Stories of Laughter and of Tears

On the return drive from taking Nathan to the airport (for a trip related to the mysterious possibilities that I am still not talking about) I listened to NPR shows that he had downloaded for the drive. As usual, I laughed, I got frustrated and I cried.

But this time the tears came from a hurt deep inside.

It all started with This American Life as I tuned into Alison Silverman’s report on the 1950’s television show This Is Your Life.  I know that I watched reruns of that show as a child, or at least saw clips. I vaguely recall creating our own versions of the show when we decided to create our own radio/television shows. Somewhere in the collection of memorabilia at my parents house lies an old orange-labeled cassette tape containing a radio show filled with childish lisps, lame jokes, bad accents, sound effects and giggles. If I had the power, I would share a clip with you here.

But this isn’t about those childhood memories. This is about my focus on sharing stories. Silverman’s report brought to life the dual sided gift of sharing someone’s life story in a public venue. The first story to make me sob was that of a Holocaust survivor, Hanna Bloch Kohner.  Her initial reaction to the words, “This is Your Life Hanna Bloch Kohner!” was a somewhat agonized (or at least it sounded that way to me) “Oh, no.”   During the half hour show, she was reunited with a fellow survivor who moved from camp to camp with her and was reminded of the death of her parents and her husband.  She had to talk about her 7 years of horror, including being handed a bar of soap and not knowing whether the shower she entered would be one of water or of gas.

That story over, I thought my tears would diminish. But no, next Silverman shares another This is Your Life about a Japanese man who survived the bombing of Hiroshima and was travelling around the United States to raise money for reconstructive surgery for some young female survivors. He meets his past in as dramatic a way as possible; they brought the co-pilot of the Enola Gay on to shake his hand.

“How could they be so cruel?” I said out loud through my tears (appreciating the fact that I was alone in the car). I thought it was cruelty to both men; one who had to confront the enemy who destroyed his city with a bomb, and one who had to confront the reality of what that bomb did to human beings.

Why would we find entertainment in reminding people of true evil or about the most horrific times of their lives? I thought to myself. Why are so many people fascinated by “reality” television?

As I worked my way through my tears and the agony of my thoughts, I began to glimpse the answer in Silverman’s words:

Even in its heyday, ThisisYourLife raised hackles. Time magazine called Ralph Edwards a spiritual prosecutor to his guests. And Jack Gould at the New York Timesaccused the show and others like it of exploiting the raw and private emotions of the unfortunate. But the unfortunate, they liked it. ThisisYourLife might have exploited your story, but it also told you your story, gave it to you, and once you had it you could do whatever you wanted with it.

Hanna’s daughter, Julie Kohner, told me that her mother spent the year after the show traveling around the country with a copy of her episode raising money for United Jewish Appeal. On Passover, the Kohner family would play it on the gift projector they got on ThisisYourLife. Years later, Hanna and her husband, Walter, even published a joint autobiography, HannaandWalter:a Love Story.

And as brutal as his episode seems today, Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto had fond memories of his appearance. His daughter, Koko Kondo, who was on the telecast as a 10-year-old told me when English speaking guests would visit, Tanimoto would play them the episode on his gift projector. He wasn’t horrified by meeting Captain Lewis, the co-pilot of the Enola Gay. In fact, the two of them started writing each other after the show. And Koko Kondo says Captain Lewis changed her whole attitude about the old enemy. Seeing him tear up on stage at the El Capitan, she stopped hating American soldiers. (Silverman)

You see, it all comes back to the importance of STORY. When we share stories of horror, of sadness, and of pain, it allows us to heal. When we share stories full of laughter and joy, it allows us to celebrate. Through our stories, even through the ridiculousness of reality television, we come one step closer to recognizing the things that bind us together as humans.

For the truth is,  the only thing we have completely in common is that we all have a story.


Today’s Quote: 

There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.
Washington Irving

Random Thoughts from a Road Trip


Image via Wikipedia

I had another long drive today, this time without the benefit of a book on tape. So, as I let the radio scan in search of NPR stations to keep me entertained, my thoughts bounced around in a bizarre and random fashion to include these gems:

  • Religion is really just about controlling when, how, and why we have sex.
  • After catching part of  a story about the randomness of the borderline between the US and Mexico: Lines connect but they also separate. If we could only erase all lines (even the invisible ones) maybe we would have more luck getting along with each other as an amorphous mass of living creatures.
  • Why don’t more people understand that most of the problems in the world come from a small group of people who cannot see beyond their own wallets?
  • 5 Hour Energy is really just a jolt of caffeine that tricks you into thinking it lasts longer. For some reason it makes me want to conduct orchestras as I found myself listening to classical music and conducting with my left hand.
  • Who pays for all the Jesus/Abortion signs?
  • Why don’t I like listening to music while I drive anymore? Of course, that changes if it is a truly singable song, but the only ones I want to sing come from my childhood. What does that mean?
  • Do I have a sign on my car that says “slow down in front of me” and drive me insane?

There you have it folks. Random thoughts from someone who has been driving too much lately.

The Reality of Road Trips

Cover of "Outliers: The Story of Success&...

Cover of Outliers: The Story of Success

Endless miles pass
at the blink of an eye
as you try to stay focused
on an ever-changing

The drone of intelligent voices
from books on tape (Outliers)

Simultaneously scintillating
and horrifying
as unknown reality
creeps into your consciousness.

In the back seat
murmurs and giggles
of a child watching her video.
The occasional rustle as she digs
for unhealthy road snacks
(with the occasional healthy one popped in)

Bladder filling with
liquid attempts at keeping
yourself alert.
Gas station restrooms
the focus in each new town.

Mind wandering
flitting from focus on scenery
to annoyance at other drivers
to inspirational thoughts you cannot write down
to revelations of understanding
at the stories on the radio.

Hours pass
and slowly you recognize
the signs of your destination
but the journey doesn’t really

The Miles We Travel in Search of Ourselves

A Long Road Home

Image via Wikipedia

When you drive alone in a car for 8 1/2 hours it gives you a lot of time to think.

Of course, you can distract yourself by listening to the stories of other people or music. But that distraction only works if your mind isn’t constantly connecting what you hear with what you think or believe.

I learned that as tears poured down my face while listening to “The Tornado Prom” story on This American Life.

I learned that laughing my way through Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me and thinking, I would love to be a reporter on NPR.

I learned that listening to the podcast about Pop Culture from NPR (I’m not sure what it’s called, but it is connected with Monkey See. The discussion of books led me to think, “Oh, I should read that” but even more “How do I get paid to review books.”

When I lost the ability to listen to the podcast, and went to music, every song had a message for me . . . about life, about love, about following your dreams.

And the miles passed.

I thought about the millions of miles that I have traveled throughout my life. Sometimes the miles led to adventures, sometimes the miles led to comfort, but rarely have the miles led to home. I mean, I am technically “home” now, but I haven’t found the home that makes me stop wanting to following those miles.

Will I ever?

I’ve found temporary sanctuaries, but not permanent homes.

I was talking to the cook at the Summer Theater where I left Nathan and she asked “Where are you now?” I answered, with my usual “Kansas face”; the face that says I’m here for now, but hopefully not forever. She answered, “Oh, I thought you would be wandering gypsies” and then told me about this family she met in Florida that were travelling the country just to see if they could.

Part of me thought, how cool is that.

My journey is long–both the metaphorical one and the physical one. I wonder if and when I will ever come to rest.

All Stories Have Value

I spent yesterday in a car, driving Nathan up to Okoboji, IA for the summer. Well, he did all the actual driving, I just watched the scenery go by along with the intimidating clouds and lightning strikes. It took us about 9 1/2 hours, including stops to walk the dogs and a quick trip to Trader Joe’s in Omaha.

On the way we listened to downloaded NPR shows including “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me” and “This American Life,” and “The Moth.”

I heard stories. Stories big and stories small. Stories that affect the world, and stories that affected only individuals. And I realized, all stories have value. My story has value.

I want to be a storyteller, because through stories life gains value.

The trip hasn’t been without a little angst. I bring Nathan to a place that wants him, values him, but doesn’t really want or value me. I don’t really belong here, despite the fact that I have a lot to offer this place.

Last summer in Okoboji

But, I now realize that is part of my story. My story involves me learning to let go of jealousy, resentment, frustration. My story involves learning from the journey and learning from others.

My story is all that I have to offer you. In exchange, I hope you will share your story with me. Together our stories have power, beauty, and life.

Where Were You When . . . ?

Space Shuttle Challenger ' s smoke plume after...

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25 years ago today the Challenger exploded in the sky, creating a fireball of true devastation. A friend reminded me about this on Facebook, after she heard a story on NPR.

This got me thinking about the key moments that mark our lives. The moments that people say, “Where were you when . . . ?”

When I was a (really) little girl, I vaguely recall those conversations beginning with “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” But that really wasn’t a moment in my life.

The moments for those questions reflect on the greater history of our lives, and our reactions to those moments reflect on us as individuals.

Where was I when the Challenger exploded? I was in French class and they brought televisions into the classrooms so we could watch. I remember crying as the fireball burned. One of my favorite teacher’s from school had applied to be on that shuttle. She wasn’t selected (thankfully) but my heart broke for the teacher who was and for her family.

Where was I during the Blizzard of ’78, a blizzard that impacted areas of the East Coast for at least a week, if not longer. I remember being sent home early from school the day it began. The snow swirled around my feet as I walked back from the bus stop. The speed of snow gathering was amazing and beautiful. Of course, as a kid, the impact of a snow day or snow week was much more about the joy of not having to go to school and opportunities to play in piles of snow so high that they reached the second story windows. But, I also remember neighbors helping neighbors as we walked to the only open nearby store for supplies, dragging a sled behind us.

Where was I when on 9/11? I was watching reruns of Little House on the Prairie in Poultney,  VT as I did not have to go into teach until later that day. I remember the screen changing to the shocking scene of a plane hitting a tower followed by a scream coming from my own voice as I burst into tears. I remember thinking, “Oh my god! This means war! I don’t want that.” That day, that week, and that month became surreal since we were close enough to NYC to have students who lost family or whose parents were firefighters. Of course, that event itself is one of the defining events of our country at the moment. I can never watch Little House on the Prairie with quite the same relaxed laziness.

Where was I when Obama was sworn in? Like millions of others I was in front of the tv, wishing I could be there in person. Things may not have gone quite the way I had hoped on that day, but I still have HOPE. I’m not ready to completely give up on this country yet.

I’m sure I am missing many crucial events that define the world. What are they. How would you fill in the question “Where were you when . . . ?”

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