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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.

The perfect conversation for summer on the value of play throughout our lives.

What’s so fascinating is how Dr. Stuart Brown first come to study play — by studying mass murderer Charles Whitman:

"In 1966 when I was just beginning to take over and office as an assistant professor of psychiatry, a young man by the name of Charles Whitman went up to the Texas Tower in Austin, Texas, after killing his wife and mother. He perpetrated what was then the largest mass murder in the history of the United States, killing 17 additional people and wounding 41. And because I had done some studies of violence in the course of my residency in neurology and psychiatry, and because in August in Texas most people who are important are elsewhere, I was put in charge of the behavioral aspect of trying to figure out why Charles Whitman did this horrendous crime. And we brought in the world’s experts to try to figure out the motivation of Charles Whitman, even though he had been killed by vigilante crossfire at the top of the tower.

And so for a very intense period of time, in addition to doing very detailed toxicologic and — studies of his body, we retrieved as much information as possible from his prenatal area all the way up to the last hours before he died. And without going through that entire story, one of the major conclusions, which struck me and has certainly stuck with me since, was that a remarkably systematic suppression of any free play — which was largely the result of his father’s overbearing and intense personality — prevented Charles Whitman from engaging in normal play at virtually any era of his life, including his early infancy.

We thought at the end of the Whitman study that this was such a bizarre aberration in human behavior that it probably was not something one could generalize from. So as a result of the funding available and the availability of research subjects in the prison system in Texas, a team of us then studied all the young murderers whose crime was essentially homicide without their being career criminals, and we did an in-depth study of them, their families, and compared them to as well-matched a control and comparison population as we could. And, lo and behold, we discovered that the majority of them — in fact 90% level — had really bizarre, absent, deficient, seriously deviant play histories.”

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A little girl expresses her joy at the beauty of springtime in Kent in 1946.
It’s this kind of play that Dr. Stuart Brown, director of the National Institute of Play says teaches empathy, trust, irony, and problem solving.
(Photo by George Konig/Keystone Features/Getty Images)

A little girl expresses her joy at the beauty of springtime in Kent in 1946.

It’s this kind of play that Dr. Stuart Brown, director of the National Institute of Play says teaches empathy, trust, irony, and problem solving.

(Photo by George Konig/Keystone Features/Getty Images)

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“There is in Celtic mythology the notion of ‘thin places’ in the universe where the visible and the invisible world come into their closest proximity. To seek such places is the vocation of the wise and the good — and for those that find them, the clearest communication between the temporal and eternal. Mountains and rivers are particularly favored as thin places marking invariably as they do, the horizontal and perpendicular frontiers. But perhaps the ultimate of these thin places in the human condition are the experiences people are likely to have as they encounter suffering, joy, and mystery.”
~Peter Gomes, as quoted in Sarah Blanton’s lovely meditation on thin places on the waters of Tennessee.

“There is in Celtic mythology the notion of ‘thin places’ in the universe where the visible and the invisible world come into their closest proximity. To seek such places is the vocation of the wise and the good — and for those that find them, the clearest communication between the temporal and eternal. Mountains and rivers are particularly favored as thin places marking invariably as they do, the horizontal and perpendicular frontiers. But perhaps the ultimate of these thin places in the human condition are the experiences people are likely to have as they encounter suffering, joy, and mystery.”

~Peter Gomes, as quoted in Sarah Blanton’s lovely meditation on thin places on the waters of Tennessee.

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"Joy is everywhere; it is in the earth’s green covering of grass; in the blue serenity of the sky; in the reckless exuberance of spring; in the severe abstinence of grey winter; in the living flesh that animates our bodily frame; in the perfect poise of the human figure, noble and upright; in living; in the exercise of all our powers; in the acquisition of knowledge; in fighting evils; in dying for gains we never can share. Joy is there everywhere."
~Rabindranath Tagore, from Sadhana: The Realisation of Life
These nuns playing basketball in 1965 bring a smile to my face. What joy!
(Photo by Express Newspapers/Getty Images)

"Joy is everywhere; it is in the earth’s green covering of grass; in the blue serenity of the sky; in the reckless exuberance of spring; in the severe abstinence of grey winter; in the living flesh that animates our bodily frame; in the perfect poise of the human figure, noble and upright; in living; in the exercise of all our powers; in the acquisition of knowledge; in fighting evils; in dying for gains we never can share. Joy is there everywhere."

~Rabindranath Tagore, from Sadhana: The Realisation of Life

These nuns playing basketball in 1965 bring a smile to my face. What joy!

(Photo by Express Newspapers/Getty Images)

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Crow’s Word

The Crow

You’re likely to outlive some of your greatest joys. Don’t let that be the only period in your life when you become highly aware of them. Notice joy now and it will help you become a person of peace, integrity, and strength when there is less joy in your life.

Crow’s Word
His note, dawn’s foil —
One blow to fill her pale blue bell with sound,
One impulse to deliver; that serves to sever bonds
Of all things that entangle, sully, soil.

This is the Word that blasts the sap,
The sound of force
That lifts the arms of trees;
That fashions-forth the branches from within
To raise this world of darkwood iron all around;
This the rising sound
Of the very juice by which the ground toils,
Becomes each massive trunk and slender tendril coil
Upright, upreared, at prayer.

Bright above, the morning sky awakens,
She blues and beckons like a mother’s eye toward which
The sun climbs, wings beat a path, while feet
With new-found ease
Like light along the spangled grass self-hurl,
Fast follow down that one windfall trail
Being blazed toward Canaan by what lives.

Let this day go gray, grow disenchanted:
I know the crow.

Text and poem excerpted from “On Being More Than Ourselves Alone.” Read more of Paul Martin’s complete essay.

Tagged: #poetry #joy #living
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Landing in Israel with Thunderous Applause

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Fellow passenger deboarding the plane in Tel Aviv. (photo: Trent Gilliss)

What you can’t see in the photo above is the incredible sound of raucous applause and joyful laughter that preceded this shot about a minute earlier. Touching the ground in Tel Aviv was met with glee that rang out across the rows of the 747.

I sense it’s more than the appreciative clapping after a rough-and-tumble trans-Atlantic ride. It’s the Holy Land. German travel groups and little old ladies from Austin, Texas, Hasids from Queens and Israeli citizens were filled with the exuberance of a sacred land and filled with the hopes and dreams of this special place.

Not everyone on our staff thought it was as endearing or charming. They may be right, but I’ll hold on to my naivete a bit longer and thank all my fellow passengers for the lovely moment.

Kate and Kristat at Passport Control at Ben Gurion
Krista and Kate kindly pose at the Israeli customs gate. (photo: Trent Gilliss)

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