As I approach my final preparations for my jump off the cliff,
The only useful and effective parachute is the Bodhisattva Way.
Be there for and acknowledge the true self of others and they will support you where gravity won’t.
As I approach my final preparations for my jump off the cliff,
The only useful and effective parachute is the Bodhisattva Way.
Be there for and acknowledge the true self of others and they will support you where gravity won’t.
Without belaboring the history of my first draft of the screenplay, “DNC Chairman” that morphed into a novel, as well as, in a much more condensed, re-edited and rewritten form, the first two screenplays of my “DNC Quadrilogy”, “DNC Chairman” and “Gerri”, I would like to share three key interviews that occur in the novel that are among the many portions of the 600 page text that had, for obvious reasons, to be cut and left out altogether from the scripts.
To prepare, DNC Chairman -a scripted novel, is the story of Mike Greenbaum’s quixotic attempt to restore politics and government to the people, to fight injustice, to infuse into politics a humanism, and his dramatic battle against forces both inside him as well as in the political world he enters as the new Party Chairman. The three interviews you are about to read occur quite a bit into the story as the dramatic revelation that the Democratic Party’s nominee for President, Gerri Harrison’s, husband, Supreme Court Justice John Harrison had an affair with a student 3 months shy of 18 who was in his constitutional law class at Georgetown Law, 12 years earlier while Gerri was busy campaigning in their home state of Washington for the Senate, this revelation coming just two months shy of the election, throwing her campaign into turmoil. The first interview is Gerri’s with (the inestimable late) Tim Russert on Meet The Press, the second is Gerri’s with Oprah and the third is Oprah’s interview with Amy, the student, now 12 years later. I hope you enjoy and are stirred up and moved by what you read. Please let me know what you think.
[Gerri on Meet The Press]
Tim Russert: Thank you very much, Senator.
Gerri: It’s more my pleasure than anything to be here. [He smiles.]
Tim Russert: How are you doing, Senator?
Gerri: Well, we’ve all been through a big shock. I’ve just had to experience it both personally and in terms of my campaign. Obviously, it’s been anything but easy. I was out in Youngstown, Ohio, when the news first hit and I tried to keep campaigning. This had nothing to do with me, after all. But I soon discovered that it was like trying to swim upstream after your boat capsized. It just wasn’t possible to continue as if nothing happened. What was interesting and also very disconcerting is that the crowds I met at first, after this whole thing seemed alleged, were very sympathetic to me as the victim, but once the young girl—the woman involved stated that this affair actually did happen, the people I met at the Town Hall meeting were adamant in pressing me about what was I going to do about my husband, about removing him from the Supreme Court.
Tim Russert: Well, they were and still are very concerned about how you would handle it as President.
Gerri: But the fact is, I am not President.
Tim Russert: But then you run the risk of looking like you’re being evasive. Is that something you’re willing to chance on this election?
Gerri: I’m not being evasive. It is the job of the current Congress…
Gerri: Yes, but on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, not the House Judiciary Committee…
Tim: Yes, but then, doesn’t it become merely an academic question? Do you or do you not feel that your husband is guilty of a crime and therefore, as stated by your own Party in a press release, is it not the duty of the Congress to remove him from office in violation of the “good behavior” clause of Article III of the Constitution?
Gerri: Yes it is the duty of the Congress to do so. I will not stand in their way.
Tim: But you won’t recommend him for removal…
Gerri: I have asked him, actually demanded of him privately that he resign.
Tim: But shouldn’t the weight of the law, of due process, be applied here?
Gerri: I believe he should resign or face being removed.
Tim: But you’ll do nothing other than state that.
Gerri: Look, I know that it might seem to many like I’m holding back, but it also remains that he is my husband and any action I take either affirmative or negative regarding his legal course is not appropriate for me to do publicly. This is a matter for public officials.
Tim: That would be fine if you weren’t running for the highest office in the land. But people are looking at you and saying, “Why is she holding back? Is this someone we can trust to prosecute all citizens, no matter who they are to the full extent of the law?”
Gerri: (stops and looks defeated, paling, then) I am married to this man. There is the obligation I bare as a wife to honor the commitment I made to him for better or for worse and to closely examine whether this crime warrants the dissolution of the bonds I created and have blamelessly honored these past 28 years or calls for forgiveness.
Tim: But that’s not what the issue is. The issue is bringing him to the full extent of prosecution for his crime before the law.
Gerri: And to that, I do not stand in the way.
Tim: So you’ll do no more than make a public statement condemning his actions and recommending his removal…
Gerri: If he fails to resign.
Tim: You realize that if he resigns, it will be possible for the current Congress and administration to replace him with a new justice who presumably will be ideologically to the right. Would this not then explain your hesitation in recommending his resignation?
Gerri: I was in Youngstown, Ohio when this news broke. That same evening, I went home and very strongly and angrily told him to resign immediately. Where are you picking up this hesitation?
Tim: This is the first that you’ve stated this publicly.
Gerri: You know, Tim. I have a lot more confidence in the American people than you seem to be expressing right now. I think they understand what I must be going through and, just as I am trying to forgive my husband on a personal, not a public level, they will forgive my tardiness in dealing with this issue publicly.
Tim: But will they? The latest NBC News Poll, when asked [shows question on screen] “How have the events of the past week affected your ability to trust Gerri Harrison’s ability to lead this nation effectively?”, 72% of respondents said it weakened their ability, with 17% saying it had no effect and only 9% saying it increased their ability to trust you.”
Gerri: Tim, we’ve been bombarded with this issue from the get-go, nonstop. People have a very bad taste from this. I’m tempted to say it is the work of the Republican attack machine, but I know better. In fact, I knew John was guilty before anyone else—except the young woman and her husband, and, of course, John himself. I tried to talk about the issues that really matter to the people, but this shook everyone and their reaction at this moment is understandable. But that doesn’t change the fact that I can run circles around John Blik when it comes to bringing America back to a place where everyone, not just a few, benefit from the freedom and the prosperity this great nation is capable of. And that is because I will put what’s right before what’s politically expedient or what’s profitable for those in power. Including myself. And I extend that doctrine of what’s right to my actions with my husband. Yes, I believe strongly and firmly that he must leave public office immediately. There is no question about that. First of all, John has told me that he will resign. But if I can’t trust him on this either, then it remains for this Republican Congress and this Republican administration to remove him. I can do nothing other than what any wife can do to persuade him to do the right thing. [Tim smiles.] But if this Republican Congress and administration do nothing and hand this problem over to me on January 20, then who’s really shirking their responsibility? But, on the personal level, I’m not going to walk away just like that because, as a Christian, I take the sacrament of marriage very seriously. I believe he honestly is very sorry and penitent and I can’t be withholding of forgiveness if God Himself is willing to forgive him, as He does any sinner who comes to him with true repentance in his heart. That doesn’t mean I’d like nothing more than to just walk away and start a new life. But that’s the difference between me and some other people. I believe in putting the right thing first and personal concerns second. That’s how a Christian ought to behave, whether as a wife or as President of the United States.
Tim: But you still have to convince the American people that what you are saying now publicly will translate into your actions consistently. And you also have to somehow deal with the fallout from Senator Light’s dropping out of the race and the mistrust many of the independents who were supporting him have of your policies which sound like big government. How do you intend to deal with all that on top of everything else that has been going on?
Gerri: Well, you’ve just thrown a lot out in your question. First of all, in terms of convincing the American people, I think I am doing that. With all due respect, Tim, I know you have to play the devil’s advocate and I respect that. But I think dialogue is what moves people and I don’t believe that the words I’ve said just now have had no effect on those who have heard them. As far as Senator Light, you also have to take into consideration that he publicly endorsed Senator Blik when he dropped out. So naturally, the knee-jerk reaction which many of his supporters followed was to support Senator Blik. But as Senator Blik and I are able to square away on the issues and have a chance to line our positions up side by side, I know that many of the independents will become quickly disenchanted with Senator Blik’s positions. I mean, one thing you have to look at is the fact that, number one, Senator Light didn’t really elaborate too much on his positions while he was campaigning. I actually think he did a much better job in the primaries. In his defense, I will say that being in the final race as an independent doesn’t give you a good opportunity to be heard, so some of his policies and positions, which I actually have a great respect for, got buried. But he used what time he did have to go on and on about how his being an independent made him free of all those terrible things that we in the two major Parties are, in his view, encumbered by. Now, all of a sudden, he makes a big switch and endorses one of the very people he formerly claimed to be utterly against. I don’t know about you, but if I had been following and supporting him, I’d feel very much abandoned and betrayed. He let his supporters down. Now they’re being fed that very misleading propaganda about big government being their enemy. But, as I said before, they’re not going to get a smaller government when they vote for the Republicans. They’re just going to get a different kind of big government. I made it very clear in my convention speech that the choice they have is big government of, by and for the people of big government, of, by and for the very rich. I don’t know about you, but, unless I were in that income bracket that only 1 or 2 percent of the American people are, I’d want to vote for the Democratic model of government. It’s just a difference between do you want a CEO of a corporation that you have no say in unless you have millions of dollars to become one of their shareholders or do you want a public servant who is obligated to serve you—and definitely will if he or she is a Democrat—to be the person running your government? If you want true independence from the power holders, a voice that is really independent, then it’s clear that the choice is a no-brainer.
Tim: You stated earlier that your husband stated he would resign. But so far he has not done so. What’s going on?
Gerri: Well, it’s painfully clear to me that he has not been a man of his word. I hope I’m wrong, but if he intends to betray me now as he did once before in the past, I strongly hope that our government will proceed with his removal quickly.
Tim: You can honestly say without hesitation that you’re not trying to delay his removal until you can possibly appoint a justice whose positions are closer to yours?
Gerri: No, Tim. Unfortunately, the onus is on John to prove not just to me but to the American people how honest and honorable a person he can salvage himself to be after his earlier misconduct. I would hope that if he fails this time that our Congress will speedily see to his removal. They’ve moved quickly on actions they believed were absolutely of expedient necessity before so I fail to be convinced that they cannot do so now. Were I in a position to move quickly on John’s removal myself, I would definitely do so. I urge that Congress move quickly, which is as much as it is legally possible for me to do at this time.
Tim: And if they don’t…
Gerri: If they don’t, the onus is on them. I’ll make sure it happens once we Democrats return to power, but until then, the ball is in the Republicans’ court. If they believe in what they’re preaching about “good behavior”, then now’s their chance to act quickly and show how they intend to put the ideas they put forth into practice.
Tim: Thank you, Senator…
Gerri: Again, my pleasure, Tim (they reach their hands across the table and shake).
* * *
[Oprah Winfrey’s TV show]
Oprah: Today, we have a special show. Due to events of late, we’ve preempted our originally scheduled show and will be spending the hour with Democratic Presidential Candidate Gerri Harrison. [Thunderous applause as she enters. Oprah gets up and reaches out to her. They embrace and then she sits.]
Gerri: Wow. Thank you. I feel from this applause like maybe things are not as bad as they’ve been seeming of late.
Oprah: Yes, I know this has to be the toughest experience for anyone to go through, let alone someone who’s running for President.
Gerri: Well, after being hit this hard and from so many angles, it’s natural that you’d think I’d be so caught up in it that I’d lose sight of what’s important. But the American people have an amazing resilience and I know that, even if I did allow myself to get caught up, they’d understand. And, obviously, it was impossible not to get caught up. I just found out for the first time in my entire life that the man I had pledged complete union with has cheated on me—and not just now but 12 years ago and kept it a secret. So that’s a double whammy. Then, my opponent’s support soars when the independent in the race decides to drop out and throw his support with my opponent. Okay? That would knock the wind out of anyone. But I just keep trying to campaign and stay on the issues, like, will a woman who’s worked hard all her life and just discovered she has cancer be denied treatment that will save her life because the Republican corporate insurance companies do not cover the life-saving medicine she needs? That’s where the lives of more people are at than whether or not my husband cheated on me with a person who is just shy of adulthood. Or, as I’ve mentioned, the youth who are victims of violence or internet stalking, all due to the fact that this Republican government that loves to spend billions on a completely unnecessary and badly planned war will not lift a finger to spend half that amount on making sure each and every child of a United States citizen is educated better than anywhere else in the world. That’s what matters, Oprah.
Oprah: I completely agree…
Gerri: But it was impossible to bring any of that up. People love—or I should say, the media loves scandal more than paying attention to taking care of and helping people. So people don’t get a chance to see what’s really in their interest. It’s much easier to focus on a person of high position who did something wrong—and I don’t for a moment condone what my husband did and believe he should step down immediately—but this is what we’ve gotten more into of late than meeting our real needs, which are the highest quality education for all our kids. People forget that if the kids down the street’s education needs aren’t met, the crime rate goes up. And who’s gonna pay for all the jails they’re building to put all those offenders because they didn’t get a good education and learn real values in this country? So for every thousand we should have been paying out to make sure the kid down the street has the same high quality education that my kids of privilege are able to have, we end up spending 10 thousand to build a prison or to put more cops on the street to keep us safe from people whose fundamental problem is that they were shut out of the American system. [huge applause] And then, of course, as a result of the 10-fold spending, the deficit spirals, and we end up with all kinds of inflationary problems, such as a mortgage rate crisis and a dollar whose value declines to dangerously low levels, which is the natural result of doing nothing, as the Republicans are doing, and… and…then, when we’re all out of work and living in poverty, we will have no future leaders with the wisdom and skills to fix these problems the way the people of the depression were able to because we didn’t want to make the investment in them when they were young!? Yes, isn’t this what we should be talking about and not who had sex with whom?
Oprah: Yes, absolutely.
Gerri: And then, take the issue of predatory sex or underage sex? Again, that’s the fault of our not being willing to invest in giving our youth a full education to avoid the dangers of falling victim to this kind of abuse.
Oprah: But I want to just take a look at something here. (smiling) That was 12 years ago. The government was different then but that problem was there. Don’t we need a change more comprehensive than simply restoring the type of government we had at that time?
Gerri: Absolutely. I am the first to say we need to always be moving forward, not back. It’s not about bringing back everything that took place under the Democrats vs. the Republicans. Rather, it’s about looking at the broader picture. I mean, the Republicans certainly are in no position to claim that any of the ills or abuses we weren’t able to combat under a Democratic government, they’ve been able to combat. They’ve only compounded the problems and added to them. But the bigger point is, this is what we absolutely must be focusing on. You hit the nail on the head, Oprah. And it’s not just about being able to be a good executive, although, again, absolutely, that is absolutely needed for this job. But we need a mover, someone who can get up before people and inspire them to join the revolution forward in thinking, the new attitudes, the attitude of always examining things and looking for new solutions that haven’t been tried yet. That is what I promise. It’s clear, on the other hand, that my opponent, Senator Blik is promising that things will stay the same as they are now. If you want that, then by all means, do not vote for me. But if you want all these growing problems and real financial waste that this government is creating just with this war to be solved and for our nation to move forward and be better than it is now and better than any other in the world, then I’m clearly the person you should vote for. [huge applause]
Oprah: We’ll be right back with Senator Gerri Harrison after this message. (more relaxed and convivial) Listen, I know you’re really in campaign mode now, and I love the passion you put into it. But—and I hope you don’t mind my being candid with you—would it be okay if we get on a more personal level? I think that’s what people really want to see. Like how this whole thing is affecting you as a person.
Gerri: Yeah, I can appreciate that. People don’t want to see someone who sounds polemical, like a stump speech.
Oprah: (with a little discomfort) Yeah…
Gerri: I should hire you on my team.
Oprah: (laughs) You don’t need me.
Gerri: (feels/looks uncomfortable) But clearly I do, or I wouldn’t be here. [Oprah gives her a sympathetic look and pats her forearm with her hand.]
Oprah: (with sympathy) It must be so hard to suddenly discover that your husband cheated on you 12 years ago. I think it would be a lot easier if it had just happened. That’s gotta be really hard.
Gerri: (looking down) Yeah…yes, it is. Maybe I’m using my fiery campaign rhetoric as a way of getting through it. You could say it’s my sobriety.
Oprah: Save that for the air, because we’re about to go back on. [the crew gives Oprah a signal while lights flash] (looking into TV show camera) We’re back on the air with Gerri Harrison, and Senator, I just have to say I’m really amazed by how you, despite how much this discovery must be like a knife stab deep into the heart, are able to campaign with so much passion, with your entire being. I mean, it’s not just that you, who are running for President—the first woman running for President, well, actually not the first, but the first woman running for President as one of the two major candidates less than two months before the election—it’s not just that you suddenly found out that your husband cheated on you but that it happened 12 years ago. Now that has to be like a deep cut for anyone to find out that this happened and that your husband kept it from you, and yet you are not letting it stop you from going out and putting the American people first. I think that’s amazing. (Applauds, and is joined by the audience who really applauds and cheers).
Gerri: It’s not easy. But I don’t want to be a soap opera. I don’t think this should be about me. I’m not a celebrity. I’m a public servant. This should always be about the American people. I’ve fought like a dog to keep it on the American people and this past week, however, it’s just been nonstop about this really ugly thing.
Oprah: So, it’s kind of like, you have to deal with two lives, in a sense, the personal you which must be going through all kinds of horrible feelings of betrayal and the public you which is trying to salvage a campaign that must feel like a bad train wreck.
Gerri: Yeah, that’s good choice of words.
Oprah: You know, one thing I’ve found that helps to heal in these kind of adversarial personal situations is the commonality of the two women who were involved. If you had a chance to say something to Amy, would you want to say to her?
Gerri: (hesitates, then:) Wow… You know, so much else has been happening in this storm that I haven’t even given it any thought. I’m very angry at John right now, obviously. I sense that Amy must be living with a tremendous pain from what happened years ago. If there would be anything I would say to her it would be that I’m deeply pained by the fact that this had to happen to her and I’m very sorry that she is being put through all this—I mean, that’s obvious from the fact that she was so reluctant to say anything at first and is still completely adverse to talking in public. I would say, though, Amy (looks directly into the camera with concern and sincerity), whatever happens, even the worst and most painful of occurrences cannot stop or defeat you unless you let them. I know that it might take a very long time for you to rebuild and find the ability to trust that powerful inner self that you are, but please do not be hard on yourself because you made a mistake as a young woman. Every young person makes tons of mistakes. Some of them are less painful than others, and no, we don’t have an equal hand we’re dealt. You had a hard one. But I believe that as hard as was the hand you were dealt, that’s how great you can become out of it. Whatever you do, don’t give up on yourself. Fight for what you believe in. I know you are a brilliant, talented and gifted person and you have a lot of offer the world. Face the pain and vanquish it. This world can’t afford to lose one precious person who can contribute something great to save it. That’s exactly why I have risked so much and have put my entire life on the line to fight many big injustices in our own nation to help others. I don’t have time for my pain. And neither do you for yours. As much trouble as either one of us is in, this world is in far graver trouble. Every moment we lose could make a big difference between whether we can survive and rehabilitate this world or not. Every moment we gain and triumph could save more lives than we can imagine. That’s why we have to fight like hell to make a big difference.
* * *
[Oprah on her set.]
Oprah: Today, we have a first. Finally, after almost a week and a half of refusing to speak to any reporter or to be seen in public other than to acknowledge the truth of the affair with John Harrison, Amy Henning has finally decided to call us and make an appearance on our show. She stated that she wants to make this appearance her only appearance in public. Let’s welcome Amy Henning…[as Oprah applauds, followed by her audience, Amy (12 years or so older in appearance than in the early footage) comes out onto the stage, very trepidatiously and with her head a little downcast and looking only in Oprah’s direction, afraid to look at the camera or the audience. Oprah reaches out to her, gives her a big, warm supportive hug and then motions to her seat, sort of in an almost dance like, graceful motion.] Amy, welcome and we applaud the great courage which I know it must take to be here.
Amy: (in small, shaky voice) Thank you…
Oprah: The other day I had Gerri Harrison on the show and we acknowledged the tremendous pain this put her in. I know that this thing being made public the way it is must be causing you unbelievable suffering.
Amy: (still in plain voice) Yes. Words can’t even begin to describe it.
Oprah: (sympathetically) I know…it must be so hard for you. But I want you to know that most of America supports you and is behind you 100%.
Amy: I wanted to tell my story.
Oprah: Absolutely. We want to hear it.
Amy: I don’t want people to just think of me as that girl….(suddenly breaks into uncontrollable sobbing)
Oprah: (reaching her hand out to comfort her) It’s okay. You take all the time you need. (to audience) We’ll be right back. (does cut-off motion to tech crew) [they stop the broadcast] (to tech crew, as she continues to massage and comfort Amy, who’s still crying) Thank you for being considerate and taking an early cut to commercial. Amy, it’s okay if you don’t want to go on today. I’m here to support you in whatever way I can.
Amy: (stopping her crying and wiping away her tears) That’s very nice of you but I agreed to do the show and so I will do the show.
Oprah: Are you sure?
Amy: Yeah. If I walk away, I’ll feel worse.
Oprah: Okay. We’ll go back on. Why don’t you go backstage and get fixed up and then we’ll try it again. But I’ll have you come out off camera so you can get comfortable before the live audience first. Do you want them to applaud you or to be quiet? [audience members give look of sympathy]
Amy: Oh, it’s okay. They can applaud me.
Oprah: All right, everybody, let’s give a big hand to Amy once again for her tremendous courage to come here and face her pain. [audience gives huge round of applause. As they do, to Amy:] You just go right ahead and get fixed up, okay?
* * *
[back on set—i.e. lights, cameras…]
Oprah: We’re back with Amy Henning. Amy, you’ve been through a horrific and horrendous series of experiences, first, obviously, your encounter with John Harrison many years ago, and now the very agonizing and ugly publicity you are getting. You asked to come on the show to tell your own story and I feel this is more than warranted. Now, from what I understand, you are an amazingly bright and intelligent young woman who was top in your class at the Georgetown Law Center.
Amy: That’s correct. I loved the field of law, particularly constitutional law. And that’s, of course, how I ran into John.
Oprah: (smiling) Ran into?… (more like a H’mm! than a question)
Amy: (smiling nervously) Well, he was the professor of one of my classes. What we studied there was constitutional interpretation. In other words, the later opinions of constitutional scholars regarding the various articles, clauses and even minute phrases and even words of the constitution and its 27 amendments.
Oprah: You’re talking about how the constitution was interpreted which led to the Supreme Court decisions.
Amy: Yeah. Now one of our assignments was to review a case. Any case that had been reviewed by the Supreme Court. We were to formulate an opinion, either supporting the majority decision or a dissenting opinion.
Oprah: You were supposed to argue the case as though you were a justice on the Court.
Amy: Yeah. It was really fascinating stuff and I really got into that course. (suddenly stops and expression changes to sad one she came in with)
Oprah: What did you envision for yourself at that moment?
Amy: I was going to change the world through law. I…I don’t know if I was living in a bubble or if I really believed that you could do good as a lawyer or as a judge.
Oprah: You definitely can do lots of good.
Amy: That’s what I thought. You see, Justice Harrison said quite a few things that I really admired and respected. He said that the law is a tool of providing the most happiness for the most people. He said the law was there to serve people and not the other way around. And he said interpretation is everything. He said the law was deliberately written with a wide area for interpretation and that to respect the law meant to use it for the most good. In fact, I remember him saying it was possible to…no, it was impossible to interpret the law narrowly, with only one set definition. He said if a law could so easily lend itself to such easy interpretation and definition, then we should be suspicious of it.
Oprah: I’m amazed at how you light up when you talk about this.
Amy: Yeah…well, some of that latter stuff, actually…I wasn’t really sure about that. And now (getting a little upset and angry) I’m really sure that was a bunch of nonsense. I don’t agree that the law is that loose, and I feel even stronger about it now after what happened. (Oprah nods her strong agreement.) While I agree that there may be some situations where a broader parameter is necessary—such as in most of the body of the Constitution, including some of the amendments, notably the first 15, there are certainly other situations where it’s perfectly okay to have a law that is very clear and precise in its meaning without suspecting that somebody’s using it for ulterior purposes.
Oprah: I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I felt a red flag go up when you told us his judicial philosophy.
Amy: Well…this is where I get so uncomfortable. But, yeah, I feel that I was strongly violated. Even if I did consent.
Oprah: Okay, because, understand that this is important to establish in what context you mean “violated”.
Oprah: I mean, certainly, your being underage—and I don’t just mean because you were 17, but first of all there was a huge age difference and you were very young, and this was your first sexual encounter.
Amy: Well, the thing I was going to say was, I asked him if he was a moral relativist. And he said no he wasn’t but he was…I forgot the exact language he used…yeah, now I remember, he said, “I’m a moral absolutist but relative in how I interpret what’s moral or immoral.”
Oprah: Oh my God. And you didn’t get alarmed or suspicious at that?
Amy: Well, frankly speaking, I was madly in love with him… (turns pale)
Oprah: You knew he was married…
Amy: You see, this is why I was so afraid to come here, or anywhere…
Oprah: I know, you made a mistake and you already have had to live your life with the fact of it no matter how much you regretted it and live right, but now the spotlight is turned on you, on the mistake…I can’t imagine how horrible that must feel.
Amy: Do you think I was asking for it?
Oprah: (emphatically) No, absolutely not! I don’t think you got what you deserved. I do think this can and has been a huge lesson for you that you can benefit from and help others with. And that’s why I am so glad you came on the show to talk about this. Because there are thousands, maybe even millions of young people, young woman and girls, especially, who get pulled into these very compromising and life-changing situations and, on top of everything they go through, feel somehow hugely burdened and devastated by it. That’s absolutely wrong and it has to change. I mean, men are filled with testosterone and they are so powerfully swayed to do things which have a huge impact on the women and girls they have sexual encounters with. (glancing at Amy, who’s taking it all in, feeling a mixture of overwhelmed and reassured, and shifting to the camera, official stance) We’re here with Amy Henning and we’ll be right back in a moment.
* * *
[back on set—i.e. lights, cameras…]
Oprah: (to Amy mostly) I want to stay on this subject of feeling ashamed as though you were in the wrong. You really admired this man and perhaps fell in love with him and he took advantage of that…I mean, where was he saying, “No, this is not right”?
Amy: No, he didn’t say that. Until the next day at least. After it had already happened.
Oprah: Oh course.
Amy: That night I remember he paid me a huge compliment and then the next thing I knew we were kissing.
Oprah: But he’s responsible because he was older, he was married and he should have known better.
Amy: But I did say…oh, never mind…
Oprah: No, what… you said, “let’s not do this”?
Amy: No…it’s not important.
Oprah: Let me ask you something else, then. So you went to a motel…he took you to a motel…
Oprah: (after regrouping herself) That’s okay, Amy. You did what any healthy 17 year old would have wanted to do. Not that I recommend it. I would obviously not counsel a 17 year old to invite their professors to a motel, but the point is you were in love and that was a natural expression of your feelings. You weren’t married and you were still very young and inexperienced. So you should not feel guilty in the least.
Amy: Thank you.
Oprah: My bigger question is what happened after this whole thing. How long did you see him, how did you deal with leaving him?…
Oprah: (sarcastically) Really? And then what happened?
Amy: That was when I felt like I was having a rude awakening. All of a sudden, I felt so cheated, so cheapened. I didn’t want to have anything to do with him or with law anymore after that.
Oprah: So you quit law school?
Amy: I never went back after that. It was too painful.
Oprah: The idea that it was just him and not law wasn’t something…
Oprah: You didn’t press charges. You must have been frightened to do so.
Amy: No, not frightened. Just sickened about the whole thing. I wanted to forget about it.
Amy: I never told anyone. Not until I was with Bart who I could finally open up to.
Oprah: And you never considered pressing charges since.
Amy: I did not want to draw any more attention to this. I mean you can understand that. (Oprah nods.) So I kept it quiet until Bart. He tried to persuade me to press charges. I told him I didn’t want anyone else but him knowing. It was already 5 years out from it. He tried several times but I was very insistent. The last thing I wanted was for this thing to come alive again and to have to relive it in what I already know too well is a very contentious setting—a court of law.
Oprah: So what did you do after that?
Amy: I found books to be a big solace for me.
Oprah: Oh yes, reading is a tremendous way to heal. To be able to see that the limited state of being you might feel entrapped in at any moment is not the whole world—that there is something greater and larger. Reading, especially of a good work of literature, can get you in touch with that.
Amy: Yeah…it was a great consolation for having lost the ability to be in law because, like what I felt I was doing in law, it deals with the human experience in a very real way. It brings you to empathize with different people, and in a good book, different people on different sides of the same issue, as was the case in the laws I was dealing with.
Oprah: So, in a sense, you haven’t abandoned on a spiritual level, the thing you were into before.
Amy: No, I guess you can say that. And then I met Bart, who was incredibly supportive of me.
Oprah: In what way do you feel that?
Amy: Well, I had such a problem with kissing or with sex because John…Justice Harrison…(starts to sob lightly again as some in the audience gasp in surprise) was the only one before him…
Oprah: (caressing her) It’s okay. Just say what you feel…take time if you need to…
Amy: Thank you. He seemed to…Bart, that is…seemed to be really sensitive to my need to take it real slow. Things really started to look bright and hopeful again. I went back to school to for library science and got a master’s in library science education. Now, I have been at the Washington International School for 7 years and that’s been a wonderful place to be a librarian and educator.
Oprah: Tell me about it.
Amy: Well, it’s a wonderful place where the curriculum is very internationally minded. Students are required to become proficient in two languages. It’s grades K through 12, and the student body is very diverse, as well as the faculty. There is a real love for learning among the students I interact with as well as those who come to my classes. It has been a great way to apply my love for learning and my love for books. And it is a truly heartwarming endeavor to interact with children who naturally have such a curiosity about everything. They reassure me every day that life can begin anew.
Oprah: That’s really wonderful.
Amy: So I had a really great husband and a really great career and it seemed like everything was finally going right for me after that very painful episode in my life. Boy, how wrong I was. Little did I know that one wrong action I took would put me through two hellish episodes in my life. (Her bright and hopeful expression changes to a very serious and diminutive, little-girl-like one as she continues speaking.) Now I feel even more doubly betrayed and abused than I remember feeling the first time. It’s because it has that horror that there’s something out there more powerful and more sinister than I am capable of guarding myself and my life against.
Oprah: (looks straight at her with a mixture of empathy and tough strictness) This has to be so devastating and I can’t even imagine what it feels like. Life is full of horror and it can be totally sinister. But, as horrible as this seems—and don’t get me wrong, this is truly and incredibly painful for anyone to be subjected too—this can also be a great learning experience for you as our mistakes propel us to wisdom. And you can use this wisdom to help so many people who have landed in very compromising situations.
Amy: Yes, I understand.
Oprah: You must absolutely not allow yourself to give in to sorrow and despair. For in doing so, you will have allowed yourself to compromise who you are and what you can be. You’re way too good for that. (Amy nods in consent as the audience applauds resoundingly.) As you can see, people are on your side. They are not judging you.
Amy: You have a point. It’s just so hard.
Oprah: Have you been able to use your work to get away from the pain?
Amy: I tried it for one day but then I had to take a temporary leave of absence. I am so worried about what they must be thinking.
Oprah: Don’t you think they understand your need for time off with this crazy situation going on?
Amy: I hope so. I’m just so nervous now because it seems that there’s always a trap waiting for me when I least expect it.
Oprah: Let me ask you this…You felt you had to leave there. (clarifying) I mean constitutional law. But what if you had gone back and tried to stick it out? Wouldn’t that in many ways have been a way to heal and to not let this issue get at you and eat you up?
Amy: You might be right. But it’s too late for that now. What scares me the most is that it was my husband who caused all this trouble. He was half the good equation and yet he was the one who took it upon himself—without asking me—to make this whole issue public. He even intimated that he wanted to do something like that to stop John…Justice Harrison, and I begged him to please not go public but let this whole thing alone.
Oprah: So, once again, you felt betrayed by a man…
Amy: Yeah, that’s a good way of putting it. But at the same time, I think angry is a better word than betrayed.
Oprah: Have you been able to resolve this issue at all with him?
Amy: Well, actually, he did apologize to me afterwards, when it was already way too late to do anything. I’m still very upset. But the difference is I know he did it out of his love for me. I also know he didn’t think the whole thing through.
Oprah: That could have been the breaking point for a lot of women.
Amy: (takes in what she just said for a few seconds) Yes, but I think after what I’d been through with John, it’s easier to appreciate a man who’s in your corner even if he screws up every now and then. (hesitates and then looks a little lost.) I don’t know…..the whole thing’s so confusing and upside for me right now.
Oprah: How ‘bout the school? I know I asked you this already, but is there any way you can go back to it and at least, in that setting, be able to feel good about something?
Amy: Yeah, I guess I’ll have to. It’s just…those are kids. I…they must…this must be such a number on them to have their teacher exposed in such a horrible way.
Oprah: I believe children are a lot more resilient and stronger than we give them credit for. I also think they can be extremely empathetic if you give them the chance.
Amy: That’s true, thank you for saying that.
Oprah: (reaching forward toward Amy and getting up) Thank you Amy for your courage to come on and speak to us so candidly (gives her a hug)
Amy: This was a very hard thing to do. But I don’t think I could have stood another moment hearing all these things in the news and remain invisible and unheard. But it was definitely not easy by any means to get up here. The last thing I wanted to do was air this story. I just wanted to forget. And (turning her head to Oprah) I definitely could not have done it (looking at Oprah) were it not for you and all you are. [HUGE APPLAUSE, EVERYONE IN THE AUDIENCE ON THEIR FEET]
“I have heard that Dr. King once told his good friend Harvey Cox that he actually wanted to be a theology and religion professor. However, he ultimately chose the arduous path of leading the civil rights movement.” (Daisaku Ikeda)
“One of the reasons I have profound admiration for Dr. King is that when he finished his doctorate at Boston University, he was well qualified to become a pastor of a large, comfortable congregation in any of the northern states, but instead, he and his wife, Coretta Scott King, returned to the South to put all their efforts into bringing about change on their native ground.” (Vincent Harding)
“In the midst of [a] stormy period of racial violence, Dr. King fearlessly declared, ‘I still have a dream, because, you know, you can’t give up on life.’ The power of Dr. King’s unyielding convictions–the power of hope to win over every difficulty–is sorely needed in today’s world.” (Ikeda)
From “America Will Be – Conversations on Hope, Freedom and Democracy”