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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.

Honoring His Father and Faith: A Mennonite Tests His Peace Stance

by Bruce Stambaugh, guest contributor

Mr. Stambaugh Visiting the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C.Bruce Stambaugh’s father, a World War II veteran, visits the National WWII Memorial as part of the Honor Flight project. (photo: Bruce Stambaugh)

Forty years ago, the very first sermon I heard preached in a Mennonite church was on non-resistance. It was exactly what I was looking for spiritually, and I embraced it. My father, a World War II veteran, was skeptical, but eventually accepted my decision.

Four decades later, I accompanied my 89-year-old father on a special excursion called Honor Flight for World War II vets. Dad was dying of cancer, and he had long wanted to make this trip to Washington, D.C. Regardless of their physical condition, each of the 117 vets on the plane was required to have a guardian for the all-day roundtrip. In his situation, Dad needed extra care.

Given my non-resistance stance on war, I was reluctant to go. I likely would be the only conscientious objector on the packed plane. But this trip wasn’t about me. It was about my father fulfilling one of his dreams. I needed to go with him, regardless of my personal convictions.

As anticipated, the vets received their patriotic just due. Upon landing at Reagan National Airport, fire trucks sprayed arches of water across our arriving jetliner — a ritual usually reserved for dignitaries. As we exited the plane and entered the terminal, a concert band played the patriotic music of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and “God Bless America.” Dozens of bouquets of red, white, and blue balloons tied to posts and chairs bobbed in the air. Hundreds of volunteers young and old vigorously greeted us.

The entourage visited several war monuments in the U.S. capital that day. At the circular, granite National World War II Memorial, strangers approached the vets with reverence and emotionally shared their gratefulness. Mr. Stambaugh at the World War II MemorialThey shook the vets’ hands and thanked them for their service. I quietly took it all in, tears streaming, emotions and thoughts mentally whirling. Still, I tried to focus my attention on caring for my elderly father.

Returning to the airport later that same day, the vets received a similar patriotic welcome home. Dad said his experience ranked right behind his marriage of 67 years. With that comment, I was glad that I had the chance to experience that day with my father. I felt honored and glad he was able to go. Dad died three months later.

Despite all the hoopla of the day — or perhaps because of it — the futility of war became all the more obvious to me. The events reinforced my non-resistance stance. In listening to the vets on the plane and buses that transported us throughout the day, I heard them all say that they hated what they had to do. I also remembered the words of Jesus, who said to turn the other cheek and go the second mile and beyond for your enemy.

For a day, I had one foot on the foundation of God and country and the other on the teachings of Jesus. The trip with my father was an inspirational reminder of the commitment I made as a young man to a different way of making peace in a hostile world. Because of this experience, I bonded with my father in his time of need, and I greatly respected what my father and the other veterans on the flight had done. Yet, I knew I could not have done what they had — not because of cowardice, but out of conviction.

I had participated in the Honor Flight out of love and respect for my earthly father. I had held fast to my peace convictions out of love and devotion to my Father in heaven. In that paradox, I found no conflict whatsoever.


brucestambaughBruce Stambaugh is a retired educator and a freelance writer living in Millersburg, Ohio. You can read more of his writing on his blog at Roadkill Crossing, and Other Tales from Amish Country.

We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the On Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

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Johnny Cash and Shel Silverstein Sing Together in 1970 (video)

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

It was inevitable that the “man in black” would come up during our interview with Rosanne Cash the week before Thanksgiving. What didn’t come up in the conversation was talk about Johnny Cash’s many friendships and endeavors, including hosting his own variety show on television from 1969 to 1971.

This delightful duet of “Boy Named Sue” with Shel Silverstein, a prolific songwriter and the man who wrote the song, showcases one of those friendships. The poet and children’s book author (yes, I still get choked up when reading The Giving Tree to my boys) then performs “Daddy, What If,” introducing the children’s song with a touching comment about his relationship with his father. That fondness for his own father was mirrored in the way Rosanne Cash spoke about her daddy too.

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Into the Wilderness: Parenting a Terminally Ill Child

by Emily Rapp, guest contributor

Acubaby Ronan

"You feel your obligation to a child when you have seen it and held it. Any human face is a claim on you, because you can’t help but understand the singularity of it, the courage and loneliness of it. But this is truest of the face of an infant. I consider that to be one kind of vision, as mystical as any." ~from Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

I woke up and held my son for a long, long time. I’d been gone for three days at the National Tay-Sachs and Allied Disorders Family Conference and had missed him terribly. Driving through Boston on the way to the airport, I told my friend Kate that it was so difficult, so impossible even, so disastrous to imagine feeling that way forever. The missing, the ache.

We agreed that, say what you will about heaven or where we go or visions of the afterlife, the truth about someone being dead is that they’re gone from this life, right now, here on earth, with you. That particular person has been removed from your particular life. That’s the gut punch and there is no balm for that, no platitude, no prayer, and, I would argue, no belief even that will fix it. My son will be dead within three years and there’s nothing I can do about it.

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Deb Roy’s TED Talk: The Blossoming of a Speech Form

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Deb Roy Spaghetti PathsIf you heard our show this week with psycholinguist Jean Berko Gleason, you heard a few excerpts from Deb Roy’s speech at TED about “the birth of a word.” The MIT researcher wired all of the rooms of his house with video cameras and microphones so that he could better understand how his son learned language. During three years, he captured 90,000 hours of video, 140,000 hours of audio totaling about 200 terabytes of data.

Deb Roy Word LandscapesThe social ramifications of this are incredible to think about, and the landscape of where we learn language and the events that create conversation that surfaces in our culture are equally mind-blowing. His research might inform not only how we learn but the values and influence of pivotal players in the development of our local and national conversations.

Here’s the transcript to accompany Deb Roy’s twenty-minute presentation:

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In spite of everything that’s gone before, the last 12 months have been the happiest and most special of my life. To become a parent is a blessing I never imagined might be bestowed upon me until recently. It’s an awe-inspiring responsibility and both David and I are determined to fulfil that responsibility — not just to our son but to his generation. We want him to grow up in a Britain where every young person is not just loved as much as we love him, but is afforded fair treatment and respect. However, as we start thinking about Zachary’s future education, it’s clear that this Britain doesn’t exist yet.
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Elton John on Comment is Free, "I want Zachary to grow up in a world without homophobia"

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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I Am from… Fire

by Angela Blake, guest contributor

SevenPhoto by Alicia Reiner/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I am from fire.

I’m from the fire my father had for life and the fire my mother had for living. His was fueled by parties, drugs, wit, and self-involvement, hers by longing, anger, spite, and sweat. He was vivid; he hit her skin like sunshine and she finally felt warmth from an external source. She smoldered. He was curious to know how her sweat turned to the steam that hovered over her skin. What was her heat source? How could someone burn so hot without catching fire?

In the end, he combusted, was consumed by his own fire. In his 30’s, he was raging out of control, in his 40’s he was a smoking pile of embers. Today, he’s ash. He is gray and the heft of him scatters with the slightest breeze. Even his wit burned away. His heat from the outside stoked her burning on the inside and she nearly exploded. She had to protect herself or be destroyed.

She put down her longing, anger, and spite and put in more sweat. She worked and struggled and toiled and fought — she sweat, sweat, sweat, sweat — until the steam rose and condensed and rose and condensed, protecting her from the fire that was him and keeping the burn inside of her. It was a kiln, churning and working — always working — to produce something better, something that wasn’t just burning away life, but something that was living. She wanted to go on living, she needed to keep on living. She couldn’t let him take her, too. She couldn’t be burned away too. She had to work, work, sweat, sweat, burn, burn!

And I was born. I was ignited and her steamy sweat cooled me so I wouldn’t burn away. His flames, her burning, my birth.

I am living with a pocket full of ashes and a stomach full of embers. I am from fire.


Angela BlakeAngela Blake lives in South Bend, Indiana and regularly rants, rambles, and reflects on life as a black chick in the Midwest at Afro(ec)centric.

Angela submitted this essay in response to our call-out for readers to fill in the blank, “I am from…” If you’d like to finish this phrase and share something about yourself, your heritage, your geography, your interior mind, your imaginings or vulnerabilities, read the simple guidelines and submit your work for consideration.

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The Dismantling of Lives: Coming Through for Someone Else

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

"It’s a prime time of my life, and I basically gave it away."

Julie Winokur uprooted her husband Ed Kashi and two children from San Francisco, California to New Jersey to take care of Herbie, her 83-year-old father with dementia. This film is an intimate portrait of a family who is “doing the right thing” but are struggling with the demands of caregiving and managing daily lives of work and school.

Julie Winokur with Father at HospitalYou witness the love and the anguish of a multi-generational household making things work; it seems like the mental health of all, especially Julie, are in peril. The stakes are high, but so are the consequences if they chose a different course.

Although “The Sandwich Generation” primarily focuses on the voices of the caregivers, the most agonizing and heartbreaking part of the film comes at about the seven-minute mark. In this scene, a deconstruction crew is cleaning out Herbie’s home that he’s lived in for more than 40 years. Glass is crashing, boxes of his personal items are being heaved into a dumpster, and he’s left standing in his garage holding an old set of golf clubs he doesn’t want to let go. We never really get to know the man at the core of this picture. He’s discussed, he’s photographed, he’s cared for, he even sings a little at the end, but he remains on the periphery in a sense. And this scene grabs the onlooker and shakes us.

Looking for an image that could capture the depth of this week’s show on the "far shore of aging" resulted in this complicated portrait on the spectrum of caregiving from MediaStorm. But it also introduced me to an incredible series of photographs by Ed Kashi titled "Aging in America." Eight years later, it’s more important now than ever.

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Music has always been incredibly cathartic for me, whether it’s writing my own stuff or singing other people’s music; it’s very freeing. But it did take me a long while to be able to write again because I was just too far down a deep dark hole to do anything. I had to crawl back up, get some light in and have some objectivity before I could start writing again.
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Sarah McLachlan~Sarah McLachlan

The Canadian singer talks parenting, divorce, depression, and songwriting in her interview with Spinner.

—Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Wishing for Less Time

by Leah Elliott, guest contributor

Autumn is here(photo: Leandro Pérez/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0)

I never used to go anywhere without my cell phone. It was not only a means of communication, but my sole timepiece, and not knowing the time made me crazy.

That all changed one afternoon when my oldest son was two years old. After four years of living in the Southwest and its two seasons of hot and hotter, we moved to the upper Midwest. I couldn’t wait to experience the change in seasons, so one crisp October day I packed up my son and a picnic lunch and headed to a nearby state park to see some fall colors.

When we arrived, I unfastened the buckles of his car seat, retrieved our lunch, and instinctively reached for my cell phone. Then I paused.

It was one of those rare days when I had no other obligations or deadlines. My husband was on a business trip, so there was no one waiting for us to come home. I asked myself, 'What if I just don’t worry about time today?'

I returned my cell phone to its resting place among the loose coins in front of the gear shift and turned my full attention to enjoying the afternoon with my son.

After our picnic lunch, we wandered over to a pile of fallen leaves. My son splashed through them up to his thighs, tossed them in the air, and giggled as I buried him over and over. “Wow!” he gushed appreciatively as gusts of wind rearranged the pile and made little leaf cyclones.

While he was enthralled, I felt myself growing bored and impatient. I wanted to pull out my “five more minutes” ultimatum and move on to something I deemed more interesting; but, without my phone, I would have had no way of knowing when five minutes had passed. Then I reminded myself, 'There is nothing you have to do today except be with your little boy.'

I gave myself over to the freedom of not worrying about what would come next. Right now, nothing mattered except sharing in my son’s joy of as he raced through those leaves.

We went for a walk and came to a bridge spanning a river. I let him run back and forth across it as many times as he wanted, a carefree “Whee!” accompanying each crossing. We wandered farther up the path. He peered at the insects hopping through the tall grass, and I was right there with him. The ability to share in his wonder and curiosity came naturally once I quit clinging to a preconceived schedule.

When he tired of walking, we headed back to the car. I welcomed the delay when some flowers caught his attention. We stooped and examined them to his satisfaction before moving on.

I can’t tell you whether that afternoon lasted one hour or four, but I do know that we both had the time of our lives. Eckhart Tolle points out that humans existed for millennia without clocks. Our modern obsession with time perplexes me when I remember this. I wish for less attachment to time. I wish for more afternoons when time doesn’t matter. I wish for my son’s ability to be fully in the present moment.

I have to live by the clock day-to-day to keep appointments, interact with the adults in my life, and meet my children’s all-important bedtime deadline each night. Whenever I can, though, I put all my clocks out of sight and out of mind. I let my children take the lead and slip into their world, where nothing matters but the present moment and time is reckoned in hugs and laughs instead of hours and minutes.


Leah ElliottLeah Elliott lives with her two sons in Fargo, North Dakota, where she is working on a master’s degree in vocal performance. She blogs about carving out a spiritual life post-Mormonism at The Whole of All the Earth.

We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Get published by forwarding your original work on our submissions page.

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The Act of Parenting Is Folding the Towels in a Sweet Way

by Krista Tippett, host

Sylvia Boorstein makes a point during her interview with Krista Tippett.

I picked up Sylvia Boorstein's lovely book That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Buddhist years ago and loved it. Then, three years ago, I found myself on a panel discussion with her and loved her in person.

I was struck in that discussion by one story she told, about a man who participated in one of her meditation and Metta or “lovingkindness” retreats; she conducts these for Buddhist practitioners but also for rabbis and clergy and lay people of many traditions. As this man prepared to pack up and go home, he described an unsettling sense of vulnerability, of openness to life which also meant that his defenses were down. He felt blessedly sheltered in the context of that retreat but far too exposed to take his newfound vulnerability out into the world.

This has its corollary in becoming a parent, I think. One’s sense of sovereignty and safety goes into freefall — and stays there. But no one tells you this in advance! As the French theologian Louis Evely beautifully put it:

"(W)hen one becomes a father, or a mother, one suddenly sees oneself as vulnerable, in the most sensitive part of one’s being; one is completely powerless to defend oneself, one is no longer free, one is tied up. To become a father is to experience an infinite dependency on an infinitely small, frail being, dependent on us and therefore omnipotent over our heart."

So how to live, how to love, how to know what we can do (and what we can’t) to raise children who will participate in the world’s beauty and its pain and be safe inside their skin. This too is a conundrum, a daunting challenge that we rarely name together. But it is always there if we are raising children not merely to be successful (and there’s lots of advice about that), but to be good and grounded and kind.

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As you might hear in the audio above, I went into this conversation with Sylvia Boorstein hoping for some practical wisdom about imparting such qualities of character. In the course of our time together, some of it in exchange with an audience of others with children in their lives, we circled back to the simplest and most daunting reality of all: our children are likely, in the end, to act and live as we act and live. Nurturing their inner lives means nurturing our inner lives, for their sake.

I couldn’t have found a better conversation partner on this. Sylvia Boorstein has four grown children and seven grandchildren, and her spiritual practice is blessedly reality-based. Buddhism, of course, is at its core about embracing reality head on, about minimizing suffering in life by first acknowledging that suffering is a fact of life and resolving not to make it worse.

So, as she describes, this spiritual practice has helped her grasp that her lifelong tendency to worry is simply a quality she possesses, no more remarkable than the fact that she is short and has brown hair. Others of us may have a tendency towards anger, or to reach for sensory comfort when life throws its curve balls. The trick for achieving balance and joy in our own lives — a trick made both harder and more important by the presence of children who exhaust as well as delight us — is first to know this about ourselves.

Spiritual parenting, as Sylvia Boorstein describes it, is not about adding work or effort to our overly busy lives. It is about self-knowledge and “wise effort” that helps us live gracefully moment by moment. It is manifest as much in how we fold the laundry as in how we discipline or praise our children. She offers this, for example, as a simple piece of effort that can reorient our attitudes and responses in all kinds of situations. Rather than asking, “Am I pleased?” in any given situation, we can ask instead, “In this moment, am I able to care?”

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The Unasked Questions for Sylvia Boorstein

by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

My angry self

"How can I catch my angry self before it catches me!?"

This is one of many anonymous questions posed by the 300 people who came out to hear Krista interview Sylvia Boorstein at a live event in Birmingham, Michigan last month. The theme of their conversation: “Raising Children in Complex Times.” Now in her 70’s, Boorstein is best known as a Buddhist meditation teacher and author. She’s quick to define herself as both a mother and grandmother.

We came away from this event with a big stack of question cards, many of which didn’t get posed because of time. Here’s a sampler:

Toughening kids

"Sometimes my husband will say - we need to toughen these kids up; they have to live in a tough world.  How do we balance teaching them kindness/gentleness versus being tough."

Words of comfort

"What words of comfort can we say to our children (22 yrs) when faced with health issues. (Can be major or minor)."

Cultivating caring

"In a time of overbearing parenting and institutionalized narcisism [sic], how do we cultivate caring?"

Spiritual principles for 6-year old

"Spiritual principles for a 6 yr old.  My daughter is 6 — she asks many questions about ‘God.’  Other than modeling behavior do you have other suggestions on how to discuss spirituality when my spirituality is so abstract?"

Anxiety and parenting

"Growing up in an alcoholic family, and with anxiety as an adult, how does one manage anxiety with parenting?"

Looking at the anonymous cards, each one with its distinctive handwriting, I imagine a person on the other side with a longing for their question to be answered.

Which of these questions speak to you? And what responses would you offer?

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As Muslim parents, it seems like the choices we make raising children are more critical and have a much more lasting impact than the average American family. We can not necessarily rely on mainstream society to help us enforce values and increase self acceptance in our children. And, with families being so far apart and nuclear families being the norm, there is a lot of pressure on parents to take full responsibility in raising children by themselves. I sometimes wonder if the modern lifestyle and the mentality that we are somehow able to ‘have it all’ just sets us up for failure.
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Hanieh Razzagh, a new mother reflects on raising her daughter in this post from the Ink Paper Mosaic blog.

Parents of two young boys, my wife and I no longer live near our extended families. Although we are of European and Roman Catholic heritage, we have similar concerns about raising family in contemporary life with social expectations. It can be quite exhausting, but, we also feel fortunate that they have wonderful teachers and caretakers at a local Jewish community center. They help us fill a bit of that void of not being able to daily hug their grandparents, visit with their aunts and uncles, and play with all their cousins.

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