What Philip Seymour Hoffman Taught Me

The news of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death was delivered to me by my 17 year-old son. Fascinated with the entertainment industry, our son keeps quite current all things related to film, stage and screen. Usually his reports are given at lightning speed, the excitement in his voice difficult to contain. On Saturday, however, he spoke in somber tones.



“Mom. Philip Seymour Hoffman died. They found him in his apartment.”

And then later, “It was drugs. . An overdose.”

As the story unfolded, my son provided updates and details…”He had three kids. The police found a lot of heroin. Bags of it in his apartment…”

And of course, the inevitable opinions began to pepper Facebook and Twitter. Some people were respectful, and others lauded Mr. Hoffman’s great talent, calling him one of the best actors of his generation. Still others bemoaned the epidemic of substance abuse that plagues not only Hollywood, but every neighborhood in this country.

Finally, I began to read some comments that expressed irritation …people who were weary of the praise for Hoffman’s giftedness. They cited weakness. Lack of character. Selfishness. “He left three kids behind without a father.”

That’s when I started really hurting. Because I really don’t think that Philip Seymour Hoffman wanted to leave his kids without a father.

And I began to wonder…If Philip Seymour Hoffman had a different disease, like diabetes or melanoma (both of which can be caused, in part, by an individual’s lifestyle and choices) would we “blame” him?

Addiction is disease. A really horrible, life-long, chronic disease. I’ve seen it tear apart families, destroy careers and annihilate hopes and dreams.  I’ve celebrated as people have gained a measure of victory over it, and cried when they experience a relapse. I’ve listened to parents sob as they confront a child and watched as families deal with the courts and jail and fines…and utter disappointment.

Addiction poses a constant threat to health. Alcoholics Anonymous encourages its members to take “One day at a time.” And yet, “sometimes,” confided one young person, “It’s really more like one minute at a time.” 

And while I know and love so many who have been injured and angered through addiction, I also know I can’t possibly imagine the torture this disease inflicts upon those caught in its grip. And Philip Seymour Hoffman, with his brilliance and brokenness, reminded me that throwing stones in speculation only bruises and belittles.

I’m thankful Philip Seymour Hoffman inspired so many people through his great gifts as an actor. I’m also thankful that he  was honest about his disease. He said once, in an interview,  ” I’m afraid I’ll be the kind of actor who thought he would make a difference and didn’t. Right now, though, I feel like I made a little bit of difference.”

And finally, I’m glad that the Hollywood and Broadway communities are recognizing him for his immense talent. Hopefully that will provide some measure of comfort to his family as they wade through unspeakable grief.

One minute at a time.


The Elephant in the Room: How Kids Learn to Bully

Recently, I attended a school meeting to discuss progress and create plans for an energetic, kind, insightful fourth grader.

The teachers, school counselor, parents and principal intently discussed accommodations that would help this student stay organized and on task. The conversation flowed naturally into the child’s needs during non-classroom portions of the day, such as recess, lunch and bus rides. Reluctantly, bravely, the parents began to share the difficulty their child was experiencing during these unstructured periods of time.

Tears flowed. Anger surfaced.

The team refocused the discussion on what one researcher calls “a pervasive public health problem.”


The parents described specific examples of social aggression…exclusion, rumor-spreading, teasing. The staff listened intently, and somewhat incredulously. “We had no idea this was going on…” And that is understandable. Bullying can be incredibly subtle–even silent–and quite easy to miss.


As the team discussed a plan to address this issue, a team member ruefully asked, “Where do they learn this?”

At that moment, a glossy magazine on the corner of the table caught my eye:


And then I knew the answer.

While this Time cover may be construed as clever, it has been perceived as insulting, unkind and just plain mean. Bullying.

Most kids don’t need to have a subscription of Time to learn the subtle tactics of social aggression…they have adults in their schools, churches and neighborhoods that will model mastery for them in real life.


Think about the kinds of things they hear…

“Did you see the Halloween costumes Alice made for her kids? Sheesh. Talk about elaborate. She’s clearly got too much time on her hands…”

“Hey…thanks for inviting us to your timeshare for spring break. It’s going to be SO much fun. Are the Donaldsons and Hansons coming, too? All our kids are going to have a great time on the beach…” (said in front of those who were not included)

“Have you noticed the Margaret’s kids? They are OUT of control. Wow. I heard the police took the oldest in for drug possession. Margaret’s really got her hands full. Bless her heart.”

“Hey, I want you to pray for Marty. He just can’t seem to keep a job…he got fired AGAIN! But I’m telling you so you’ll pray for them. It’s not gossip.”

We’re the Elephant in the Room.
I am.
You are.

And our little elephants are watching and listening…
And everyone knows…elephants remember everything.

Photo credits: eonline; images.smh;mycolormusic.

Playing With Fire: Social Media and Communication

photo credit: stayinsavannah.com

photo credit: stayinsavannah.com


We’re drawn to it, aren’t we? It’s warm, inviting, and peaceful. It casts a soft glow. We use it for toasting marshmallows and warming our toes after sledding. Fire can help us send signals for help and warning.  It refines and heats and draws us together.

And it’s dangerous. It can spread rapidly, causing destruction and injury and loss.

photo credit: fatwallet.com

photo credit: fatwallet.com

It occurs to me that social media is rather like fire.

We can use it to warm others–and warn others. It can draw us together around a cause, or just for fun. It can connect us.

And, just like fire, it can be dangerous. It can spread rapidly, causing destruction and injury and loss.

Perhaps the most dangerous part is that we can say things online we might not say face-to-face. The internet gives us an imaginary sense of security. But just like tossing a match onto a pile of dry leaves, a fire can start quickly, causing scars that will never, ever heal. And sadly, no smoke detector will warn others, and even copious amounts of water won’t be able to drown the damage.

Today, I’m asking myself, “Will my words cast a warm glow, or will they be a weapon of mass destruction?”

After all, it only takes a spark to get a fire going…

What kind of fire am I building with my words?

photo credit: blog.kevineikenberry.com

photo credit: blog.kevineikenberry.com