The Truth in Old Photos, Thanks to Siobhan Finneran of Downton Abbey

There’s a photo going around Facebook that shows Downton Abbey actor Siobhan Finneran as her character, Sarah O’Brien, on one side and Siobhan all “dolled up” on the other. I suspect that most people look at it and think, Gee, she’s much prettier when she has makeup on and her own hair.

Frederick Douglass

But I saw it differently. I reflected on those old black-and-white and sepia-toned photographs from the 1840s through the 1960s, when color photography really gained steam. I thought about those old photos of Woodrow Wilson and Herbert Hoover, of Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony, and of all the nameless faces in daguerreotype images hanging on museum walls.

Those people came in living color too, I remind myself, and it’s only when you try to imagine what they might have looked like in the flesh that they truly come to life.

Siobhan Finneran

When you look at Siobhan’s character in black and white, she has harsh features and a terribly old-style hairstyle. Her look is stern, and she’s wearing a less than flattering black dress.

But when you look at Siobhan herself, in color and as she appears “normally,” you see the subtle shades in her skin. Her face softens, her eyes look more intriguing than piercing. She becomes, to us, real.

How many of us have looked at old photos in museums and passed them by because they weren’t relevant? Because the photos were so old, who cares?

I know I did. But I try not to anymore.

Reading books like David McCullough’s The Greater Journey and Matthew Algeo’s The President is a Sick Man has helped me visualize people from long ago as they actually were. Not as blank-faced, sepia-toned photographs, but as living, breathing individuals, just like us today. There but for the grace of God….

That’s a nice lesson to learn.

So, to whomever put those two photos of Ms. Finneran together, thank you for the lesson.

The ‘Large Uterus’ Or What Not to Say on a Crowded Train

You have a large what?

Getting off a rush-hour train the other day I overheard a woman behind me say into her cell phone, quite clearly and rather loudly, “My doctor said I have a large uterus. Never heard that before.”

Slap my butt and call me Bobby, I never have either. And I hope to never again.

First, what the bejeebers is a large uterus? Does she have fibroids? A thick uterine wall? I mean, the doctor actually used the words “large uterus”?

Oh, come on.

Mostly, though, why the bejeebers is the woman talking about her wonky womb in public anyway? Has she no boundaries at all? At long last, has she no sense of decency?

Well, that does it.

The next time I’m on the train I’m going to say into my phone, whether anyone is on the other end or not, and at the busiest time of day, “My doctor says I have the testicles of a 92-year-old man sitting in a sauna naked.”

So there.

When the ‘Party Line’ Crumbles

“If you’re poor, stop being poor.”

Aasif Mandvi closing in a crumble

Just so were the words of Todd Wilemon, Managing Director of NYSE Euronext, speaking with The Daily Show’s Aasif Mandvi March 6, 2014. Aasif, in his brilliantly nonconfrontational way, had just returned from a visit to the “third world” of Knoxville, Kentucky, and was interviewing Wilemon, whose point was that the Affordable Care Act — well, he termed it “Obamacare” — would destroy humanity as we know it. Or something.

Mandvi was pointing out that poor people can’t afford health care, which is what Obamacare is designed to correct, and that’s when it happened.

Wilemon starting spouting the party line, that people who can’t afford health care “have made that choice” and that they “like a free lunch.”

To be fair, Wilemon’s exact quote, at this most illuminating of moments, was, “I’ll be honest. If, if you’re poor, stop being poor. You know, get a GED, have a job for over a year.”

That was the moment, the exact moment, when the party line disintegrated, when it became abundantly clear that party lines, whether they’re from the left, right, or center, can’t stand up to accuracy, to actual truth (as opposed to “truthiness“), when those lines are just plain wrong.

The look of a crumbling party line

When you look objectively at party lines without a moral high ground, when you poke them the right way, they crumble. And the person holding to that line, holding fast to it, like a rusty guardrail on a sinking ship, finds that the rail can’t support him, that it collapses, throwing the poor lunk into a clarity he knew all along but was afraid to acknowledge.

At least when Wilemon crumbled at one point, he recognized it. Mandvi had asked,”What if everybody got really great health care?”

Wilemon paused, trying on the one hand to agree that everyone should get great health care (the moral high ground), while on the other holding tight to the party line that says giving great health care to the poor (read: Obamacare) will lead to chaos.

You could just see Wilemon crumble, like a Vegas hotel imploding on a summer day. Mandvi let him crumble a bit before saving him with, “I’m just kidding. We have to keep things competitive, right?”

Then Wilemon smiled, they high-fived, and moved on.

Gotta love a good crumble.

Aasif Mandvi interview with Todd Wilemon

What Do You Believe In?

The keynote speaker at a recent conference I attended was Adam L. Saenz, a compelling speaker and author of The Power of a Teacher: Restoring Hope and Well-Being to Change Lives. At one point, the climax of the speech, he told a story about a talk he once had with his newly-adopted daughter and how her job was to follow the rules he set down.
He then asked her what she thought his job was. She said, “To make sure I follow the rules.”
He replied, “No, my darling girl, my job is to lay down my life for you.”
He went on to tell her all the things he believed in about parenting, and it was a heartwarming list indeed.
That discussion got me to thinking about what I believe in. And that thinking got me to writing this post.

I believe in…

  • Love
  • Competence
  • Fairness in all things
  • The healing power of a hug
  • God, but not religion
  • Science and its unanswered questions
  • Traditional medicine
  • The fight against prejudice
  • Teachers who always seek learning
  • Reading what and who you want to read
  • Google over Apple, Chevy over Ford, and gin over vodka
  • Comfort over style
  • Function over form
  • Learning from history
  • Evolution
  • Revolution
  • Absolution
  • Right against might, and
  • The power of words
What about you? What do you believe in?