“I saw it as a sign from God that this was the right thing to do.”— —Urban Meyer, head coach of the University of Florida football team, on his 18-year-old daughter’s jubilant reaction (“I get my daddy back!”) when he told their family on Christmas day that he is stepping down from his position.
My father has Alzheimer’s disease. I am losing him in inches and pieces. It hurts. He is my hero and my mentor, and now I help him remember how to put on his clothes every morning.
My father has Alzheimer’s disease. There is a powerful genetic component to the disease, and I share a lot of my father’s risk factors, including bad triglycerides, a viral infection, and elevated cholesterol unaffected by diet. The odds are frighteningly high that I will someday get Alzheimer’s too. In 25 or 30 years, when it comes for me, maybe there will be a cure — but I can’t count on that.
My dad taught me how to learn from everything I see, no matter how hard it was. He was a professor of Human Anatomy and Physiology, and told me once that he was present when his mother died. He held her hand and told her how much he loved her. As she died, he catalogued her body’s shutdown, comparing it to what he’d read — because he was a scientist.
And so, now, I am learning from my father. It’s what he taught me to do. And what he’s teaching me now — his last lesson for me — is what it means to live with Alzheimer’s, and by extension, what I can do to get ready.
First, I am getting new hobbies. My dad is an intellectual. All his hobbies were brain hobbies — reading, chess, poker, bridge. Now he can’t follow them. He recognizes his beloved chess pieces, but he doesn’t remember how to play. Reading is too slow and too hard to be enjoyable, and he can’t play cards at all. He has no way to keep busy. So I’m learning hobbies that use my hands. I spend more time drawing, and I’m learning to knit. I want to teach my hands, so that when my mind can’t do it, my fingers still can.
Second, I’m living my life as fully as possible. Dad got knocked out of his game too soon, but he had achieved enough for a long, long life. The work he loved, and the impact he had on his students — it was more than most people do in their lives. His contribution to our world does not fall short, even if he ran out of time. I am trying to do the same thing — to give as much as I can to the people around me, to work and think and create and contribute as much as I possibly can, in case my time ends early.
The most important thing I’ve learned from my father: love. My father built his life around the people he cared about. Me, my mom, and my brother were the center of his world. For his birthday, he’d tell us to get things for ourselves because he liked seeing us happy — and he actually meant it. But we weren’t the only ones he loved. He loved the students he taught, he loved his friends, and he loved our extended family — both his own and my mother’s.
Now, with so little left of him, my father still has his love. Seeing his wife, his children, and his grandson brings him joy. He can sit just watching my son read a book. Simply living with his family, my dad can find happiness.
The people he cared about through his life still remember my father. We get postcards, letters, the occasional package. And he is still finding new people to care about; he hasn’t lost his love for people. He likes it when we have guests over. He still flirts with all my female friends. He loves his aide and the omelets she makes him every morning.
I have never loved people like my dad did. He had patience and affection for everyone — for people who told boring stories repeatedly, for people I thought were stupid, for people who were afraid of everything, for people totally full of themselves or so shy they could hardly talk. Dad loved people I could barely stand to talk to. He used to ask me to show patience, tolerance, compassion — and I’d promise to try — with no real sincerity.
So now I am trying to learn my biggest lesson from my dad, the lesson I am trying to live every single day. I’m finding people to love; I’m finding things to love in people. I am trying to love people like my dad always did. I am building my capacity for love now, so it can sustain me later.
And if, in the end, like my father, there is nothing left of me but my love, that won’t be a tragedy. It will be my victory.
We’re nearing the finish line of a new show: "Reimagining Sitting Bull, Tatanka Iyotake” (that’s Sitting Bull’s name in Lakota). This program has been a year-and-a-half in the making, and we’re eager to put it out in the world. Kate, our managing producer, has said she’s always known a show about Sitting Bull would create unchartered challenges for us practically and editorially. As a team of wasicu (i.e. non-Native) producers, we’ve been engaged in new levels of intercultural communication that’s stretched us all.
The learning curve has been steep. As we’ve sifted through all the information gathered, sometimes it’s been confusing to do the best we can to ensure that what Krista says on the radio is journalistically accurate. The historical narrative is complicated, and along the way we’ve had to make judgment calls, recognizing that sometimes there’s no singular, discernible truth.
And yet, as we’ve verified our facts, we’ve had to remember that we’re neither historians nor documentarians. Our job as producers of a weekly radio program is to offer our audience engaging, illuminating — and yes — accurate audio and multimedia storytelling. One of our goals with this show is to explore a dimension of Sitting Bull that doesn’t get talked about that much — namely his spiritual legacy and connection to the Sun Dance. We’ve tried mightily to stay focused on this aim and keep the script from devolving into an unwieldy history lesson that’s difficult for listeners to digest. Let us know if we’ve hit the mark.
Here are a few “before-and-afters” that reveal how we’ve been refining the script as we’ve gone along. You can see in the photo above that my desk is cluttered with multiple versions of the script as it has progressed.
First script draft: Not until 1978 did the American Indian Religious Freedom Act make it legal for the Lakota and other tribes to worship through ceremonies and traditional rites.
Second script draft: Not until 1978 did the American Indian Religious Freedom Act guarantee the right of the Lakota and other tribes to perform their sacred rituals and ceremonies.
The first draft version suggests that up until 1978, it was “illegal” for Lakota and other tribes to take part in traditional spiritual ceremonies. As I’ve come to understand it, there was a period from 1883–1934 when the government passed laws to suppress Native spiritual practices and promote assimilationist Christianization policies. The 1978 American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRF) provided legal protection under the First Amendment’s establishment clause for Lakota and other Native Americans to worship without interference from the federal government. We changed the script language to more accurately reflect the nature of the AIRF legislation.
First script draft: The Indian Offenses Act of 1883 decreed their social and religious customs to be “barbarous and demoralizing.”
Second script draft: U.S. officials deemed native customs and rituals “barbarous” and “demoralizing” and passed the Indian Offenses Act in 1883 which banned participation in ceremonial dances, including the Sun Dance.
Third script draft: [We cut the sentence].
Fourth script draft: U.S. officials deemed native customs “barbarous” and “demoralizing” and passed the Indian Offenses Act of 1883.
This article includes references to government officials using the words “barbarous” and “demoralizing” in published reports so we adapted the script accordingly and provided a little more information about the Indian Offenses Act itself and the Code of Offenses it defined. By the third draft, we cut this sentence from the script for time because the show was running long. Then at the last minute, Krista shortened the sentence and added it back in.
First script draft: For Sitting Bull’s legacy also embodies divisions that arose with the Lakota people as part of their encounter with the Wasicu, or White, encroachment on their traditional lands as the Western frontier was settled.
Second script draft: For Sitting Bull’s legacy also embodies divisions that arose among the Lakota as part of their encounter with the wasicu, or non-natives, as the Western frontier was settled.
Wasicu is a Lakota word that translates roughly as “those who take the fat” and you’ll see it used by Lakota to refer to non-Native Americans. Carole Barrett, a professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Mary in North Dakota wrote to us that, linguistically, the term has nothing to do with skin color. It’s used to describe a greedy person who takes the all the buffalo fat, “a choice part of the buffalo that was generally shared with others,” according to Barrett.
As you can see, some language we tweaked while other sentences landed on the cutting room floor. We’re curious if you have more knowledge and insight to add to the mix? Are there facts we got wrong or may have misunderstood? Please let us know your input.
While preparing for this week’s show on Tatanka Iyotake, Sitting Bull, we hoped to find audio recordings of this legendary Lakota leader talking or singing. We reached out to historian Bill Yenne and Alexandra Shadid, an archivist at the University of Oklahoma’s Western History Collections, which houses the papers of Walter Stanley Campbell — better known by his pen name, Stanley Vestal, one of the earliest biographers of Sitting Bull whose source material is the foundation for much of the current research being published on Sitting Bull.
Sitting Bull’s signature from a pictograph he drew in 1882. (Image courtesy of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History)
Both scholars informed us that they weren’t aware of any audio recordings in Sitting Bull’s own voice, but Ms. Shadid did offer up the transcripts of Vestal’s interviews and songs by Sitting Bull. She also referred us to a recording housed at the Minnesota Historical Society, just a five-minute walk from our offices in downtown Saint Paul. Here, on Christmas day 1946, Mary P. Hunt tells the story of living in Fort Yates on the Standing Rock Reservation (in what was the Dakota Territory) and her encounter with Sitting Bull, who was, in her words, being held prisoner with members of other tribes. She recounts how she sat with him for a couple of days teaching him how to sign his name in English script, which he then sold in exchange for a 50-cent piece.
I’m not entirely sure of the veracity of Ms. Hunt’s story; Bill Yenne writes about Sitting Bull’s time at Fort Randall as such:
"Sitting Bull submitted quietly, albeit not happily, to his life at the post. He certainly knew that things could have been worse. The Fort Randall complex — more a campus than a stockade — was his forced residence, but ironically it gave him his first ever-known, fixed address. Because of this, Sitting Bull suddenly started receiving fan mail. Bags of it began arriving from all over the world. Having learned to write his name in wasichu script, he relished signing autographs for people who wrote to him, or who made their way up the Missouri to visit him."
Nevertheless, delightful anecdotes like Ms. Hunt’s are some of the gems that we’ve stumbled upon time and again while doing this work. Unfortunately, most people will never get to hear all this wonderful archival material that is part of the oral lore of a legendary figure, which only adds to the complexity of verifying what’s fact and fiction, and somewhere in between. I’m glad we could give her story a stage.
“I feel more of these questions have been answered by being able to listen to people living life instead of reading from a book.”— —Abigail Mente, who submitted this reflection after listening to the Muslim voices featured in our programs “Revealing Ramadan” and “Living Islam.”
For a few weeks I’ve been tracking scanty headlines out of Viet Nam about the harassment of followers of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen Buddhist monk whom we interviewed in 2003. He was forced out of his native country decades ago because of his opposition to the Vietnamese War and lived in exile, primarily in France. A few years ago, he was allowed to return on a visit and told authorities at that time they should end state control of religion. Apparently his point of view angered some officials.
Now, his followers are being chased around, and the government, which only permits state-approved religious practice, appears to be cracking down.
The European Union is investigating but the most consistent news on this is coming from Thich Nhat Hahn’s Twitter feed. Perhaps the Western press will pick it up.
Last night was the first night of Hanukkah — the Jewish festival of lights. I’ve been so busy burning the midnight oil (that’s a Hanukkah joke, by the way) for next week’s show on Sitting Bull, I haven’t made any formal plans to celebrate. Last December, a friend organized a Hanukkah throw-down replete with piles of steaming latkes and homemade brisket. But the fried smell of latkes lingered in her home a little too long for her liking, so there won’t be any Hanukkah party reprise this year.
As a child, Hanukkah was a way to get in on the Christmas dazzle of presents, lights, and treats; but there was always a feeling of somehow missing out on the magic of Rudolph and opening presents beneath a tree. My parents would not allow a "Hanukkah bush" (the Jewish imitation version of a Christmas tree), although one year they did let me hang a stocking under the fireplace — actually it was more like a stringy sock from my drawer. Fortunately, I grew out of those Christmas longings and came to appreciate Hanukkah for what it is rather than as a proxy for something better I could never have.
Now that I live half a coast a way from family and friends, I realize I need to be more intentional about observing the Jewish holidays on my own. This may mean buying a menorah for the very first time. Maybe I’ll even pick up some latke fixings or listen to our show on Hanukkah with Scott-Martin Kosofsky later this weekend. Somehow I’ll find a way to light the shammas candle and say a little prayer.
The image to the right (larger version) is a scan of one of the pages from our script that I marked up during our last editorial listen for "The Moral Math of Climate Change." It may not seem like it, but one of the very interesting aspects of working as a producer is fact-checking scripts and interviews to ensure that what we present to our audience is accurate and credible. This felt like a somewhat daunting task for this week’s program with Bill McKibben.
Climate change is a very broad topic, heavily covered, with many details, points of debate, and advocates from all directions. For example, a good start is simply clarifying the use of the phrase "climate change" versus "global warming" — phrases that are sometimes used interchangeably though they have distinct meanings.
For me, the most important aspect of this task is making sure Krista’s script is accurate, and that’s why I value our highly collaborative process of multiple reviews and refining. It starts with simple points, such as the use of quoted material:
First script draft: He’s currently focused his energy on 350.org, an international campaign that he founded, with a mission to build a movement that can quote “unite the world around solutions to climate change that both science and justice demand” unquote.
Second script draft (after reviewing the mission statement posted on 350.org): He’s currently focused his energy on 350.org, an international campaign that he founded, with a mission to build a movement that can quote “unite the world around solutions to the climate crisis — the solutions that science and justice demand” unquote.
But also often includes more nuanced points:
First script draft: This became personal for Bill McKibben in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2007 when he caught Dengue fever — one of several mosquito-borne diseases that are rapidly spreading in Asia as a direct result of a warmer planet.
Second script draft: This became personal for Bill McKibben in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2007 when he caught Dengue fever — one of several mosquito-borne diseases that are spreading to new areas of the world in part as a result of rising temperatures.
That evolution happened after one of our listen sessions where the phrase “direct result of a warmer planet” was questioned (Is the correlation that direct? And exclusively the result of a warmer planet? Is “warmer planet” an accurate phrase to use in this case?). Further research (such as articles like this from the Natural Resources Defense Council) yielded better language.
Beyond our script, there’s considering the accuracy of statements of the guest. Here we are careful to respect the guest’s authority, expertise, and personal experience while at the same time seeking clarity about the information they share in an interview. A good example this time was Bill McKibben’s "90-second course in climate science” (actually closer to four minutes).
We were all impressed by his succinct explanation of the history of global climate change, so much so that we’ve isolated it and invited you to share it with others. But we wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t ask “Does he get it all right?” We put that question to our colleague Ben Adair, the editorial director of sustainability and global climate change coverage for American Public Media, who has been steeped in the details of climate change for a few years. Though McKibben’s information is accurate, Ben responded, it is incomplete in that it is focused primarily on the history of how the target figure of 350 parts per million came to be. There’s much more to tell, but what McKibben shares is very compelling and a reflection of his own focus and intersection with the issue.
Finally, there are things discussed in an interview that just make you want to know more. Our fascination with this was borne out for a while in the “Particulars” section we produced for each program. Unfortunately, we eliminated that section due to time constraints, its labor-intensive nature, and changes in the focus of our work. Every now and then, though, we hear a program that begs for particulars (such as next week’s production on Sitting Bull), and this is one of them.
There are many fascinating points to explore, including:
October 24 and the story of Noah: McKibben mentions that he was pleased to note the Torah reading for October 24, 2009, the global day of action organized by 350.org, was the story of Noah. It’s true that the Torah portion for that day is Parashat Noach, readings from Genesis 6:9-11:32. Indeed the biblical flood story is a powerful metaphor for climate change. If you consider the triennial cycle observed by some synagogues, however, then the Torah portion for October 24 is not about the flood itself, but the final third of Parashat Noach that begins with the Tower of Babel. It’s a story of God’s contempt for human pride, and also a story of the division of nations and languages, both interesting metaphors for climate change.
Oppenheimer quoting the Bhagavad Gita: McKibben also mentions that J. Robert Oppenheimer quoted from the Bhagavad Gita when he watched the first test detonation of the atomic bomb. Video of his quote is online: ”Now I am become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds” Like all scripture, the Gita is subject to translation and interpretation. One translation online has the quote as: “Time I am, the great destroyer of the worlds, and I have come here to destroy all people.”
In the end, there’s never enough time to dig in as deep we would like to, and so we do our due diligence and move on to the next topic. But that’s where we enjoy hearing from you. We’d like you to contribute your own knowledge and experience with this vast topic. Are there sources of information on climate change that you’ve found credible and helpful as you consider this issue on different levels both practical and moral? What did we get wrong? What could we have phrased better for the tight format of the radio? Even, what did we do right?
Today, we will be releasing our latest show called “The Moral Math of Climate Change” with Bill McKibben. He’s an environmentalist who has been studying and writing about issues of global warming and sustainability for more than 20 years. Most recently he founded 350.org, aimed at raising awareness about climate change and ground-up solutions around the world.
During Krista’s interview with McKibben, she asked if he could give her a better understanding of the history of climate change and how climate scientists have arrived at their conclusions. I wasn’t able to listen to the conversation while it was happening, but the first thing Krista mentioned when she emerged from the studio was how helpful his “four-minute” explanation was.
Although McKibben’s explanation isn’t a complete, comprehensive history, he provides a good overview and a basis for discussion. And, he leaves a lot of space for asking more questions.
I’ve heard from many of you who are deeply invested in this topic, and many others who are struggling to understand and better talk about sustainability issues in moral and spiritual terms. Perhaps this is a place to continue this discussion, this exploration and what it means to move forward conscientiously and culturally. Or, share this mp3 with your friends, family, and neighbors. I’d love to hear where you take this dialogue.
As the Copenhagen conference takes place and then recedes — and with it the news coverage, to a degree — that’s when we here at SOF would like to pick up our coverage and extend this conversation by recording and retelling your stories for others to hear:
What would it feel like to live in a world that — spiritually, psychologically, philosophically — meant something different?
How has climate change affected your “moral imagination?” And, in turn, how has it also changed the way you live your life on a day-to-day basis?
Do your family, cultural, and spiritual backgrounds factor into this understanding?
These are some of the questions were asking. Perhaps you have others that you’ve explored and thought about. Share your thoughts with us using our traditional form; and, we’re experimenting with our Google Voice number and widget to capture more audio, more voices of those who are actually thinking about the story. Click the widget below and talk to us using your phone.
"…when you’re improvising, it completely forces you to be in the moment, and every bit of your mind and your heart has to be involved with nothing but the melody that you’re playing, the time cycle you’re playing, and what’s happening with your musicians. And that being in the moment is, I think, one of the most important things you can possibly do, whether it’s through meditation or music or studying religion. And that’s always the goal of any meditator is to be in the moment always and not to have your head stuck in the future or stuck in the past. And when you’re able to do that, that’s the whole idea of Zen, I think, as well. And so that’s really beautiful."
I’m taking an an introductory Everyday Improv class right now, and it’s been a delightful challenge to step out of my thinking brain and trust that I don’t need to script or plan into the future — that what I blurt out in the creative rush of the moment will be better and truer than whatever I might concoct in anticipation. I relish the central tenets of performance improv, like accepting every idea as a gift, saying “yes and” to whatever manifests in a scene, trusting my gut, and staying authentic in the moment. It’s not always easy to live up to these principles, but I’m having fun trying.
We’ve heard recently from some listeners about improv is enriching their daily lives. Jim Martinez, a former Wall Street IT professional and teacher in the South Bronx, responded to our recent program with Adele Diamond about how he’s helping schools to meld performance improv and technology in ways that are playful and collaborative.
I hope that we can devote a full program to the theme of improvisation in the future. I see this building on past shows like "Play, Spirit, and Character" and our Repossessing Virtue series on the economic downturn where some of you shared how you’re learning to live improvisationally in the face of greater financial uncertainty.
“I started praying when I came to Treasury. At Goldman, I didn’t pray. Not once. ‘Cause I just didn’t care. At Treasury, there were so many times.”— —Neel Kashkari, as quoted in "The $700 Billion Man." Known as the “bailout czar,” Kashkari was appointed by U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson in October 2008 to head the Office for Financial Stability, which oversaw the $700 billion program that bought distressed assets from financial institutions.
There’s a lot of activity in Boston these days. We recently learned that WGBH will now be carrying Speaking of Faith on Sundays at 7 a.m. Yeah!
Also, later this week WBUR made significant changes to their weekend schedule, including moving SOF from noon on Sunday to the 6 a.m. time slot that same day. If you have opinions on this decision to move SOF from midday to early morning, please let them know by commenting to WBUR’s announcement, writing an e-mail, or calling them at (617) 353-8451.
I was watching television news on the couch with my 10-year-old nephew last weekend and was captivated by a segment that profiled the work of Dan Phillips, a 64 year-old man from Huntsville, Texas who builds low-income houses out of trash. Yep, trash.
The segment has stuck with me in a few ways during this week’s production activities. Phillips’ work reminds me of the kindred efforts of Rural Studio (one of my all-time favorite programs), and it has resonance with our upcoming program with environmentalist Bill McKibben, specifically around the theme of human vitality and community in our changing natural world.
It also sparks thoughts about education and vocation raised during Krista’s interview with Mike Rose (to air in January). In that last way, I was struck by the difference in approach between Phoenix Commotion (Phillips’ initiative) and Rural Studio. Rural Studio trains highly educated architecture students to build homes from salvaged materials; Phillips employs unskilled laborers as apprentices and teaches “anyone with a work ethic” how to build. The result is the same: affordable homes made from recycled materials that are both functional and artistic, sustainable and unique.
I dug around for more info on Dan Phillips, and found a great slideshow of his work, as well as more photographs via Flickr. This is the kind of tangible activity that gives me hope, for our planet and for our humanity. My nephew, whose face was buried in his iPod Touch during the entire TV segment, looked up at the end and said “That’s cool.” I didn’t know he’d been listening.
While in New York over Thanksgiving, I saw Fela!, directed and choreographed by Bill T. Jones — a new musical on Broadway that celebrates the life and legacy of Fela Kuti, a Nigerian-born musician who pioneered a new form of music called Afrobeat in the 1970s. Fela frequently used his music to condemn the corrupt military regime that held power in his country.
One of the musical’s most stirring scenes happens in the second act in “Dance of the Orisas” when Fela seeks guidance from his deceased mother (a political firebrand in her own right) who was murdered by the government when she was thrown from window at Fela’s home. Fela prepares himself for this journey by dressing all in white, and he’s guided to his mother by two orisas, or spirits, in the Yoruba-based spiritual tradition.
Today, I listened to our program "Living Vodou" with Patrick Bellegarde-Smith to learn more about Yoruba-derived religious systems that migrated from West Africa to the Caribbean and South America with the slave trade including Vodou, Santeria, and Candomble. Patrick Bellegarde-Smith explains how some slaves continued their traditional spirituality in disguise by matching orisas to Christian saints so that slaves could “cover up what it is that you did, literally cover it up when a slave owner was approaching.”
What’s interesting to me about Fela’s example is that he did not disguise his reproach of corrupt, powerful institutions; rather, he sang out his protests with direct and galvanizing musicality. His actions didn’t go unpunished, though. According to my playbill, he was arrested over 200 times and suffered devastating beatings at the hands of the government.