By Julie Samrick
When I was a child watching the Oscars wasn’t just an annual event, but a holiday in our household. My three sisters, our mom and I marveled at our screen heroes and heroines in their dazzling award show ensembles, their heads held high. It was a night to escape into stories, to hear inspiring words from the likes of Sally Field, Robert Redford and Katharine Hepburn, legends to my young self.
As an adult much of that awards show mystique is gone and what happened at the 94th Academy Awards last month all but stamped it out. First, the stars aren’t mythical people to me anymore because I remember when many of today’s A-listers got their starts. I watched Jennifer Lopez as a Fly Girl on “In Living Color” and Tom Hanks as a lovable, funny guy on “Bosom Buddies.” Will Smith first came on the scene as a teenager in “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” I loved watching him grow up and take on more serious roles as his acting career skyrocketed, especially when he played the titular role in “Ali” or when he was a homeless, single father alongside his real-life son, Jaden Smith, in “The Pursuit of Happyness.”
When I watched Smith walk onstage at the 94th Academy Awards recently to slap presenter Chris Rock after Rock made a joke about Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett Smith, I still sided with Smith, that is until the shock wore off. At first, I sympathized with him because there have been snide remarks and rumors made during his 25-year marriage to Jada, one of the longest lasting unions in Hollywood. Who are we to say what happens behind closed doors or what the truth of their marriage is? Plus, Jada has been vocal about her struggle with alopecia and apparently Smith and Rock had prior beef in the years leading up to the slap.
In that moment, when Rock made the joke about Jada looking like G.I. Jane, the cameras even showed Smith with that amiable, laughing face we’ve known for 30 years, but he quickly reminded us he is not that one-dimensional character — just as no human being is. Smith explained as much in his Best Actor speech, which incredibly was only minutes later. He won for his portrayal of Venus and Serena Williams’ father in “King Richard.” Smith was crying during his speech, not from “winning an award,” he explained, but because he’d had enough. He spoke about how he has grown to emulate Richard Williams as “a fierce defender of his family,” adding, “I know to do what we do, you gotta be able to take abuse and you gotta be able to have people talk crazy about you. In this business, you gotta be able to have people disrespecting you and you gotta smile and you gotta pretend like that’s OK.”
Then Smith shared what Denzel Washington told him after the slap to counsel him. “At your highest moment, be careful,” Smith echoed. “That’s when the devil comes for you.”
What is the highest moment in this case, I wondered, and who is the devil? Was it Smith’s hottest moment? Was it when he was fed up, probably stressed out and wanted to protect his wife? If he looked back and did nothing it could have been a personal shame and so he acted out the daydream many of us only imagine doing after someone’s wronged us. This is where Smith gave in, because the devil is in whether we act or not on our negative impulses. Hubris, or excessive, arrogant pride is humankind’s greatest pitfall and Smith succumbed to it. Should he be canceled for the rest of his life for this mistake? No, though it is unfortunate he didn’t give a thumbs down during Rock’s remarks and/or said something to him afterward instead of resorting to violence.
Sadly, decorum is gone in many aspects of society today, and now it’s true even for what used to be the classiest night on television.
Julie Samrick is an El Dorado Hills mother, writer and teacher. Connect with her at facebook.com/juliesamrickauthor.
When I traveled to Russia as a 16-year-old in 1990 I thought I’d arrive to the cold, Siberian wilderness I’d always seen on TV. During our three weeks there, the delegation of student ambassadors I was with traveled by bus to dozens of towns spanning Moscow to St. Petersburg. Among many activities in a packed schedule, I remember singing patriotic songs, whispering in ancient churches and swimming in the Volga River.
What I most took with me, what I still remember 30-plus years later, are my warm memories of the Russian people. Many strangers collectively took care of the 30 kids I was with as if we were their own children — feeding and housing us, offering us the best they had. I was in Russia only eight months after the Berlin Wall came down and 17 months before the full collapse of the Soviet Union, yet nothing even closely resembled the words “cold” or “war” during my stay. Even my expectations of the weather were wrong. We enjoyed blue skies and California-like temperatures (but to be fair I was there in July).
The only gloom I felt was when I learned how the people lived under communist rule. When we visited a grocery store I tried not to gawk at the mostly empty shelves. One of my two host families, which included a boy my age named Meisha and his single mother, explained that they were allotted rations to purchase everyday items like sugar and toilet paper — things I had never thought about as luxuries until then. They also didn’t have the freedom of speech to speak out against their leaders or to critique public policy — liberties I had also taken for granted until then.
Meisha and his mother grew serious when they tried to explain what happened to the man prominently displayed in the only framed photo on a shelf. It was Meisha’s father and he was no longer with them. Little did they, or I, know they would soon have a thriving economy once capitalism and democracy announced their arrival by knocking on communism’s door. A few years later as a college student I took notice when I heard there were Gucci and Prada stores in Moscow by then and we could also travel to each other’s countries freely.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but as an adult I’ve noticed how student exchange countries trend with countries with which we need to build diplomacy. Many Americans had Japanese exchange students in the 1980s. Russian and other post-Soviet countries sent their teens and young adults in the 1990s. In late 2017 our family hosted an eighth-grade Chinese student named Johnny. I was reminded that maternal feelings are universal when I emailed with Johnny’s mother, letting her know he was safe just as I would have wanted if one of my children visited China without me. When the pandemic hit and Chinese Americans were targeted in vicious attacks by people looking to target their frustration at an entire group of people, I always thought of Johnny and his mother.
With one ruler for more than two decades, Russia has slid back to be more like it was pre-1991. Free speech and democracy were short-lived; Russian news and social media are censored all while the people are increasingly at the mercy of a tyrant, Vladimir Putin, with every year he dictates making it worse for them. In its aftermath, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will bring myriad challenges that will likely affect generations. It would be compounded injustice to lump Russian people into one category because of what Putin has done. Our Russian and Ukrainian neighbors here at home and abroad both need our support.
Let us reflect on the Dalai Lama’s recent words on the invasion instead: “We need to develop a sense of the oneness of humanity by considering other human beings as brothers and sisters. This is how we will build a more peaceful world … Problems and disagreements are best resolved through dialogue. Genuine peace comes about through mutual understanding and respect for each other’s wellbeing …”
Julie Samrick is a mother, writer and teacher, living in northern California. Connect with her at facebook.com/juliesamrickauthor.
Our political differences didn’t matter in the days after 9/11. We were unified as a country, we were one. I hope on this 9/11 young people can learn from those who remember that terrible day how we came together.
Sometimes I think I’m naive to hope that we can return to one United States, but this picture of my husband and me as newlyweds in NYC with the Twin Towers in the background reminds me to not give up hoping.
This is a picture of two people who couldn’t be more different (except that we share a birthday). Most glaring is that we have different religions and different political beliefs, but we have been happily married for 21 years and those differences have made for some great conversations over the years, but they don’t define us.
If I could choose for us to be the same on those fundamental differences I wouldn’t, because being different gives me a perspective I wouldn’t have otherwise.
So if we can get along, why can’t people who don’t share toothpaste?
As I watch other parents sending their teenagers off to college, I remember the agonizing lump in my throat when we were doing the same one year ago. I wish I knew then what I know now.
As we prepared to drive the 600-plus miles to take our oldest child to school, I wondered who thought this was such a good idea? My husband was the culprit, luring our son to a Utah Jazz game in February 2020 to show our son how fun it would be to live in Salt Lake City. With alternating annoyance at my husband and that darn lump that threatened to escape into sobs at any moment, I found strength the morning we left when I saw my son saying goodbye to his siblings and our dog.
I fought the urge to turn the car around — there was no way I was going to leave him in another state, let alone a big city — during that long drive. At the thought of him living on our couch his whole life, I realized my sadness stemmed from thinking that this chapter, my favorite chapter so far as a family of six, was over. “Eighteen years sure went fast,” I said to my husband when my son ran into a rest stop.
“It didn’t go that fast,” he deadpanned.
We have gotten so polarized as a nation over politics that not even the Tokyo Olympics could unify Americans. After years of ratcheting up our defenses, the games themselves were often politicized. With a global, once-in-a-century pandemic, we can’t stay entrenched in our fighting corners, though. There is too much work to be done.
How can we make strides? There are grumblings that we need someone non-political, someone who Americans largely trust, to help us navigate the latest national split concerning COVID-19 vaccines. Specifically, how we can get more people vaccinated?
We need someone with the trust-factor Oprah had during her 25-year syndicated show run. Americans from all ages and backgrounds flocked to get Oprah’s Book Club picks and “favorite things,” but we trusted her with more serious matters too. There was no arm-twisting when she offered advice; there was no forcing of anything because people trusted her.
It’s too bad, but not surprising, then that the pandemic has become political. The closest we have is that most leaders agree that the COVID-19 vaccine is curbing deaths and serious illness, but that is where the consensus ends. What’s at stake is whether there should be vaccine mandates or leave it up to people to decide for themselves whether or not to get the vaccine.
If we could find a unifying messenger, more people would get vaccinated. The person we need for the job is Dolly Parton.
As a parent I never thought I would see the day that children would plead to go to school, but since many other things about the past 12 months have been like the Twilight Zone this has been part of our new reality as well. Most kids want, and need, the live school experience instead of the virtual one, for everything traditional school is — the good, the bad and the sometimes ugly of it. However, there is an alarming number of kids who aren’t pleading anymore; they have been out of school so long that they want to stay sheltered at home and this should worry us all.
I will preface this with saying we are incredibly fortunate to live in a school district who has done, and continues to do, the right thing by our students. But...we are the lucky few....
Prolonged school closures in our communities are taking their toll. As a pediatrician on the frontlines, this is what we are seeing: unprecedented number of teen eating disorders, anxiety, depression, ER visits related to suicide ideation or attempts.
Who are you? No, really, who are you? This question lies at the heart of Derek DelGaudio’s one-man theatrical show, In & Of Itself, which was met with such success (DelGaudio performed it in front of live audiences more than 500 times) that it was made into a movie, now streaming on Hulu.
In & Of Itself begins with unknowing audience members choosing from an array of cards that all start with “I AM…” I am an accountant, I am a healer, I am a son, and so on.
One of my favorite things to do is talk about books, so I was thrilled to talk with author Jan Sikes about her newest creation, the first book in her "White Rune" series, Ghostly Interference. It starts with a chance encounter and the story that unravels is hard to put down. So grab a snack, settle in, and enjoy where our conversation goes.
Connect with Jan Sikes