By Maria MacMullin
Director of Development
With days growing shorter and the holidays approaching, the time for self reflection is upon us. Be it fond memories, the remembrance of loved ones passed, or the anticipation of the future, this time of year stirs our souls to consider what matters most in life and heralds resolutions for the approaching new year.
I recently found myself with some rare, yet welcome free time on a Saturday night, and thought I might watch a favorite movie. There are so few films that truly speak to me, that I had to search all 900 plus channels of my local television provider twice before realizing there was really nothing on. Feeling as though I was squandering this precious “me time,” I sat back for a moment to think. I quickly recalled my favorite movie and realized that, although it was not showing on this particular night, I could spend a little time replaying the story in my mind.
I have to laugh with embarrassment to admit that my favorite film of all-time is The Scarlet Pimpernel. Not a fan? Never heard of this one? Well, it’s not for everyone, I suppose. I was first introduced to the novel of the same title about 30 years ago, and shortly thereafter came across the film. Not the ‘80s remake, but the classic 1930’s original with Leslie Howard opposite Merle Oberon. Breathtaking! Briefly, it is the story of a suave English nobleman who rescues French aristocrats from certain death during the French Revolution. It occurred to me during these musings that one of the stories from my youth that I cherish most is directly related to my work at the DHM/CET. That is, Sir Percy was a liberator, an UPSTANDER at a time when standing up could cost one his life by methods that have since been banned as cruel and inhumane, at least in the free world. The story is intricate, and perhaps controversial as the people whom Sir Percy risked his life to save were themselves causing the deaths of many others. But consider the parallel of his actions to the liberators during the Holocaust, or even this generation’s war against terror. The likeness is remarkable. And the need for UPSTANDERS today is as strong today as it has ever been. In fact, the need itself has never ceased, but at times we have ceased to acknowledge it.
Like many great fictional heroes, Sir Percy gets away with thwarting the evil plans of the rebels and thereby saves countless Frenchmen and women from a grisly fate. In reality, we know that is not always “the end.” But it occurred to me that the lesson here is more profound than relating to a liberator in literature or getting away with murder: history teaches us that life is fundamentally about the struggle between tolerance and intolerance. Numerous authors, playwrights and others have devoted their lives to illustrating the possibilities of standing up, of good conquering evil, of the change just one person can make by taking action against oppression, hatred, prejudice. I could have chosen countless other movie titles or novels to illustrate this point, and perhaps you have already thought of a few—themes of tolerance vs. intolerance seem to surface in every form of media. What is even more remarkable to me is that the UPSTANDER in me was born long ago, and I didn’t know it until just recently! So I started to consider what other books, movies and the like I hold dear that might also exemplify the UPSTANDER in me? I was surprised at what I found out about myself, as there are many—too many to consider here. It is as if I spent half a lifetime “observing” what it means to be an UPSTANDER, and now by joining the DHM/CET staff this year, I have started a new chapter in my life, perhaps a whole new volume entirely! What a wonderful gift I have been given to better understand my life’s purpose. Suddenly, I have found an amazing legacy that I can leave to the world.
My challenge to you this holiday season is when you find a few quiet moments alone considering what you have accomplished this year and what you hope for in the next, take a little time for self reflection about how you identify with tolerance, with UPSTANDERS. You might be surprised to find what you have been looking for has been within you all along. Further, when you find your inner UPSTANDER, take action! Go to BeAnUpstander.com and take the pledge, join the movement, and live the legacy. Your gift of membership will speak volumes about you and bring the lesson of tolerance to countless others.
I wish you peace and good health for the coming year and always.