Service of Hope

May 21st, 2018

Categories: Authors, Awards, Books, Fear, Forgiveness, Hope, Psychology

Forgiveness, grief, perseverance, guilt, disabilities, World War II, 9/11 and racism are all powerful, life-changing emotions, conditions and events that don’t always evoke hope.  Yet the books, TV programs and films that The Christophers selected for their 2018 Christopher Awards, celebrated last Thursday in NYC, characterize and exemplify optimism and courage. The 69 year old awards laud writers, producers, directors, authors and illustrators whose films, TV/cable programs and books “affirm the highest values of the human spirit.”

Here are just a few examples from this year’s winning books:

Dr. Edith Eger, who at 90 lives in La Jolla, Calif., was a holocaust survivor pulled barely alive from a pile of bodies when the camp that held her captive was liberated. An eminent psychologist, she maintains a busy clinical practice and lectures around the world helping survivors of abuse, soldiers suffering from PTSD and others she wrote about in her memoir “The Choice.” She experienced and observed that many live within a mind that has become a prison. She described how she achieved freedom by confronting her suffering and how she helped others do the same. Far from a Pollyanna take on her life, “The Choice” is a compelling, thoughtful–and helpful–read.

Rev. Jonathan Morris presents Meadow Rue Merrill her Christopher Award.

Meadow Rue Merrill, in “Redeeming Ruth,” wrote about her severely disabled adopted child, abandoned at birth in Uganda, whose short life she and her husband Dana and their three kids made the best possible. “She was more than just our daughter; she was an ambassador, who opened our hearts to the needs of children with disabilities in the developing world,” said the award-winning journalist. “We miss Ruth every day, but we wouldn’t trade one day we had with her for the world.” Ruth’s spirit lives on well beyond the hearts of her loving family. Proceeds from “Redeeming Ruth” support orphans and children with disabilities in Uganda and Meadow and Dana Merrill are dedicated to assisting these otherwise helpless people and to drawing attention to their plight.

From left Jameel McGee, Father Morris and Andrew Collins

“Convicted” is about a crooked white police officer, Andrew Collins and the innocent African American man, Jameel McGee, he sent to jail. Collins arrested and charged McGee, who was launching a business at the time, with possession of crack cocaine. Sentenced to 10 years in federal prison McGee served three until his conviction was overturned when Collins admitted to falsifying evidence. Collins resigned due to an investigation for misconduct and was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison for drug possession with the intent to distribute, serving 18 months. Years following their release, the men worked together at Café Mosaic, a coffee shop and community development program in Benton Harbor. Spoiler alert**: McGee forgave Collins, they are friends today and they travelled to and attended the Awards together. **I’m being silly as the subtitle, “A Crooked Cop, An Innocent Man, and an Unlikely Journey of Forgiveness and Friendship” gives away what happened. And you thought your sister in law was unforgivable.

Children 8 and older will read about an American child who makes the decision to stay with her French grandmother, whom she doesn’t like, on a farm in Alsace just as World War II breaks out. They’ll see what happens when Nazi’s move into their home. Thanks to Patricia Reilly Giff in “Genevieve’s War,” they’ll learn about deprivation, hunger, fear and anxiety when Genevieve shares a secret with someone who may be collaborating with Germans. She was warned not to whisper a word. In addition to seeing how a clash of cultures can affect family members, they’ll observe the child’s change of heart when love and respect take the place of the disdain Genevieve once felt toward her grandmother.

This year’s Christopher Life Achievement Award winner, Ken Burns, who has also won previous Christopher Awards said that it will be through storytelling, not political debates, that people will change their minds.  “In an awards environment that is all ego, it is refreshing to have the Christopher Awards around to remind us all of the real purpose of our work. Without much fanfare or hoopla, and with the simple grace that echoes their objectives perfectly, The Christophers reaffirm the best impulses we have – that is to transform humanity for the better with our hard work, compassion and art.”

Have you read books or seen films/TV programs or experienced dire situations in which the ancient Chinese proverb “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness” led the way? In addition to The Christophers, for which that proverb guides all its programs, there are other sources that celebrate people who turn negatives into positives such as “The Moth Radio Hour” on NPR and “The Kindness Challenge” on Facebook. They share instances that build people up and shed light on possibilities and solutions. Can you name others?

Authors at Christopher Awards from left Amy Guglielmo, “Pocket Full of Colors;” Kate Hennessy, “Dorothy Day;” Andrew Collins and Jameel McGee, “Convicted;” Meadow Rue Merrill, “Redeeming Ruth” and Jacqueline Tourville, “Pocket Full of Colors.”

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6 Responses to “Service of Hope”

  1. Martin Johnson Said:

    Martin wrote on Facebook: Eleanor Roosevelt had eyes that seemed cut out of paper – almost Asian eyes as I remember. I met with her twice when in my twenties. My friend, Tom Morgan was her neighbor and he arranged it so she could be asked to speak at Bard College around 1952. She used the same Chinese proverb you mention.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Holy smokes do you have a memory!

    If anyone had a difficult life it was Mrs. Roosevelt. She flourished at the end of it but that candle must have been by her side when dealing with her mother in law, with her husband when he philandered, through his illness and as the first lady. “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness” is so simple and so accurate and applies equally to all of us.

  3. Protius Said:

    For almost 60 years, I’ve witnessed the world relentlessly become a progressively unkind place offering diminishing hopefulness. If I have not blamed, in part, “do gooders” like many of the Christopher’s honorees for this, I have certainly, at least internally, disparaged their naiveté and seeming unwillingness to accept the rude shock of the realities of mankind’s precarious state on this small planet.

    Reading your piece today makes me wonder whether I haven’t been wrong. Maybe the better way out is through the many small efforts by increasing numbers of sincere, caring men and women. This might indeed result in a truer and more lasting peace for all mankind, than one imposed through the forcefulness of a modern day benevolent Augustus, such as the man suggested by J J Connington in his perceptive “Nordenholt’s Million” almost 100 years ago.

  4. Protius Said:


    Most of these authors are not exactly saints nor are all their actions saintly. Take one of the authors of “Convicted” who wrongly accused a man who served jail time as a result. Dr. Eger, at one point, divorced her husband. You’ll have to read her book to see what happened. Meadow and her husband Dana didn’t jump into the adoption of a very ill Ugandan orphan easily or with rose colored glasses. Take a look at the historic characters in David McCullough’s winning book “The American Spirit.” That spirit wasn’t always something to boast about. The heroes, such as Welles Crowther in Tom Rinaldi’s book “Red Bandanna” saved others on 9/11 when he might have walked away safe. As a result he died. At the time, I don’t think he thought of anything but helping others get out of danger.

    Regardless of circumstances, the characters, real or fiction, found a way to move on in spite of grief, emotional and/or physical injury or if they died, those they left behind helped others as a result. They represent a range of religions and backgrounds and surmounted obstacles that might otherwise stop others in their tracks. Goody two-shoes with heads in the clouds they are not. I’m glad you were able to see this. As tough as this world is–always has been–thank God for those who shed some light on hope and for those who amplify their efforts.

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    It’s the small and unsung acts of kindness which do the most good. They run the gamut from offering cheer on a gloomy day to preventing suicides. High profile acts are fine, and reflect well on society. But they come nowhere close the personal impact of a much needed pat on the back at a crucial time.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I agree that unsung acts have great value. Many of the winning books and films are stories about famous people, such as Churchill or US Presidents but many are about people most have never heard of such as Mary Blair, a talented, unsung art director at Disney whom the authors wrote about for young children in “Pocket Full of Colors.” Tom Rinaldi wrote about Welles Crowther who died saving many others at the World Trade Center on 9/11. A disabled Ugandan orphan is the subject of “Redeeming Ruth,” and the Maine-based family that rescued her and helped her reach her full potential before she died just before her eighth birthday are very special.

    Whatever helps someone see even the tiniest sliver of light–such as a pat on the back as you suggest or a smile–or makes someone stand proud when they felt insignificant is five star.

    We all have a lot of work to do.

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