As a regular contributor to an international publication for our denomination, I was chatting with the editor when he told me, "You do know that some readers see you as ‘that radical woman.’ " No, I didn’t know I’d earned that label, but after sitting with it for a while, I rather liked its ring. I was working hard to find my voice as a woman amid a preponderance of male authors, so the female part fit. As for "radical," the word’s etymology is "from the root," and given the transformative nature of the early work of my denomination, I took that as a compliment, even if it wasn’t meant as such.
Apparently I had gained a reputation for stirring the pot. I’ve done that from time to time on the pages of the T-G, too, nudging my readers to look at social issues from a slightly different perspective than they may have before. One example was writing about the face of homelessness as a woman and her child whose entire belongings were contained in two black garbage bags. It’s been suggested I stick with feel-good grandbaby columns, but I just can’t every week – I’ve got to live up to "that radical woman" calling.
A reputation is understood to be the beliefs and opinions that are generally held about someone. Mr. Rogers had a reputation for kindness. Mother Teresa is remembered for her compassion. In one split second, Miles Garrett went from stellar defensive end to a helmet-swinger. Monica Lewinsky? In refusing to sign an autograph, she said, "I’m kind of known for something that’s not so great to be known for." No matter what else she does in life, her name will be forever linked with what happened in the Oval Office when she was 22. As Joseph Hall concludes, "A reputation once broken may possibly be repaired, but the world will always keep their eyes on the spot where the crack was."
I remember sitting in the kitchen of my childhood with newspapers spread across the table, the chest of the "good" silverware open before me. A soft cloth in hand, I’d dip into the odorous pink cream, using elbow grease to remove the tarnish from the blackened knives and forks. We use the same word about reputations, suggesting that someone’s reputation has been tarnished.
During the House Intelligence Committee’s hearings, Rep. Devin Nunes used another image, warning that the day’s session would "smear" the reputation of Ambassador Soundland. Hearing his words, my first thought was of grape jelly, but it fits for reputations as well. Tarnish can be removed, and sticky jelly can be washed off, but reputations also can be ruined forever. Like toothpaste, once it’s squeezed out of the tube, it can never be fully restored, whether that sullied reputation is based upon facts or upon rumors and innuendos.
In recent weeks, the American public has learned of a woman waking to the nightmare of a tarnished, if not ruined reputation. She spoke of her painful experience during that same congressional hearings in which Nunes spoke of a smeared reputation. Former Ukrainian Ambassador Marie Yuvanovich has been a long-term employee of the State Department who, by her own report, has moved 13 times and served in seven different countries, five of them hardship posts. While serving in the Ukraine, she was removed abruptly, told by Deputy Secretary of State Sullivan there had been a concerted campaign against her. Even though the State Department fully understood the allegations against Yuvanovich "were false and the sources highly suspect," it is likely she will be remembered by history for the circumstances of her removal, not for having served "capably and admirably" for 33 years as Sullivan noted. For her sake, I hope this isn’t the end of her story.
Abraham Lincoln said: "Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing." Perhaps in the midst of all that is shaking around us in these days, we can look more carefully at the tree, its roots and its fruit, rather than the imperfect and faint representation that a shadow can convey.
— JoAnn Shade, author of "Only in Ashland: Reflections of a Smitten Immigrant," can be reached at email@example.com.