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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.
If you were the one who had metastatic cancer—or, for that matter, a similarly advanced case of emphysema or congestive heart failure—what would you want your doctors to do?
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-Atul Gawande in "Letting Go", New Yorker

Ever since I joined Speaking of Faith, there has been editorial talk about wanting wise voices on death, or more specifically, end-of-life.  Recently we came across this insightful article in the New Yorker, and a follow-up interview on Fresh Air, that have bumped this up on our priority list.  In Krista’s words - “it is time for us to take this on.” 

What are your stories about approaching end-of-life, or end-of-life medical care?

by Shubha Bala, associate producer

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StoryCorps Moms: Myra Dean and Gary Jamison
Shubha Bala, associate producer

"In the story of Job, Job lost everything, and he got everything back twofold. … I’m blessed and I’m loved, and I know that I’ve made a difference."

In honor of Mother’s Day, this touching story of Myra Dean, who lost her son, at age 10, to a reckless driver.

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Unearthing Mysteries of the Human Experience

Krista Tippett, host

"Laying the Dead to Rest: Meeting Forensic Anthropologist Mercedes Doretti"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.

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"Myself When I Am Real"
Andy Dayton, associate web producer

"It was kind of like jazz." That’s what Nancy said when I asked her how Krista’s conversation with E. Ethelbert Miller went. Prior to the interview, Trent began paging through Miller’s second memoir, The 5th Inning, and seemed taken by the book’s honesty and willingness to acknowledge the darker corners of life. From the introduction:

"How do we cope with failure in life? How do we live when everyday we open our eyes to death? This memoir is about how I coped with failure and disappointment in career, marriage, and life. We fail as lovers, parents, and friends."

Charles Mingus
Painting of Charles Mingus by Matthew Rigsby Smith

With this in mind, I sent an email to Chris suggesting he give Charles Mingus’ Mingus Plays Piano a listen when scoring the program’s soundtrack. The album has a contemplative and improvisational sound that I really enjoy — an enjoyment that’s enhanced knowing a bit of the story behind it. Appearing in the liner notes to the compilation, The Impulse Story, here’s an account from inside the studio when Mingus recorded the album:

"Somebody was playing the piano in there very hauntingly — very beautifully. Then it would stop, and start again. It didn’t sound like practicing. It sounded like somebody was just thinking on the piano. That’s the best way I could say it. I looked in the music room and it was pitch black. The lights weren’t on. So I went into Thiele’s office and said, ‘Who’s playing in there?’ ‘It’s Charlie Mingus. A very close friend of his died.’ I never knew who he was grieving over. But about a half-hour later Thiele said, ‘Charles, let’s go into a studio.’ That became Mingus Plays Piano.”

"Thinking on the piano." Replace notes with words and you might say that reading (and hearing) E. Ethelbert Miller can be a similar experience.

My suggestion didn’t make its way into the program. Miller dropped enough musical references during the interview to easily fill the program’s 50 minutes. But you can listen to the first track from the album — “Myself When I Am Real” — to get a taste of what “thinking on the piano” sounds like.

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"My Life, My Death, My Choice"

by Andy Dayton, associate web producer

In December 2007, British fantasy writer Sir Terry Pratchett publicly announced that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Primarily known for his best-selling Discworld series of fantasy novels, he has now become a vocal advocate for the right to “early death.”

The video above is from Pratchett’s speech, "Shaking Hands with Death," for the BBC’s annual Richard Dimbleby Lecture. Early on in the speech — delivered by actor Tony Robinson due to Pratchett’s condition — he tells the story of his father’s death from pancreatic cancer:

"On the day he was diagnosed my ­father told me, ‘If you ever see me in a hospital bed, full of tubes and pipes and no good to anybody, tell them to switch me off.’ In fact, it took something under a fortnight in the hospice for him to die as a kind of collateral damage in the war between his cancer and the morphine. And in that time he stopped being him and started becoming a corpse, albeit one that moved ever so slightly from time to time."

In the clip above, Pratchett addresses what he calls “the God argument” and identifies himself as a humanist who “would rather believe that we were a rising ape, not a falling angel.” He finishes with this thought:

"It’s that much-heralded thing called the quality of life that’s important. How you live your life, what you get out of it, what you put into it, and what you leave behind after it. We should aim for a good and rich life well-lived. And at the end of it, in the comfort of our own home, in the company of those who love us, have a death worth dying for."

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I tend to think that fictional characters are in some ways more real than biological human beings. Think of Victorian England. How many people from that era can you remember?. I would say that Sherlock Holmes is more real than the anonymous people who came and went and lived and died in east London. To be a fictional character like that is not such a bad fate.
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—Mary Doria Russell, in our "The Novelist as God"

Holden Caulfield illustrationLast week, we lost fiction writer J.D. Salinger and historian Howard Zinn. In the days after their deaths, I noticed Salinger quotes like this one from Catcher in the Rye peppering friends’ Facebook feeds:

"I don’t care if it’s a sad good-bye or a bad good-bye, but when I leave a place I like to know I’m leaving it. If you don’t, you feel even worse."

I haven’t read The Catcher in the Rye since high school, but that voice of Holden Caulfield’s is so recognizable and distinct — like someone I know really well but haven’t talked to in awhile. People have been posting RIP Howard Zinn tributes, but many don’t feature memorable quotes, which reminded me of Mary Doria Russell’s commentary about the enduring imprint of fictional characters.

What about you? Are there characters from beloved books whose imprint has stuck with you over time? Do you have quotes from these fictional friends to share?

Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer

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Attachment and Destruction Goran Vrcel, guest contributor
At the age of ten, I stood at the edge of the hill, gazing into the distant flames that waved above the forested mountains. At that moment I knew that kids my age had lost their homes, their innocence, their land. I quickly learned what nationalism, pride, and hate meant in a falling nation of Yugoslavia.
Being Serbian, I never learned to hate the Croats, as many did. I rather felt sympathy as a Croatian town waved goodbye to us in flames. In 1995, Croatia successfully executed their plans. Ethnic cleansing. We left our homeland, my heaven on earth.
But the war taught me that no violence is solved through violence itself. The violent tactics varied, but the pain remained the same for both sides. The war between Serbs and the Croats has greatly altered my views on attachment to ideas, beliefs, and social standards. How can a loving father nurture his kids, and then be sent out to kill others? How can a child, forced to become aware of this by simple observations or intuition, accept his or her father in the aftermath?

A child remembers well, but at the same time, one can unconsciously forgive, become persuaded by the dominance of another, or one can easily conceal those lingering memories buried deep within for prolonged periods of time.
But the real question is: how is it that some people are capable of such destruction, yet, at the same time, they are competent of expressing love and compassion towards their family members and or society?
I listened to a group of soldiers recapturing the memories of their “victorious” battle. One described the time when he forced an elderly woman to lift her skirt up so that he could shoot her, another pulled the dentures out of a dead peasant’s mouth, and another told a story of a man beheading a villager with a chainsaw. All of these men returned home to their loving families.
Not long after the flames had descended into the ashes, my 93 year-old great-grandmother said to us, “You children do not know that you are alive.” This was the beginning of my awakening, even though, at the time, I had no knowledge of what awakening meant. But some sort of insight penetrated through to the core of my being.




Years later, I started to believe that attachment to people, ideas, beliefs, and the ways of our society is what eventually might alienate us from others, and construct a possible pathway to ignorance. These solders were not attached to the opposing society, therefore, it became easy for them to terminate the other side in the most atrocious way possible. When a sense of self is defined through pride and superiority, then it becomes work of an ego, which can lead to delusion and possible destruction.
Since we live in a more diverse world, we must learn the meaning of the word “us” as opposed to us or them, or me and him/her. It is crucial that we become aware not only of our differences, but of our similarities as human beings. Awareness and action is the key. So how do I forgive? Through educating others by bringing awareness and observing their progress.
Mr. Vrcel currently works as a photographer and designer living in Schererville, Indiana. All photos in this essay by Goran Vrcel and used with his permission. 
He submitted this essay through our First Person Outreach page. Submit yours too.

Attachment and Destruction
Goran Vrcel, guest contributor

At the age of ten, I stood at the edge of the hill, gazing into the distant flames that waved above the forested mountains. At that moment I knew that kids my age had lost their homes, their innocence, their land. I quickly learned what nationalism, pride, and hate meant in a falling nation of Yugoslavia.

Being Serbian, I never learned to hate the Croats, as many did. I rather felt sympathy as a Croatian town waved goodbye to us in flames. In 1995, Croatia successfully executed their plans. Ethnic cleansing. We left our homeland, my heaven on earth.

But the war taught me that no violence is solved through violence itself. The violent tactics varied, but the pain remained the same for both sides. The war between Serbs and the Croats has greatly altered my views on attachment to ideas, beliefs, and social standards. How can a loving father nurture his kids, and then be sent out to kill others? How can a child, forced to become aware of this by simple observations or intuition, accept his or her father in the aftermath?

Goran Vrcel's Bedroom

A child remembers well, but at the same time, one can unconsciously forgive, become persuaded by the dominance of another, or one can easily conceal those lingering memories buried deep within for prolonged periods of time.

But the real question is: how is it that some people are capable of such destruction, yet, at the same time, they are competent of expressing love and compassion towards their family members and or society?

I listened to a group of soldiers recapturing the memories of their “victorious” battle. One described the time when he forced an elderly woman to lift her skirt up so that he could shoot her, another pulled the dentures out of a dead peasant’s mouth, and another told a story of a man beheading a villager with a chainsaw. All of these men returned home to their loving families.

Not long after the flames had descended into the ashes, my 93 year-old great-grandmother said to us, “You children do not know that you are alive.” This was the beginning of my awakening, even though, at the time, I had no knowledge of what awakening meant. But some sort of insight penetrated through to the core of my being.

Blata

Grandma Dara Does the Laundry

Grandma Dara

Grandma Dara on the Train

Years later, I started to believe that attachment to people, ideas, beliefs, and the ways of our society is what eventually might alienate us from others, and construct a possible pathway to ignorance. These solders were not attached to the opposing society, therefore, it became easy for them to terminate the other side in the most atrocious way possible. When a sense of self is defined through pride and superiority, then it becomes work of an ego, which can lead to delusion and possible destruction.

Since we live in a more diverse world, we must learn the meaning of the word “us” as opposed to us or them, or me and him/her. It is crucial that we become aware not only of our differences, but of our similarities as human beings. Awareness and action is the key. So how do I forgive? Through educating others by bringing awareness and observing their progress.

Goran VrcelMr. Vrcel currently works as a photographer and designer living in Schererville, Indiana. All photos in this essay by Goran Vrcel and used with his permission.

He submitted this essay through our First Person Outreach page. Submit yours too.

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Salvation somehow seemed closer — yet we also knew that we could be killed at any moment. The goal was to hang on a little longer. … The fury of the Haitian earthquake, which has taken more than 200,000 lives, teaches us how cruel nature can be to man. The Holocaust, which destroyed a people, teaches us that nature, even in its cruelest moments, is benign in comparison with man when he loses his moral compass and his reason.
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— —Samuel Pisar, from an excellent Op-Ed in The New York Times titled "Out of Auschwitz"

Trent Gilliss, online editor

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Salinger Dies Kate Moos, managing producer
Much will be said and written. But for now, all I can think about is Franny and Zooey, the long theological passage in which Franny Zooey tells his sister she doesn’t have to recite the Jesus prayer to experience God. Janet Malcolm’s 2001 piece in The New York Review of Books says much about Salinger, Franny and Zooey, and its reception by critics who once doted on him.
(photo: “zooey.” by Victoria/Flickr)

Salinger Dies
Kate Moos, managing producer

Much will be said and written. But for now, all I can think about is Franny and Zooey, the long theological passage in which Franny Zooey tells his sister she doesn’t have to recite the Jesus prayer to experience God. Janet Malcolm’s 2001 piece in The New York Review of Books says much about Salinger, Franny and Zooey, and its reception by critics who once doted on him.

(photo: “zooey.” by Victoria/Flickr)

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The Elusive Footage of Elephants Mourning
Colleen Scheck, senior producer

This week’s guest, Katy Payne, was one of the scientists interviewed in a recent 60 Minutes feature about the ongoing study of elephant behavior in the Dzanga forest clearing in the Central African Republic. This is worth watching because it contains beautiful and moving footage of elephant interaction, including how elephants behave after the death of a young calf in 2000. I believe, though have yet to confirm, that this is the footage Katy Payne describes in our program:

"…We were keeping a video record. It was very painful and hard for us to do so, but we did this for the rest of the day and all the next day. And during that time, more than 100 elephants, unrelated to the calf, walked past the place where the little corpse lay on the ground. Every single one of them did something that showed alarm, concern, or somehow showed they were aware of something novel that they were approaching. Some of them took a detour around. About a quarter of them tried to lift the body up with their tusks and their trunks, sometimes trying over and over again. One adolescent male attempted to lift up this little corpse 57 times, and walked away from it and came back five different times."

The feature focuses primarily on efforts to create an “elephant dictionary” from studying vocalizations, including infrasonic sounds. Katy Payne is as warm and passionate as she was with us, giving some impressive imitations of elephant vocalizations herself.

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How I Am Preparing to Get Alzheimer’s Disease

by Alanna Shaikh, guest contributor

Alann, Cris, and Mr. Shaikh

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.

Alanna Shaikh's Family in the 1980sAnd 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.

Mr. Shaikh and His Grandson, ZachNow, 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.


Alanna ShaikhAlanna Shaikh writes about international development and global health issues. We follow her at Blood and Milk and on Twitter; this tweet prompted us to reach out to her.

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Weights & MeasuresAndy Dayton, associate web producer
Above is a 1920 obituary from The New York Times for Dr. Duncan MacDougall, who as you can see was best remembered by a particular experiment he did attempting to weigh the human soul. I heard his story on a recent episode of  Radiolab, and it caught my attention because I had just read about another scientific study involving weight — an attempt to test how physical weight effects the way we think.
ScienceBlogs writer Ed Yong sums up the study, where volunteers hold either a heavy or a lighter clipboard while executing four different tasks. The last task was to weigh in on a controversial subway being built at the time:

In all cases, the volunteers agreed more with the strong arguments but especially so if they held the heavier clipboards. This group were also more confident in their opinions and were more likely to be clearly in favour of the subway or against it, rather than dawdling on the fence.

With similar results from the other two tasks, the conclusion is that holding the heavier clipboard caused individuals to “think of situations as more important and they invest more mental effort in dealing with abstract issues.”
Yong identifies a few similar studies that all seem to share the common attribute: they display what most would consider a purely metaphorical relationship (clean = moral, warm = sociable, etc.) as a psychological reality. If we accept these conclusions to be true, then it seems like a case of science catching up with the arts — the metaphors poets and other artists have been using for years suddenly seem a little more relevant, right?
Then again, this line of research could also go the way of Dr. MacDougall’s attempt to weigh the soul — as a clever, interesting, but ultimately unconvincing page in the book of scientific history. What do you think?
(image courtesy of The New York Times)

Weights & Measures
Andy Dayton, associate web producer

Above is a 1920 obituary from The New York Times for Dr. Duncan MacDougall, who as you can see was best remembered by a particular experiment he did attempting to weigh the human soul. I heard his story on a recent episode of Radiolab, and it caught my attention because I had just read about another scientific study involving weight — an attempt to test how physical weight effects the way we think.

ScienceBlogs writer Ed Yong sums up the study, where volunteers hold either a heavy or a lighter clipboard while executing four different tasks. The last task was to weigh in on a controversial subway being built at the time:

In all cases, the volunteers agreed more with the strong arguments but especially so if they held the heavier clipboards. This group were also more confident in their opinions and were more likely to be clearly in favour of the subway or against it, rather than dawdling on the fence.

With similar results from the other two tasks, the conclusion is that holding the heavier clipboard caused individuals to “think of situations as more important and they invest more mental effort in dealing with abstract issues.”

Yong identifies a few similar studies that all seem to share the common attribute: they display what most would consider a purely metaphorical relationship (clean = moral, warm = sociable, etc.) as a psychological reality. If we accept these conclusions to be true, then it seems like a case of science catching up with the arts — the metaphors poets and other artists have been using for years suddenly seem a little more relevant, right?

Then again, this line of research could also go the way of Dr. MacDougall’s attempt to weigh the soul — as a clever, interesting, but ultimately unconvincing page in the book of scientific history. What do you think?

(image courtesy of The New York Times)

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The Shot of Whiskey I Never Drank Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
Studs Terkel, the legendary radio personality and interviewer, died today. Nearly four years ago, I took my first production trip for SOF — and what a way to start things out — with an interview in his Chicago home. At the time (he was 92 then), he had taken a fall and thus was primarily confined to his bed, relocated to the first floor in the center of his living room.
We were prepared for an elderly man who may not have a lot of energy to make it through an hour. What we got was the same old dynamo that I’d seen and heard so many times. He was alive, and his vivacity energized all of us. I regret having to relinquish this original character.
During that hour, I remember three things vividly: his definition of being an agnostic, which he defined as “a cowardly atheist”; the way he spoke about his wife as a living presence in his life, even though she had passed away some time before; this towering figure shook hands with me and asked me to repeat my name several times so that he could register it and acknowledge my presence. For part of a crew (and a Web lackey at that) invading his home, this made me feel welcome — and special; and, I write this with a regret that pangs my heart, I didn’t take him up on his offer to have a snort of whiskey before the interview — even if it was before noon.
Oh how I wish I would’ve raised my one glass to him. I’ll raise it tonight instead.
(photo: trustynick/Flickr)

The Shot of Whiskey I Never Drank
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

Studs Terkel, the legendary radio personality and interviewer, died today. Nearly four years ago, I took my first production trip for SOF — and what a way to start things out — with an interview in his Chicago home. At the time (he was 92 then), he had taken a fall and thus was primarily confined to his bed, relocated to the first floor in the center of his living room.

We were prepared for an elderly man who may not have a lot of energy to make it through an hour. What we got was the same old dynamo that I’d seen and heard so many times. He was alive, and his vivacity energized all of us. I regret having to relinquish this original character.

During that hour, I remember three things vividly: his definition of being an agnostic, which he defined as “a cowardly atheist”; the way he spoke about his wife as a living presence in his life, even though she had passed away some time before; this towering figure shook hands with me and asked me to repeat my name several times so that he could register it and acknowledge my presence. For part of a crew (and a Web lackey at that) invading his home, this made me feel welcome — and special; and, I write this with a regret that pangs my heart, I didn’t take him up on his offer to have a snort of whiskey before the interview — even if it was before noon.

Oh how I wish I would’ve raised my one glass to him. I’ll raise it tonight instead.

(photo: trustynick/Flickr)

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When the Day Breaks
Andy Dayton, Associate Web Producer

This weekend I came across this beautiful animation created by Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis at the National Film Board of Canada, which somehow seems especially fitting for a Monday morning. What begins looking to be a cute and clever animals-behaving-like-humans story (I especially enjoyed the first character’s hat) takes a suddenly darker and more contemplative turn. I have to say, I’m quite amazed that the film’s creators were able to attain this kind of emotional depth in a story where all of the characters are anthropomorphized barnyard animals.

Note: If you have a faster Internet connection you may want to check out the higher-quality version.

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John O’Donohue’s Landscape

John O'Donohue in Ireland
Colleen Scheck, Producer

One of the exciting aspects of my job as a producer is the opportunities our web site opens up for multimedia content. As soon as we started producing this week’s program, I wanted our audience to be able to see the Irish landscape John O’Donohue described in his conversation with Krista. I desperately wanted to see it. I’m of Irish ancestry (75%!, I’d proudly tell people on St. Patrick’s Day as a kid, dressed in my Kelly green shirt with a “Kiss me, I’m Irish” button), and someday I hope to make it to that emerald isle.

When I asked John O’Donohue’s business manager, Linda, if she had any photos of John in Ireland, she graciously offered to put out a request to friends and family. Within days I’d received over a dozen photos of both the Connemara region where John most recently lived, and some of Fanore, a town in County Clare where John attended elementary school, and where he is now buried. Will O’Leary, a veteran Washington Post staff photographer and close friend of John’s, shared some of his photos. His wife, NPR reporter Jacki Lyden, was also a close friend of John’s (she recently offered a remembrance of him on NPR’s All Things Considered). Another longtime friend and professional photographer, Nutan, shared photos he took of John in 2005.

In producing the audio slideshow, I was struck with how well the photos illustrated O’Donohue’s language in his poem “Beannacht” — a word I’ve heard translated as both “blessing” and “passage.” It’s about finding comfort in loss, and I consciously tried to match the photos to the poem’s tone, mood, and pace. I learned that John wrote this poem for his mother, Josie, at the time of his father’s death. According to Linda, his father “…was a farmer and a gifted builder of dry stone walls — a dying art still much revered — from whom, John’s brother Pat said at his funeral, John learned the art of fitting words delicately and fittingly together.”

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