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In a small town somewhere in Eastern Europe lived a nice man with a nasty problem: he talked too much about other people. He could not help himself. Whenever he heard a story about somebody he knew, and sometimes about somebody he did not know, he just had to tell it to his friends. Since he was in business, he heard quite a lot of rumors and stories. He loved the attention he got, and was delighted when they laughed because of the way he told his “anecdotes,” which he sometimes embellished with little details he invented to make them funnier and juicier. Other than that, he was really a pleasant, goodhearted man.

He kind of knew it was wrong, but . . . it was too tempting, and in any case, most of what he told had really happened, didn’t it? Many of his stories were just innocent and entertaining, weren’t they?

One day he found out something really weird (but true) about another businessman in town. Of course he felt compelled to share what he knew with his colleagues, who told it to their friends, who told it to people they knew, who told it to their wives, who spoke with their friends and their neighbors. It went around town, till the unhappy businessman who was the main character in the story heard it. He ran to the rabbi of the town, and wailed and complained that he was ruined! Nobody would like to deal with him after this. His good name and his reputation were gone with the wind.

Now this rabbi knew his customers, so to speak, and he decided to summon the man who loved to tell stories. If he was not the one who started them, he might at least know who did.

When the nice man with the nasty problem heard from the rabbi how devastated his colleague was, he felt truly sorry. He honestly had not considered it such a big deal to tell this story, because it was true; the rabbi could check it out if he wanted. The rabbi sighed.

“True, not true, that really makes no difference! You just cannot tell stories about people. This is all lashon hara, slander, and it’s like murder—you kill a person’s reputation.” He said a lot more, and the man who started the rumor now felt really bad and sorry. “What can I do to make it undone?” he sobbed. “I will do anything you say!”

The rabbi looked at him. “Do you have any feather pillows in your house?” “Rabbi, I am not poor; I have a whole bunch of them. But what do you want me to do, sell them?”

“No, just bring me one.”

The man was mystified, but he returned a bit later to the rabbi’s study with a nice fluffy pillow under his arm. The rabbi opened the window and handed him a knife. “Cut it open!”

“But Rabbi, here in your study? It will make a mess!”

“Do as I say!”

And the man cut the pillow. A cloud of feathers came out. They landed on the chairs and on the bookcase, on the clock, on the cat which jumped after them. They floated over the table and into the teacups, on the rabbi and on the man with the knife, and a lot of them flew out of the window in a big swirling, whirling trail.

The rabbi waited ten minutes. Then he ordered the man: “Now bring me back all the feathers, and stuff them back in your pillow. All of them, mind you. Not one may be missing!”

The man stared at the rabbi in disbelief. “That is impossible, Rabbi. The ones here is the room I might get, most of them, but the ones that flew out of the window are gone. Rabbi, I can’t do that, you know it!”

“Yes,” said the rabbi and nodded gravely, “that is how it is: once a rumor, a gossipy story, a ‘secret,’ leaves your mouth, you do not know where it ends up. It flies on the wings of the wind, and you can never get it back!”

He ordered the man to deeply apologize to the person about whom he had spread the rumor; that is difficult and painful, but it was the least he could do. He ordered him to apologize to the people to whom he had told the story, making them accomplices in the nasty lashon hara game, and he ordered him to diligently study the laws concerning lashon hara every day for a year, and then come back to him.

That is what the man did. And not only did he study about lashon hara, he talked about the importance of guarding your tongue to all his friends and colleagues. And in the end he became a nice man who overcame a nasty problem.



As Gandhi never quite said,

First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they attack you. Then you win.

I remember one of the first TV debates I had on the then-strange question of civil marriage for gay couples. It was Crossfire, as I recall, and Gary Bauer’s response to my rather earnest argument after my TNR cover-story on the matter was laughter. “This is the loopiest idea ever to come down the pike,” he joked. “Why are we even discussing it?”

Those were isolating days. A young fellow named Evan Wolfson who had written a dissertation on the subject in 1983 got in touch, and the world immediately felt less lonely. Then a breakthrough in Hawaii, where the state supreme court ruled for marriage equality on gender equality grounds. No gay group had agreed to support the case, which was regarded at best as hopeless and at worst, a recipe for a massive backlash. A local straight attorney from the ACLU, Dan Foley, took it up instead, one of many straight men and women who helped make this happen. And when we won, and got our first fact on the ground, we indeed faced exactly that backlash and all the major gay rights groups refused to spend a dime on protecting the breakthrough … and we lost.

In fact, we lost and lost and lost again. Much of the gay left was deeply suspicious of this conservative-sounding reform; two thirds of the country were opposed; the religious right saw in the issue a unique opportunity for political leverage – and over time, they put state constitutional amendments against marriage equality on the ballot in countless states, and won every time. Our allies deserted us. The Clintons embraced the Defense of Marriage Act, and their Justice Department declared that DOMA was in no way unconstitutional the morning some of us were testifying against it on Capitol Hill. For his part, president George W. Bush subsequently went even further and embraced the Federal Marriage Amendment to permanently ensure second-class citizenship for gay people in America. Those were dark, dark days.

I recall all this now simply to rebut the entire line of being “on the right side of history.” History does not have such straight lines. Movements do not move relentlessly forward; progress comes and, just as swiftly, goes. For many years, it felt like one step forward, two steps back. History is a miasma of contingency, and courage, and conviction, and chance.

But some things you know deep in your heart: that all human beings are made in the image of God; that their loves and lives are equally precious; that the pursuit of happiness promised in the Declaration of Independence has no meaning if it does not include the right to marry the person you love; and has no force if it denies that fundamental human freedom to a portion of its citizens. In the words of Hannah Arendt:

“The right to marry whoever one wishes is an elementary human right compared to which ‘the right to attend an integrated school, the right to sit where one pleases on a bus, the right to go into any hotel or recreation area or place of amusement, regardless of one’s skin or color or race’ are minor indeed. Even political rights, like the right to vote, and nearly all other rights enumerated in the Constitution, are secondary to the inalienable human rights to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence; and to this category the right to home and marriage unquestionably belongs.”

This core truth is what Justice Kennedy affirmed today, for the majority: that gay people are human. I wrote the following in 1996:

Homosexuality, at its core, is about the emotional connection between two adult human beings. And what public institution is more central—more definitive—of that connection than marriage? The denial of marriage to gay people is therefore not a minor issue. It is the entire issue. It is the most profound statement our society can make that homosexual love is simply not as good as heterosexual love; that gay lives and commitments and hopes are simply worth less. It cuts gay people off not merely from civic respect, but from the rituals and history of their own families and friends. It erases them not merely as citizens, but as human beings.

We are not disordered or sick or defective or evil – at least no more than our fellow humans in this vale of tears. We are born into family; we love; we marry; we take care of our children; we die. No civil institution is related to these deep human experiences more than civil marriage and the exclusion of gay people from this institution was a statement of our core inferiority not just as citizens but as human beings. It took courage to embrace this fact the way the Supreme Court did today. In that 1996 essay, I analogized to the slow end to the state bans on inter-racial marriage:

The process of integration—like today’s process of “coming out”—introduced the minority to the majority, and humanized them. Slowly, white people came to look at interracial couples and see love rather than sex, stability rather than breakdown. And black people came to see interracial couples not as a threat to their identity, but as a symbol of their humanity behind the falsifying carapace of race.

It could happen again. But it is not inevitable; and it won’t happen by itself. And, maybe sooner rather than later, the people who insist upon the centrality of gay marriage to every American’s equality will come to seem less marginal, or troublemaking, or “cultural,” or bent on ghettoizing themselves. They will seem merely like people who have been allowed to see the possibility of a larger human dignity and who cannot wait to achieve it.

I think of the gay kids in the future who, when they figure out they are different, will never know the deep psychic wound my generation – and every one before mine – lived through: the pain of knowing they could never be fully part of their own family, never be fully a citizen of their own country. I think, more acutely, of the decades and centuries of human shame and darkness and waste and terror that defined gay people’s lives for so long. And I think of all those who supported this movement who never lived to see this day, who died in the ashes from which this phoenix of a movement emerged. This momentous achievement is their victory too – for marriage, as Kennedy argued, endures past death.

I never believed this would happen in my lifetime when I wrote my first several TNR essays and then my book, Virtually Normal, and then the anthology and the hundreds and hundreds of talks and lectures and talk-shows and call-ins and blog-posts and articles in the 1990s and 2000s. I thought the book, at least, would be something I would have to leave behind me – secure in the knowledge that its arguments were, in fact, logically irrefutable, and would endure past my own death, at least somewhere. I never for a millisecond thought I would live to be married myself. Or that it would be possible for everyone, everyone in America.

But it has come to pass. All of it. In one fell, final swoop.

Know hope.


by john legend

When I saw Kalief Browder’s 2013 television interview, I wanted to meet him. He was 20 and had just come home from a more-than-thousand-day stay on Rikers. Like a lot of people I know who are disappeared by the system, Kalief seemed like the same 16-year-old he was when he went in, but he had an inner strength, an ability to stand up for himself that I deeply admired. He explained why he wouldn’t cop a plea for a crime he hadn’t committed, even if it meant facing 15 years in prison. Offered immediate release from Rikers’s notoriously grimy RNDC, after more than ten months spent in the Bing (solitary confinement), Kalief turned the prosecutor down. He didn’t think it was right to admit to something he’d never done. This weekend we learned that Kalief, who reportedly had no mental illness when he was arrested, killed himself.

New York failed Kalief. The list of things that went wrong in his case begins with his first encounter with the NYPD, whose practice of targeting black teens is well documented. The idea that being accused of stealing a backpack would lead to his arrest and detention would be absurd if it weren’t actually tragic. He should not have been tried as an adult, or had prosecutors, defenders, and judges so overwhelmed with cases that he waited three years for trial, violating his constitutional right to swift justice. He should not have been held in an adult jail where he would spend 700 to 800 days of those three years in solitary confinement. He should not have spent one day being abused by guards or the others incarcerated there.

This Martin Luther King Day, Governor Cuomo publicly released findings from a task force he began last year to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18. Last year, the U.S. Department of Justice found that the patterns and practices at Rikers violate the human rights of adolescent males in jail. Rikers shouldn’t even have a youth unit. The RNDC, where Kalief spent three years, where 18-year-old Kenan Davis hanged himself this week, should not exist. Right now legislators in Albany are considering legislation that would end the automatic prosecution of 16- and 17-year-olds as adults, and remove youths like Kalief from Rikers and other jails throughout the state. Kalief died because our system is broken, and lawmakers can act now to stop tragedies like this in the future.


There will be no love that’s dying here
The bird that flew in through my window
Simply lost his way.
He broke his wing I helped him heal and then he flew away

Well the death of love is everywhere
But I wont let it be,
There will be no love dying here for me.
There will be no love that’s dying here

The mirror that fell from the wall was raggedy that’s all,
It rests upon a rusty nail
Before it made it’s fall

Well the bones of love are every where
but I wont let it be,
There will be no love dying here for me.
There will be no that’s dying here

Four flowers in my asian faces, not a sign we’re dead
I payed for three a sweet old lady gave me four instead

There’s some doubt that’s out about this love but I wont let it be,
There will be no love that’s dying here for me.
There will be no love that’s dying here

The bird that flew in through my window
Simply lost his way
He broke his wing I helped him heal and then he flew away

Well the death of love is everywhere
But I wont let it be,
There will be no love dying here for me
No-o-o-o oh
There will be no love that’s dying for me

There will be no love that’s dying for you and me
Oh there will be no love dying here
No-o not for me
There will be no love that’s dying here
There will be no love that’s dying here

No no no no no no no no no no no
There will be no lo-o-o-ve dying for me.

Read more: Gregory Porter – No Love Dying Lyrics

1000 nights

the tonys r finished
and tears fell freely
as kelli ohara reminded me
we humans need each other

i read a story
in the new yorker
so gut wrenchingly raw
i wrote the author

she connected me
with kalief
an adopted boy
my owns son age

he just finished his first year of college
he did very well
i am proud
of my sons

which one landed in my lap
what radom act of god
placed u in my path
the two of us

so in a suit
he showed up at the view
shiny and sweet
i hugged him tight

1000 days and nights
in adult prison
2 years in the hole
tortured raped starved

just sixteen years old
when he was stolen
off the streets
put in a cage

i hold him
i touch his head
i tell him he is beautiful
he is

i love him
i microwave intensity love him
i vow to the light i will keep him safe
sign my name to his soul

like so many others
cheering him on
thru the darkest of tunnels
toward the sun

his mom who adopted kalief –
her youngest boy
the 7th of 7
who found him hanging yesterday

outside the window
of the apartment they shared
the electric cord
his noose

he came to my home for dinner
smiling from deep down
he told me he met jay z
this one – i thought – would be spared

against all odds
this man child
who refused to say he stole
when he did not

this kalief –
was made of strong stuff
a leader – a prince
a son – 24601

he had a birthday last week
got him an amazon gift card
thursday night – in la
i bumped into jay z

i thanked him for meeting kalief
for reaching out
how maybe
we could help him further

i texted kalief
that i saw jay n kanye
and we spoke about HIM
his greatness

yesterday at 11:03
he texted me

K – Srry rosie i need sum time to myself

R – ok no problem !!! be well

K – Mental struggles thanks for understand

R- totally get it – i am a text away if u
need anything – peace – i love u

an hour later he was gone
i wish i had called
that i had soothed his fears
calmed his traumatized brain

tonight alone
back in my home
i realize
he is home too

1000 days
kalief survived
yesterday he surrendered
part of me has gone with him

my son
our sons
1000 days