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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.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.
-

Philip Booth, from his poem “First Lesson”

I soooo appreciate how our readers leave these lovely citations in our comments sections.

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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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I feel more of these questions have been answered by being able to listen to people living life instead of reading from a book.
- —Abigail Mente, who submitted this reflection after listening to the Muslim voices featured in our programs “Revealing Ramadan” and “Living Islam.”
Comments
The Fall of the Wall, JFK’s Assassination, and Two Birthdays Krista Tippett, host
I was born on the night John F. Kennedy was elected president: November 9, 1960. To be more precise, the election itself was on November 8, but I was born in the wee hours of the night, in a long ago age before computerized returns, as his slim victory became apparent. My father paced the halls of the hospital with a transistor radio at his ear. He was a member of our local Oklahoma chapter of Young Democrats. He told me that I was the handsome president’s personal good luck charm. And so the Camelot president’s assassination is the earliest memory I recall — too early, some say, for me to really remember it, but I know I do. I can still feel the panic of the adults around me and the terrible sense that somehow I had failed.

Two decades later, I ended up spending most of the 1980s, most of my 20s, in a city that kept Kennedy’s memory alive like no other. He remained the unparalleled icon of the charismatic America that had rushed to Berlin’s side as the barbed wire beginnings of the Wall closed around it on August 13, 1961. I wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times when the Berlin Wall hit the quarter-century mark in 1986. By that time, it was 12-feet high — and two walls actually, with a no man’s land in between, scattered with tank traps, its every inch monitored by men with binoculars and guns. It wouldn’t be right to say that the Wall had gained acceptance in either of the German worlds it sliced apart. But it had become part of the fabric of reality, of life and imagination. And what really kept it standing was a rock-solid, ingrown fear — a faith, if you will — that the mighty Soviet Union would send in its tanks if those men with guns ever fell down on the job.
Gorbachev inspired a completely different kind of faith, one which evaporated that fear and revealed the Wall for what it was — slabs of concrete and asbestos manned by border guards, who were human beings, after all, and could not possibly resist the peaceful crush of the entire city of East Berlin moving towards them, unafraid, on the night of November 9, 1989. And so it was on my 29th birthday that I learned, stepping off an airplane in Oklahoma, that the wall had opened up.

The suddenness of the Wall’s fall utterly defied the imagination of everyone living closest to it. Even with Gorbachev, and the political changes that rolled across Eastern Europe in the mid-80s, no one really believed it could open up from one day to the next. I recently learned that one of my great friends and colleagues from those years, John Tagliabue of The New York Times, spent the evening of November 9 watching television in a hotel room in Warsaw with the West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who was as stupefied by the turn of events as anyone else. I could never have imagined that I would one day walk across a bridge that had separated me by less than a mile from an East German family I loved, but had been an impassable border zone throughout our friendship.

Or that I would stroll through the inner wall and the outer wall minus the tank traps, as people chiseled and hammered out pieces to sell or to save for posterity. Nor could I have anticipated the magical reunion I would have with some East German artist friends in Austria for the Christmas of 1989. I would be there as they and their children saw mountains for the first time.

I hold these memories as a reminder that there is at any given moment much we don’t see, and more change possible than we can begin to imagine. I recently had a lovely conversation, that will air on our show in early December, with Bill McKibben. He and I are exact contemporaries; we were both born in 1960 and in college for the same four years. In 1989, he was publishing The End of Nature — the first book about the then-obscure subject of climate change. As I learned from him, though, the science of climate change had begun to emerge at the height of the Cold War. Already in 1957, two scientists at the Scripps Institution described their findings that humanity had initiated an unprecedented “geophysical experiment” that it might not survive. And if humanity is around to write history in a century or two, what was happening with the climate in 1960 and 1989 may dwarf what we perceived as the great dramas we were living through.
I draw caution as well as hope from the fact that history tends to surprise us. And I think I’ve had enough historically momentous birthdays for one lifetime.
The Fall of the Wall, JFK’s Assassination, and Two Birthdays Krista Tippett, host
I was born on the night John F. Kennedy was elected president: November 9, 1960. To be more precise, the election itself was on November 8, but I was born in the wee hours of the night, in a long ago age before computerized returns, as his slim victory became apparent. My father paced the halls of the hospital with a transistor radio at his ear. He was a member of our local Oklahoma chapter of Young Democrats. He told me that I was the handsome president’s personal good luck charm. And so the Camelot president’s assassination is the earliest memory I recall — too early, some say, for me to really remember it, but I know I do. I can still feel the panic of the adults around me and the terrible sense that somehow I had failed.

Two decades later, I ended up spending most of the 1980s, most of my 20s, in a city that kept Kennedy’s memory alive like no other. He remained the unparalleled icon of the charismatic America that had rushed to Berlin’s side as the barbed wire beginnings of the Wall closed around it on August 13, 1961. I wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times when the Berlin Wall hit the quarter-century mark in 1986. By that time, it was 12-feet high — and two walls actually, with a no man’s land in between, scattered with tank traps, its every inch monitored by men with binoculars and guns. It wouldn’t be right to say that the Wall had gained acceptance in either of the German worlds it sliced apart. But it had become part of the fabric of reality, of life and imagination. And what really kept it standing was a rock-solid, ingrown fear — a faith, if you will — that the mighty Soviet Union would send in its tanks if those men with guns ever fell down on the job.
Gorbachev inspired a completely different kind of faith, one which evaporated that fear and revealed the Wall for what it was — slabs of concrete and asbestos manned by border guards, who were human beings, after all, and could not possibly resist the peaceful crush of the entire city of East Berlin moving towards them, unafraid, on the night of November 9, 1989. And so it was on my 29th birthday that I learned, stepping off an airplane in Oklahoma, that the wall had opened up.

The suddenness of the Wall’s fall utterly defied the imagination of everyone living closest to it. Even with Gorbachev, and the political changes that rolled across Eastern Europe in the mid-80s, no one really believed it could open up from one day to the next. I recently learned that one of my great friends and colleagues from those years, John Tagliabue of The New York Times, spent the evening of November 9 watching television in a hotel room in Warsaw with the West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who was as stupefied by the turn of events as anyone else. I could never have imagined that I would one day walk across a bridge that had separated me by less than a mile from an East German family I loved, but had been an impassable border zone throughout our friendship.

Or that I would stroll through the inner wall and the outer wall minus the tank traps, as people chiseled and hammered out pieces to sell or to save for posterity. Nor could I have anticipated the magical reunion I would have with some East German artist friends in Austria for the Christmas of 1989. I would be there as they and their children saw mountains for the first time.

I hold these memories as a reminder that there is at any given moment much we don’t see, and more change possible than we can begin to imagine. I recently had a lovely conversation, that will air on our show in early December, with Bill McKibben. He and I are exact contemporaries; we were both born in 1960 and in college for the same four years. In 1989, he was publishing The End of Nature — the first book about the then-obscure subject of climate change. As I learned from him, though, the science of climate change had begun to emerge at the height of the Cold War. Already in 1957, two scientists at the Scripps Institution described their findings that humanity had initiated an unprecedented “geophysical experiment” that it might not survive. And if humanity is around to write history in a century or two, what was happening with the climate in 1960 and 1989 may dwarf what we perceived as the great dramas we were living through.
I draw caution as well as hope from the fact that history tends to surprise us. And I think I’ve had enough historically momentous birthdays for one lifetime.

The Fall of the Wall, JFK’s Assassination, and Two Birthdays
Krista Tippett, host

I was born on the night John F. Kennedy was elected president: November 9, 1960. To be more precise, the election itself was on November 8, but I was born in the wee hours of the night, in a long ago age before computerized returns, as his slim victory became apparent. My father paced the halls of the hospital with a transistor radio at his ear. He was a member of our local Oklahoma chapter of Young Democrats. He told me that I was the handsome president’s personal good luck charm. And so the Camelot president’s assassination is the earliest memory I recall — too early, some say, for me to really remember it, but I know I do. I can still feel the panic of the adults around me and the terrible sense that somehow I had failed.

Two decades later, I ended up spending most of the 1980s, most of my 20s, in a city that kept Kennedy’s memory alive like no other. He remained the unparalleled icon of the charismatic America that had rushed to Berlin’s side as the barbed wire beginnings of the Wall closed around it on August 13, 1961. I wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times when the Berlin Wall hit the quarter-century mark in 1986. By that time, it was 12-feet high — and two walls actually, with a no man’s land in between, scattered with tank traps, its every inch monitored by men with binoculars and guns. It wouldn’t be right to say that the Wall had gained acceptance in either of the German worlds it sliced apart. But it had become part of the fabric of reality, of life and imagination. And what really kept it standing was a rock-solid, ingrown fear — a faith, if you will — that the mighty Soviet Union would send in its tanks if those men with guns ever fell down on the job.

Gorbachev inspired a completely different kind of faith, one which evaporated that fear and revealed the Wall for what it was — slabs of concrete and asbestos manned by border guards, who were human beings, after all, and could not possibly resist the peaceful crush of the entire city of East Berlin moving towards them, unafraid, on the night of November 9, 1989. And so it was on my 29th birthday that I learned, stepping off an airplane in Oklahoma, that the wall had opened up.

bridge-friends

The suddenness of the Wall’s fall utterly defied the imagination of everyone living closest to it. Even with Gorbachev, and the political changes that rolled across Eastern Europe in the mid-80s, no one really believed it could open up from one day to the next. I recently learned that one of my great friends and colleagues from those years, John Tagliabue of The New York Times, spent the evening of November 9 watching television in a hotel room in Warsaw with the West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who was as stupefied by the turn of events as anyone else. I could never have imagined that I would one day walk across a bridge that had separated me by less than a mile from an East German family I loved, but had been an impassable border zone throughout our friendship.

Or that I would stroll through the inner wall and the outer wall minus the tank traps, as people chiseled and hammered out pieces to sell or to save for posterity. Nor could I have anticipated the magical reunion I would have with some East German artist friends in Austria for the Christmas of 1989. I would be there as they and their children saw mountains for the first time.

I hold these memories as a reminder that there is at any given moment much we don’t see, and more change possible than we can begin to imagine. I recently had a lovely conversation, that will air on our show in early December, with Bill McKibben. He and I are exact contemporaries; we were both born in 1960 and in college for the same four years. In 1989, he was publishing The End of Nature — the first book about the then-obscure subject of climate change. As I learned from him, though, the science of climate change had begun to emerge at the height of the Cold War. Already in 1957, two scientists at the Scripps Institution described their findings that humanity had initiated an unprecedented “geophysical experiment” that it might not survive. And if humanity is around to write history in a century or two, what was happening with the climate in 1960 and 1989 may dwarf what we perceived as the great dramas we were living through.

I draw caution as well as hope from the fact that history tends to surprise us. And I think I’ve had enough historically momentous birthdays for one lifetime.

Comments

"Looking Out for Hope"
Trent Gilliss, online editor

It’s been some time since I’ve posted a Friday video snack. I don’t know about you, but these last few months have been a blur — hectic and almost harrowing at times. And there is good, a lot of good, that’s come of meeting new people and sharing our work and talking to long-lost friends back home.

Looking for a contemplative moment, an adult time-out, a centering event, I was lucky enough to happen upon this short film that puts into play Bryan Mallessa's fictional letter to Raymond Carver with music by the band Low. The film’s remarkably meditative in its quietude for the medium. It allows one ten minutes to reflect, to peer into blizzard and cold, to think about hard times, and the joy of the road ahead.

(h/t things are happening*)

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