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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.

Don’t Believe Them

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

As if Ariel Dorfman's poem “Testament” isn't powerful enough, Harold Pinter had to read it. Chilling. Devastating.


A Silent Burial for My Family Who “Disappeared”

by Maria del Sol Crocker, guest contributor

Fernando Ramiro Curia
The author’s brother, first on the left with leather jacket, at wedding with Peronist Youth shortly before he disappeared. (courtesy of Maria del Sol Crocker)

I was born in Argentina, and came here after my marriage. Crocker is my married name; my original surname is Curia. My sister, Gloria Constanza Curia, and my brother Fernando Ramiro Curia, as well as my cousin Horacio Ponce, were kidnapped and killed by the military junta government in Argentina. They disappeared in 1976 and, like Mercedes Doretti says in her interview, my whole life froze.

I was unable to finish college. My mother went into deep depression. My little sister left our home and moved in with her boyfriend’s family.

We could not stand the silence in the house, a house that had been filled with music and joy, since both my brother and my sister played the guitar. We all used to sing together — mostly Argentinian folk music, Brazilian bossa nova, some tangos, Mercedes Sosa — and our friends would drop by in the evenings just to make music with us.

Gloria Constanza CuriaWe were submitted to a subtle kind of torture: every once in a while there would be an anonymous phone call with “news” from our siblings. I will never forget that one year we were told that they “would be back for Christmas.” That Christmas Eve night (in Latin America, the big celebration happens on the night that Christ was born) my mother refused to eat, to drink, to talk, waiting and waiting. Finally, she went to bed, heartbroken. After that day, we dreaded Christmas, because my mom would fall into her depression again.

After about ten years, I told my mother that they would not be coming back, and I offered to go through their belongings and decided what to do with them. I felt like I was burying them — going through my sister’s make up, her ballet clothes, my little brother’s shoes (so big, he was 17 when he was taken and had been growing so fast), his overcoat. So much pain, so little justice.

No, I do not hope to find that my brother and sister are alive. I am sure that they are in some mass grave in an unmarked location. It would be a wonderful closure to have their remains identified. The worse part is the uncertainty and the waiting.

As I try to understand, heal, and integrate these painful experiences, I have found that only Vedanta has a clear and acceptable explanation for what has been called the problem of the existence of evil. In the first place, there is the law of Karma, which basically is the law of cause as applied to our actions (and thoughts too!). That accounts for why “bad things happen to good people” and also gives me a larger overview on the concept of justice — meaning that no deed goes unpunished (or unrewarded). So I have come to accept that my siblings, my cousin, and all my “dissappeared” and dead friends had some karmic influences that were working themselves out.

Sometimes a soul needs to experience certain things in order to evolve in a particular area. And what may appear to be very negative occurrences turn out to be wonderful learning opportunities. I pray for the next incarnation of my siblings, that it may be a good one and lead them ever closer to the Goal.

Thank you for remembering them. Thank you for the poetry and the splendid music from my beautiful and wounded country.

Maria del Sol Crocker lives in Cohasset, Massachusetts.

We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on SOF Observed. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.


Humming a BBC Melody in Fascist Portugal

Maria Clara Paulino, guest contributor

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.

Papa Paulino on His Leather "Sofa"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.”

Clara PaulinoMs. 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.


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.