Nick Anderson’s cartoon in the Houston Chronicle struck a chord with this kid from North Dakota who opted not to head east for college.
When Justice Stevens announced his retirement, we here at SOF read a good many articles about the many factors that play into the choosing of a Supreme Court nominee: religion, gender, ethnicity, race, political leanings, socio-economic upbringing, judicial philosophy, class, etc. And, law school education even came up.
Seeing the composition illustrated in this way is a glaring reminder for me and my responsibilities as a producer on this show — to look outside of the mainstream for surprising perspectives on topics; to think more deeply about the audiences we serve (I know this sounds a tad syrupy but I believe it!); to listen more intently for the little heard, sage voices that choose an alternative path, a different coast, a non-traditional landscape, an unpublished life.
Geographic identity matters. Styles of training count. Choices about where one chooses to raise one’s family and practice one’s vocation are part of the story. These decisions influence who we are and how we approach the complex questions that give meaning to our lives, that shape our humanity.
So, we’ll continue to look in all four directions — and to you for advice. Send them in.
"To have a genuinely moral system, in other words, some things first have to matter, and what we see in babies is the development of mattering.”
I’m in the midst of another parenting transition where my son’s development from infant to toddler has me focusing less on basics and more on behavior.
"Hitting and biting are common during this time" (so true!) is a sentence included in the welcome packet I received recently from his new toddler-room teachers. So this week’s New York Times Magazine story on "The Moral Lives of Babies" caught my eye.
Contrary to historic theories that babies are a moral “blank slate,” the article describes new research out of Yale University that indicates babies may have a “rudimentary moral sense from the very start of life.” This five-minute video demonstrates some of the research experiments behind these findings of whether babies can tell right from wrong. It’s a helpful way in to this lengthy article on behavioral testing and our ongoing fascination with the question of nature or nurture and human development.
“Seeking apology is a punitive urge. Asking someone to be sorry for what they’ve done may be asking that the other, the one who abused or hurt us in some way, understands the consequence of their misbehavior. But it is also a way of asking them to bow down, to beg. You can’t ask someone to beg with love in your heart.”—
StoryCorps Moms: Lourdes and Roger Villanueva Shubha Bala, associate producer
"I knew that we didn’t have wealth to leave you guys. So I always thought that my responsibility was to leave you a legacy of honesty, integrity, and education."
This story reminded me of my own grandmothers who, having been forced to drop out of grade school to get married, both taught themselves how to read so that they could help motivate their own children to obtain the education they did not get themselves. This is a story that is echoed by so many mothers — working hard to be something, solely to help their children achieve a life they did not have.
StoryCorps Moms: Nancy Wright and Her Son J.D. Trent Gilliss, senior editor
"I think about two weeks after that conversation, I picked up the phone and a small voice on the other side said, ‘Hi, this is your friend.’"
Many of us on staff have been traveling a lot these last couple of months for the live events we’ve been producing during Krista’s speaking tour. And air travel can lose its luster awfully quickly when I’m separated from my wife, Bella, and our two remarkable boys, Lucian and Rainier, for even a couple of days. For me, this was unimaginable only five years ago.
But, unexpected gifts are delivered during all the waiting, ascending, descending, taxiing — and Dave Isay’s book, Mom: A Celebration of Mothers from StoryCorps, is one of them. I pored over these individual stories in less than two hours. I smiled, I sobbed, I laughed, I paused, I reflected, I remembered.
Somewhat ironically, I was on a flight to the Bay Area of California to attend a conference titled Wisdom 2.0. There were many smart voices from all the tech elites — Twitter, Facebook, Google — and sage roshis and journalists, but very few of their stories compared to the love and experience conveyed in the personal reflections in Isay’s book.
So, on this Mother’s Day, I’ll be posting a few of my favorites and asked Shubha to post several of hers too. We’ll be releasing audio of these stories throughout the day. They’re only a few minutes long. Consider them moments of meditation as you think about your mothers — the joys, the sorrows, the moments of beauty — and what you carry forward as a child and/or parent in this wonderfully crazy world.
Here, Nancy Wright teaches me that sometimes I just need to pick up the phone, or walk to the bedroom and let go of my pride to give my boy a hug, even when I’m upset.
Robynne Greeninger, a nurse and single mother who is currently working toward her law degree, recently sent us this thoughtful essay reflecting on our show about Sitting Bull’s spiritual legacy as part of an assignment for a World Religions class at North Hennepin Community College in Minnesota:
"This is a subject that is very close to my heart. I am half Native. My father is a full-blooded Sioux from a Lakota tribe. …
The story of Sitting Bull is mostly portrayed in war and defiance. But this SOF broadcast digs into the spirit of the man and what he was truly about — his way as a medicine man, visionary, and a protector of his people. Tatanka (his birth name) was a spiritual man, as most Natives were in those days. He was merely trying to preserve his peoples’ ways. …
I see a lot of Tatanka’s life closely aligning to the life of Christ. He was viewed as a visionary, chief, medicine man, and he died trying to protect his people. He was highly spiritual and compassionate. It is so upsetting to me that part of him has been overlooked or not been given credence. Some of the things the ‘white people’ did to force his hand were abominable and, instead of taking blame, the government has depicted events in a way that made Tatanka look horrible!”
Robynne’s professor assigns his students to listen to SOF and submit their reflections on our website. And, we’re hearing from other educators who are using — or want to use — SOF as a teaching tool in a variety of settings. In response, we’re launching a new initiative titled SOF Learning + Education to help people connect around this shared interest.
If you’d like to get involved, fill out our educators questionnaire so we can learn more about what you’re doing. You can also become a fan of our newly created SOF Learning + Education page on Facebook, where we’re trying to connect educators — from college professors to organizers of book/listening clubs, from high school teachers to leaders of adult learning groups — who can share what they’re doing or would like to do, ask questions about using our materials in creative and meaningful ways, and make suggestions that would help us facilitate learning.
Renaming as an Act of Healing Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
In Krista’s interviews with Archbishop Tutu and Cedric Good House, each discuss the devastating impacts of colonialism and oppression on native peoples in different geographies. Both men also speak about the potential for renaming as an act of healing.
Beyers Naudé was an Afrikaaner cleric in the Dutch Reformed Church who rejected any scriptural basis for apartheid and became an anti-apartheid activist. Today, you can find other landmarks in South Africa, including a high school, that are named after him.
Tutu says that this act of renaming is one manifestation of a “God of surprises” whose “sense of humor is quite something.” Hearing Tutu tell this story, I was reminded of Cedric Good House and what he said about the significance of place names in "Reimagining Sitting Bull: Tatanka Iyotake":
"Today, there’s a lot of things that we’re going through. You know, people are talking language, they’re talking a lot of things. … if you come to Standing Rock, even here in Bismarck, you find things that are just predominantly from that time. You see here in town Grant Marsh Bridge. We pass by Fort Lincoln. We pass by Custer’s house. On Standing Rock there’s a town called McLaughlin. It’s just infested with that type of mindset."
In the audio above, Good House also points out that things are starting to change as some towns have renamed themselves to commemorate their Lakota heritage: “There was a lot of things we needed to heal from and continue to and it’s happening.”
I wonder about the possibilities and limits of these acts of renaming. Andrew Boraine, chief executive of the Cape Town Partnership writes on his blog that “a renaming process can be superficial and shallow if it is not part of broader efforts to genuinely build social cohesion and address the physical and materials needs of citizens.” He continues:
"Like patriotism, the practice of renaming can become a refuge of scoundrels, enabling leaders to deflect from delivering on substantive issues. However, I don’t buy the argument that the process of renaming certain streets and places is irrelevant or that there are "more important issues."
Lead image: traffic signs in Durban, South Africa display the former and new names of streets in central eThekwini (photo: Andrew Boraine).
"I would love it if the next president understood that someone’s view on separation of church and state does not necessarily describe their personal faith. What I mean by that is that we’ve come to think that if you support separation of church and state, you must be secular. Or that if you oppose separation of church and state, that means you’re more religious. And from the founders’ perspective, that was a very odd notion. That would be viewed as a complete non sequitur."
Later on in the interview, Waldman concludes:
"… So I end up with a position that I guess is a little bit idiosyncratic, which is that a lot of this stuff ought to be allowed, but that we shouldn’t be fighting about it so much and that we should be really placing less importance on whether or not religion is invoked in the public square."
Ms. Tippett: And what should we be placing importance on?
Mr. Waldman: We should be placing importance on living a good life according to the dictates of our faith. The founders would say that’s the most important determinant of religious success — is whether or not religion makes you a good person. And for the most part, despite the fact that we have all these debates over the war on Christmas and there’s lawsuits and there’s, you know, fights on TV. You know, for most Americans, the question of the strength of their faith is not actually determined by Bill O’Reilly or the ACLU. It’s determined by whether they treat their neighbors well and whether their prayers are heart felt and whether they lead a good life and follow the dictates of their faith.
What do you think? What weight do you give this issue in current American culture and politics?
The book touches on many aspects of Vedanta. For example, he explains that there are three variations among Vedantists: dualists, qualified nondualists, and Advaitists. He explains that Advaitists believe God is “both the material and the efficient cause of the universe”:
"Sometimes a sick man lying on his bed may hear a tap on the door. He gets up and opens it and finds no one there. He goes back to bed, and again he hears a tap. He gets up and opens the door. Nobody is there. At last he finds that it was his own heartbeat, which he fancied was a knock at the door.
Thus man, after this vain search for various gods outside himself, completes the circle and comes back to the point from which he started-the human soul. And he finds that the God whom he was searching for in hill and dale, whom he was seeking in every brook, in ever temple, in churches and heavens, that God whom he was even imagining as sitting in heaven and ruling the world, is his own Self. I am He, and He is I. None but I was God, and this little I never existed.”
Later in the book he reinforces this explanation with another image:
"When Vedanta says that you and I are God, it does not mean the Personal God. To take an example: Out of a mass of clay a huge elephant of clay is manufactured, and out of the same clay a little clay mouse is made. Would the clay mouse ever be able to become the clay elephant? But put them both in water and they are both clay. As clay they are both one, but as mouse and elephant there will be an eternal difference between them. The Infinite, the Impersonal, is like the clay in the example."
Swami Vivekananda’s house in London, now a heritage building (photo: Shubha Bala)
This article (and a multimedia feature) on immigrants who speak near-extinct languages in New York City reminded me of our show with David Treuer. In some cases, there are greater numbers of people who speak these languages in NYC than in the countries where these languages originally developed:
"At a Roman Catholic Church in the Morrisania section of the Bronx, Mass is said once a month in Garifuna, an Arawakan language that originated with descendants of African slaves shipwrecked near St. Vincent in the Caribbean and later exiled to Central America. Today, Garifuna is virtually as common in the Bronx and in Brooklyn as in Honduras and Belize."
The music used in this week’s show with Desmond Tutu is really worth checking out. I’ve included a couple extra tracks that weren’t used in the final production. I found them to be powerful examples of how music can help people deal with even the most extreme adversity.
The first is the heart-breaking “Senzeni Na?,” which I wrote about last week.
The other is “Beware Verwoerd (Naants’ Indod’Emnyama),” which is a warning to former Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd, often called the “architect of apartheid.” This song sounds like a dance, a celebration, or cheerful party music, while the lyrics are repeating “Here comes the black man Verwoerd! Watch out Verwoerd!” The juxtaposition makes me smile every time I listen to it.
I know this playlist is just a tiny taste, but I hope it can serve as a jumping off point for people to explore the vast musical heritage of South Africa. As always, you can listen to the complete versions of music you hear on each show’s particular SOF Playlist.
“I tell the women how deeply I believe there’s no such thing as false hope: all hope is valid, even for people like us, even when hope would no longer appear to be sensible.
Life itself isn’t sensible, I say. No one can say with ultimate authority what will happen — with cancer, with a job that appears shaky, with all reversed fortunes — so you may as well seize all glimmers that appear. …
One thing I don’t ever think to say: When I was told I had a year or two, I didn’t want anything one might expect: no blow-out trip to the Galápagos, no perfect meal at Alain Ducasse, no defiant red Maserati. All I wanted was ordinary life back, for ordinary life, it became utterly clear, is more valuable than anything else.
Had a chance to hear Brian McLaren speak on Minnesota Public Radio (yes, on the radio!) today on the way to the airport. I found his personal story and way of thinking quite compelling — and delightfully so.
In his closing comments, he reflects on the upcoming 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of a Wittenberg church — and calls for a new discourse for Christians in a world of ever-increasing pluralism:
"Theses are statements. Statements create debate. Sometimes, in the process, they create hate. And the result of debate is that we’ll end up in a new state. Maybe today what we need is not statements to create debate. Maybe today we need questions. Questions that create conversations. Conversations that create friendships. Friendships that bring us on a new quest. Statements to state; questions to quest. This, to me, is what a new kind of Christianity is about."
He also proposes ten questions Christians should be asking themselves:
What is the big narrative arc of the Christian story?
How do we negotiate authority?
Is God violent?
Who is Jesus, and why is He important?
What is the gospel? Is it good news for Christians only or is it good news for everyone?
What are we going to do about the Church?
How can we talk about the sex issue without dividing from each other? How can we live with differing opinions?
What kind of future do we anticipate?
How do we relate to people of other faiths?
What do we do about these first nine questions? How do we talk about them without killing each other?
I sure hope we book him some day. Perhaps this fall…?
If you heard Alix Spiegel’s recent report on All Things Considered last week and listen to our podcast, you probably recognized the name of Paul Zak. We interviewed the neuroeconomist last summer for our show, "The Science of Trust: Economics and Virtue," in which he spoke in greater detail about the the powerful influence of “the moral molecule” oxytocin and the biochemical aspects of decision-making.
If you’re trust in government or Wall Street is at an all-time low, check out both of these pieces and tell me if you buy into the research.
Developing a New Lifeline for Alzheimer's Caregivers
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
Ina and Arnie Feidelman, January 2000. Arnie was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s the following month.
The perspectives of people caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s is “worthy of a show unto itself,” as Krista put it. Indeed, many of the people who wrote to us when we first released "Alzheimer’s, Memory, and Being" articulated the full range of emotions — pain, love, anger, bewilderment — that caregivers can feel. And while this week’s show references the caregiver experience, it’s not at the center of Krista’s conversation with Alan Dienstag.
He’s now in the process of developing a new therapeutic initiative for caregivers called “Ina’s Story,” which is based on the first person account of a former patient, Ina Feidelman. She spent 10 years caring for her late husband Arnie, who suffered from both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Here’s an excerpt from that account, titled “Needing Help”:
"People began to tell me that I should get help in the house. My children my brothers and friends were all concerned about me. They were worried that I was ‘killing myself.’
I put Arnie in a day program 2x a week from 1-4 PM. He hated it. He only wanted to be with me. I hired an aide to do some food preparation, to shower him and so on and it was pointless. He would not accept her, and he was angry. He only wanted me. She lasted three weeks. He told me, ‘I know it’s hard honey but I don’t want anyone to take care of me but you…I need you here with me.’
I said, ‘But Arnie, I am being worn down. I can’t do it anymore.’
I was it…
I cried a lot during this time. I used to cry in the shower, it was private time. That was when I let it hit me…
And I was very angry. Why had this happened to us? I actually had the thought that maybe we were too happy, that somehow things were too good and it had to be taken away from us. It sounds crazy now, but that is what I was thinking. I remember discussing it with my brother, he said “Ina, you were dealt a bad hand, that is it, there is no reason.” I believe that is true, but that is not how I felt then.”
Ina’s story is powerful, Dienstag says, because the trajectory she experienced, both practically and emotionally, is so typical of caregivers: “Our hope is that we can use it to help caregivers who are at the beginning of the process that she has already completed.”
Arnie and Ina Feidelman, August 2006.
He also hopes this new project will motivate caregivers to seek psychological support in greater numbers: “The truth is that many caregivers fear (and sometimes hope) that they will not survive the experience of caring for someone with dementia and, remarkably, many go through this without any help.”
Dienstag and Feidelman are seeking funding for the project while they develop more written materials.
A Song that Fueled a Revolution Chris Heagle, producer
While doing research for our upcoming show with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, I stumbled on the remarkable 2002 documentary, Amandla!: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony. It chronicles the struggle against apartheid through music and is an amazing resource.
As the film shows, music, especially singing, was integral to the anti-apartheid movement. This song, “Senzeni Na?” stood out (in fact, I can’t get it out of my head!). Its title translates to “What have we done?” and its haunting melody served as both a lament and a rallying cry. There’s a powerful clip from Amandla! that talks about the influence of this song, but due to copyright, I was unable to isolate and embed it here for you. However, you can watch this section by forwarding to the 40:30 mark of the film.
Jimmy Matyu, a columnist for The Herald in South Africa, writes:
“‘Senzeni Na?’ was one of the most powerful and moving songs during the struggle against apartheid and had the power to unite all African people who were the most viciously oppressed section of the South African population. This song, sung at rallies, meetings, protests, funerals, wanted an answer either from God or the government about what blacks had done to deserve such inhumane treatment or naked suffering. This line was repeated so many times and broken only by that soul-touching line, Isono sethu bubumnyama (Our only sin is our darkness).”
Senzeni Na? (Zulu/Xhosa) What Have We Done? (English)
Senzenina What have we done? Sono sethu ubumnyama Our sin is our blackness Sono sethu yinyaniso Our sin is the truth Sibulawayo They are killing us Mayibuye i Africa. Let Africa return.
As usual, we’ll be posting a playlist of all of the amazing music from this show, as well as some gems that didn’t make into the final production, on our website when the show comes out next week.
“My decision today is not based on a finding that you violated Georgia law, or on a conclusion that differs from that of the local prosecutor. That said, you are held to a higher standard as an NFL player, and there is nothing about your conduct in Milledgeville that can remotely be described as admirable, responsible, or consistent with either the values of the league or the expectations of our fans.”—
I live in a rented New York City apartment. The only outdoor space I have access to, besides the sidewalk, is the paved alley alongside my building. And, like many of my neighbors, I use this shared outdoor space for all sorts of activities that don’t fit in a small apartment. As I write, a teen-aged neighbor is practicing his Junior ROTC drill in the alley, and I can hear the thud and clank of his rifle stock as he learns to twirl it in tempo.
It is not an unpleasant place to live. But there is nothing green — no soil, no grass, no plants of any kind — except the street trees I can see from my front window.
This year when my friend Tamara invited me to share her backyard garden, I was delighted. She and her husband Karl have always been incredibly generous with their space. They love nothing more than hosting dinner for 25 on improvised tables and street-find chairs.
The garden is large by city standards. The vegetable patch is 8 feet wide and almost 25 feet deep, and there’s a patch of grass, to boot.
This year, we laid out the vegetable patch together. Neat, orderly rows were prepared for tomatoes, string beans, carrots, beets, and radishes, and every kind of leafy green we could think of. There’s also an herb patch with oregano, chives, rosemary, sage, and lavender. I lobbied for nasturtiums to fill the planters on the paved part of the yard.
And last Saturday, Tamara, Karl, and I were joined by another neighbor, Heather, and we did our first planting. The herbs and seeds for root vegetables went into the ground, as well as a selection of greens. We’re probably over-ambitious, and all of us are amateur gardeners, but it was good to be outdoors on a sunny afternoon bickering over mulch and debating the merits of the soil. The elderly Greek couple next door chatted with us over the chain-link fence while they tended their own patch, with its fig trees and grape arbor.
"Spiritual" is not a word I use very much these days. It’s too nebulous, and encourages sentimentality. But I am interested in the actions that bring us back into balance, that make us whole human beings. And planting the garden with friends does that in two ways.
The most important way for me is how it brings us into a deeper sense of community and friendship. The garden is something we will share — the work of setting out the plants and tending them, as well as the pleasures that will come in a few weeks as we begin to eat the fruits of our labors. And it’s been made possible by two people who are intent on living a shared life with their friends, an antidote to the competitive and atomized culture of this difficult city we live in.
And the second: it restores balance to my life. To be able to touch the soil. To walk barefoot outdoors. To look at the weather not just as the planet’s plot to make me lose my umbrella but as a living system that will nourish — and threaten — the small plants we’ve put in the ground.
Living a city life is compartmentalized and far from natural cycles. Having a garden redresses that balance.
Christopher Calderhead is an artist and writer living in Astoria, Queens. He is the editor of Letter Arts Review and teaches at Bronx Community College and the Pratt Institute.
We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on SOF Observed. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page or simply share a photo of your garden.
"You see, a lot of folks who like John don’t like Rick. So now some of John’s friends aren’t sure they want to hang out with him anymore. They may not come to his party in Minneapolis. And they aren’t sure that you should either."
But what specifically is Piper aiming to do? He tells us in the following four minutes of video. Although Piper’s gesture is offered with open palms, it’s also an attempt to get Rick Warren to “lay his cards on the table” and “tell us what makes him tick.” And, Piper also posits that, despite widespread opinion, Warren’s not just a pragmatic preacher who focuses solely on results:
"I do think he’s deeply theological. He’s a brilliant man. … I like him, and I’m frustrated by some of his stuff."
Members of the U.S. Supreme Court pose for a group photograph on September 29, 2009. Front row (l-r): Anthony M. Kennedy, John Paul Stevens, John G. Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas. Back row (l-r): Samuel Alito Jr., Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor. (photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
On April 9th, Justice Stevens announced his upcoming retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court. The loss of the lone Protestant on the Court, in a country with 51% Protestants, has sparked a vigorous media discussion. Pundits and journalists are asking how, and if, this will impact future Court discussions, and if religion should even be a consideration when selecting Justice Stevens’ replacement.
There have been plenty of interesting media reports during the past week: Nina Totenberg on NPR, Dahlia Lithwick in Slate, Adam Liptak in The New York Times, which gets called out by Ashby Jones in the Wall Street Journal. However, we were holding out for a thoughtful, well-informed theological voice — specifically looking out for Martin E. Marty, who weighed in Monday with a piece in Sightings:
"… To grant a para-constitutional point, most ‘religious tests’ are ‘cultural tests’ or ‘power tests.’ On the positive side of that case, it is true that people steeped in a religious culture might well hear religious nuances in cases, and can adjudicate them more sensitively than the spiritually tone-deaf might. Others do and will clearly use their ‘nuances’ as weapons of judicial power. Overall, it might be best if the public said, ‘We are reassured you justices are religious; just don’t "use" that religion too much.’"
Later on, Marty references Geoffrey Stone, whose comments on religion in the Supreme Court over the past several years have often been cited. In 2007, the University of Chicago law professor created some controversy when he pointed out that religious belief may have swayed the Court’s ruling in Gonzales v. Carhart and his analysis of Catholic Justices on the Court after Sotomayor was appointed.
However, Stone’s recent statements that religion should not be a focus in the selection process prompts Marty to ask:
"Can the one who makes an appointment satisfy the people called Protestant? Most are, top to bottom, at odds with each other. From a satellite distance, they come in three large tribes: ‘Mainstream’ or ‘mainline,’ ‘Evangelical,’ and ‘African-American.’ Most citizens in any of these three groups will neither say ‘Hurrah for our side!’ nor feel represented by any representative of the other two.
Thus would evangelicals Charles Colson, James Dobson, or Marvin Olasky, who enthused about the ill-fated appointment of ‘evangelical’ Harriet Miers during the Bush administration, have been satisfied with any mainstream sort, and vice versa? Stone has only two criteria, or wishes, for the next appointment: The nominee ‘must have the intellect, temperament and experience necessary to fulfill the responsibilities,’ as many Protestants do and other Protestants don’t; and he or she ‘should have the vision of the law…that is consonant with the president’s own aspirations.’ For Stone, that should be it – but no one expects that will be.”
I had started my research thinking I had a point of view, but sifting through different analyses I find myself more confused than ever with this complex issue. I welcome any sources or ideas that you’ve found that helps illuminate the topic!
In response to Speaking of Faith's show about the brutality of regimes around the world and the question of the people who disappear — and their children — I thought I would share with you a scene from my childhood in Portugal during the country’s fascist regime that lasted for almost 40 years and ended in 1974.
I wake up in the middle of the night, as I often do, and walk slowly down the steps of the long staircase. I am eight years old. I come to join my father, who sits in his office listening to a small voice coming from a small radio. The sound is muffled; the words sound detached. I do not understand what it says.
He smiles at the sight of my face peering through the crack of the door.
“So, you’re up,” he says.
That is all he ever says, and I am free to come in or go back. I like that freedom. I sit on his reading couch; the leather is cold to the touch at first, but softening and embracing as I sink into it. Soon he forgets that I am there.
But today he asks me to sit facing him. His voice is stern: “It may be a good idea not to sing this melody outside of this room.”
For brief moments, like now, when the voice that says things I don’t understand stops, a melody fills the air. It is always the same. It is beautiful, and I often carry it into the light of day like a fragment of a dream. Earlier, my mother had given me a concerned look as I left for school, bag full of books, the melody drifting from my lips.
“Not outside this room,” he repeats. “Will you remember?”
I nod, silently. The man’s voice drones on. I stare at the radio. “What is he saying?”
My father looks troubled by the question. “It’s the BBC radio service, in English.” There is a long pause while he chooses the words. “They tell you the truth about what is happening around the world — and in our country too.”
The leather under me goes cold and hard, and my hands curl and cry with sweat. My heart thuds against my chest, trying to fly from the question searing through me: “Will they take you away too, like they took Maria’s father?”
I am looking at his hair; his face is buried in his hands. I want to pin him down and not let him ever leave this room.
Then he looks up. “Yes, that may happen one day. On that day and every other day until I come back, if people ask you, ‘Where is your father,’ hold your head high and tell them. Listen, listen carefully. This is what you will tell them: ‘My father has been arrested because he believes in freedom.’”
We are looking in each others’ eyes now and I see it all clearly: I cannot hold my father in this room, nor can I hold my heart still. I cannot even hold on to me. I watch my childhood leave so suddenly there is no time for remembrance or reckoning.
“Will you do that? Can you do that?” His urgency brings me back. And a voice I do not yet know answers, “Yes.”
Ms. Paulino teaches English Literature and Art History at the University of Winthrop and at the University of Porto in Portugal. She currently lives in Rock Hill, South Carolina and has recently started a personal blog where she writes about “musings on a home in-between: languages, places, ways of seeing.”
We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on SOF Observed. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
I think Hendrik Hertzberg’s commentary in today’s New Yorker is the smartest, most succinct piece of writing on the Catholic abuse crisis I have seen. His first paragraph is a perfect, classic scene setter:
"On October 31, 1517, a Roman Catholic priest and theologian, Dr. Martin Luther, put the finishing touches on a series of bullet points and, legend has it, nailed the result to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany—the equivalent, for the time and place, of uploading a particularly explosive blog post. Luther’s was a protest against the sale of chits that were claimed to entitle buyers or their designees to shorter stays in Purgatory. Such chits, known as indulgences, were being hawked as part of Pope Leo X’s fund-raising drive for the renovation of St. Peter’s Basilica. The “Ninety-five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” touched off a high-stakes flame war that rapidly devolved into the real thing, with actual wars, actual flames, and actual stakes. The theological clash that sundered Christendom didn’t just change the face of Western religion; it birthed the modern world."
I’m often asked about our process for choosing people and topics. The answer goes something like this. We are always juggling a number of priorities — responding to what is happening in the world; getting to subjects of enduring interest that we feel we can draw out in a distinctive way; bringing important voices on to the show, some of them famous, but more often people who, though captivating and wise, remain below the radar of headlines and hype. Their names find their way to a long list of possible guests that we add to all the time, either from our own reading and conversations or from the many ideas our listeners send in.
At some point, our online editor surfaced Mercedes Doretti’s name, which landed on that long list. She is a leading force in the field of global forensic anthropology and winner of a MacArthur “genius grant,” though she is not by far a household name. We knew that she works at a deeply human level on atrocities that usually come to us by way of gruesome news stories — the kind that leave me, at least, more despairing than reflective.
Doretti grew up, in fact, in one of these “stories” — the period of Argentina’s so-called “dirty war.” The military junta that ruled Argentina from 1976-1983 maintained control by terrorizing its own citizens. Over 10,000 people, many of them young, were “disappeared” — kidnapped, tortured, and killed. For their families they were, from one day to the next, simply gone without a trace. Some of their bodies were dropped into the ocean. Others were buried in unmarked graves.
As the “dirty war” ended, at the invitation of a group of grandmothers who stubbornly sought to know what had happened to their children and their children’s children, an American forensic anthropologist named Clyde Snow came to Argentina. He is the world expert in a field called osteobiography, which I found evocatively described as “the art and science of reading a person’s life story from their bones.” He would shape the course of Mercedes Doretti’s life.
Under Clyde Snow’s mentorship, she and a group of other anthropology students went in search of the bodies, and the stories, of the grandmothers’ lost loved ones. They became experts in all the forensic sciences — including genetics, ballistics, osteology, and radiology. They became archeologists of political crimes — archeologists not of ancient history but of the contemporary past. And over the past three decades, they’ve taken this work to over 30 countries — from El Salvador to Bosnia, from East Timor to Ethiopia — places where civilians have been caught in civil unrest, often kidnapped and murdered by their own governments.
Mercedes Doretti illuminates a rich, human, global landscape that gives me a sense of the nature of real-world forensics and archeology that I could never gain from CSI or Indiana Jones. Unlike those news stories I can barely read to the end, I am riveted and comforted by Mercedes Doretti’s presence. She is a scientist through and through — she loves solving the puzzles that bones hold as much as she loves the fact that this labor of hers becomes a crucial form of reparation for the living. She is not a religious person, but she has much to teach about some enduring, mysterious human experience with profound religious implications — our need to bury our dead, to reconcile ourselves to terrible events, to find justice on many levels.
The poetry of Alicia Partnoy seemed to us a necessary and beautiful complement to Mercedes Doretti’s insights. Partnoy was one of the few who survived her detention in a secret prison during the “dirty war.” Her poems, and the experiences of suffering and life chosen beyond it that comes through Partnoy’s voice alone, are also a testament to the mysterious vigor and transcendence of the human spirit. "Laying the Dead to Rest" makes my world a bit bigger. It adds both a knowledge of science and of a redemptive softness at some of the world’s most treacherous edges.
Dan Vergano of USA Today's Science Fair blog reviews Krista's new book, and likes it:
"For science fans looking for a new way to look at some of their favorite topics, the book is a treasure trove of insights into how scientists see the world. For anyone scared of science, the conversations open a stained-glass window into the adventurous side of science often obscured by lab coats and jargon."
Last spring, the Obamas planted a White House vegetable garden. This year, why not follow up by cutting the air conditioning and opening the windows? They might also set a temperature range for the White House within which neither artificial heating nor cooling is used — recognizing that for much of the spring and fall what nature provides simply cannot be improved.
I’m no fan of indoor refrigeration even in summer. I realize I’m in the minority. Nevertheless, year-round climate control is surely not what most people want. During these glorious weeks, I cannot believe the office and retail workers who crowd every outdoor café and park bench at lunchtime appreciate returning to their airtight posts. I cannot believe the guests of most major hotels prefer stale recycled air over an April breeze. I cannot believe the bedridden sick and elderly prefer the drone of forced air to the calls of nesting birds. Novelist Henry Miller called the United States the “air-conditioned nightmare.” He had a point.
The ubiquity of windows that do not open may cause some not to notice what they are missing. Sealed spaces divide, they alienate, they blind us to what is happening beyond our threshold. They rob us of the goose bumps you feel as the sun sets at the end of a balmy day, of the sounds of crickets and children, of the smell of freshly mown grass, honeysuckle, earth. A different kind of comfort emerges when we tune in rather than anesthetizing ourselves to our given reality, and with this comfort comes a different kind of compassion for ourselves and our surroundings.
In the end, of course, this isn’t only about us. Americans make up 4% of the world’s population and we produce a quarter of its carbon dioxide pollution. I don’t know where you draw the line between personal comfort and responsibility, but treating our air 12 months a year, 24/7 is on the wrong side of it. This isn’t comfort, it’s gratuitous waste.
Who stands to lose from an open-window revolution? The multibillion dollar HVAC industry. I’m okay with that.
It’s been a long winter — let the sun shine in.
Ms. Motro teaches law at the University of Richmond in Virginia. This essay was first published in The Wall Street Journal on April 10, 2010 and reprinted with permission of the author.
We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on SOF Observed. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
“And, then, I later read ‘The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle, and it tells you to find a shaft of sunlight and sit in it every day. So my boyfriend was, like, following Eckhart Tolle’s weird sunlight advice and finding it. And then he ended up using ‘The Power of Now’ to break up with me. So, like, it had turned against me.”—
We’ve received countless stories about the positive impact of Eckhart Tolle’s teachings on people’s lives. I had to smile when I heard this humorous story from a person who was on the receiving end of his guiding principles. If you work on SOF long enough, you hear the most surprising references to all types of material and people on the program!
The Atlantic Wire's ongoing feature asking journalists about their “media diets” is invaluable if you have as much difficulty as the rest of our staff in sifting through the massive amount of information being disseminated every minute of the day. Don’t be mistaken by the title of the series; it involves all types of media not just print.
And, I’ll admit, this post is a bit self-serving too. Last week, I was caught off guard, and elated, when I saw that John Dickerson, Slate's chief political correspondent, recommends SOF as one of his regular sources:
And, I’d really like to know what some essential — and perhaps esoteric — sources you check in on to keep you connected to the larger world and how they give meaning and make sense of it all. Leave a comment here, if you like. What do you pay attention to?
Observing Yom HaShoah with a Prayer from Elie Wiesel
by Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
On May 18, 1945, American chaplain Rabbi Herschel Schacter conducts a religious service for Jewish survivors of the Buchenwald concentration camp shortly after liberation. (credit: National Archives and Records Administration)
Today marks Yom HaShoah — Holocaust Remembrance Day. Each year it’s observed on the 27th day of Nisan in the Hebrew calendar.
To commemorate Yom HaShoah, we wanted to share with you a clip from our program with Elie Wiesel, "The Tragedy of the Believer." The Nobel laureate is probably best known for his memoir Night, which tells the story of his experiences at the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps during the Holocaust.
During his conversation with Krista in 2003, Wiesel dispels the misconception that he forever lost his faith in God after the war. He also describes how language becomes holy through prayer. In the audio clip above (download mp3), he recites a prayer he wrote that ends his book, One Generation After:
I no longer ask you for either happiness or paradise; all I ask of You is to listen and let me be aware of Your listening.
I no longer ask You to resolve my questions, only to receive them and make them part of You.
I no longer ask You for either rest or wisdom, I only ask You not to close me to gratitude, be it of the most trivial kind, or to surprise and friendship. Love? Love is not Yours to give.
As for my enemies, I do not ask You to punish them or even to enlighten them; I only ask You not to lend them Your mask and Your powers. If You must relinquish one or the other, give them Your powers. But not Your countenance.
They are modest, my requests, and humble. I ask You what I might ask a stranger met by chance at twilight in a barren land.
I ask you, God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to enable me to pronounce these words without betraying the child that transmitted them to me: God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, enable me to forgive You and enable the child I once was to forgive me too.
I no longer ask You for the life of that child, nor even for his faith. I only beg You to listen to him and act in such a way that You and I can listen to him together.
They are modest, my prayers, and humble. I ask You what I might ask a stranger met by chance at twilight in a barren land.
I ask You, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to enable me to pronounce these words without betraying the child that transmitted them to me. God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, enable me to forgive You and enable the child I once was to forgive me too.
I no longer ask You for the life of that child, nor even for his faith. I only implore You to listen to him and act in such a way that You and I can listen to him together.