, however, the rules change to  the best three of five sets to determine the champion.  If each man wins two sets, a fifth set is played.  The fifth set is often the scene of one man’s surrender and loss to another man’s courage and inner strength.  The first four sets are evenly played, but the last one is too much for the body, mind, will or all of the above for one of the guys and the desire to win or to not lose drives his opponent to victory.

I love fifth sets. I particularly like them when they are close and long, and I’m not even paying for my seat in front of the television set. Nope, I’m watching for free, but I have the Deluxe Box seats and have seen my share of Grand Slams in Melbourne, Paris, London and New York City.  From my ABCs of Agassi to Becker to Connors to my current personal favorites of Federer and Nadal I admire the passion and persistence of the five-set winners.

There is a moment of high drama called Match Point when the difference between winning and losing in the fifth set can be measured by split-second choices and breaks in concentration. Match points can be saved which means the game can go on for hours, but in the end a match point is lost; the winner often falls to the ground on center court with a victorious smile, joyous tears and wave to the crowd.

As I watched the five-set match today at Wimbledon, the thought occurred to me that match points in tennis have an advantage over those we have in real life. The fourth round opponents I saw today knew the importance of the fifth set and its match point in that moment, but the rest of us may never know when we miss the chance to win –  or lose what we value most.

Roger Federer through the years

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We live in dangerous days facing an opponent in Covid-19 that doesn’t play by the rules as we know them. Please stay safe, stay sane and stay tuned.

 

 

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