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This (white) American Life

Added Forenote: The kids are home (and slightly near a cold sick), the dog is home (and extremely sorry for himself) and all are (can you believe?!) demanding my attention...they have a zero tolerance policy for Mom Blogging. I know. It's always the ultimatum: you at computer reading and commenting on blogs, Mom, and we ruin the house and create chaos OR you mind us and do the mom job. So, long rationalization short...I am trying to preserve order and peace at home, which means little to no time for blog commenting. I will try to catch up on reading, and hopefully you'll see I was there reading at least (you know, if you have one of those nifty little Visitors things). Sorry. Soon...I promise; I'll be back with my comments, which I arrogantly assume are of importance to you. ;)

Kaliroz can tell you I am a huge Ira Glass fan and she's right: I am. I love the ordinary, and anyone who can take these things that happen to us all and make them interesting and relatable through the voice of a few regular people is a genius.

Although I can't get most of my favorite shows where I live now, one station does play This American Life, at the conveniently inconvenient time of school pick-up time. This means I have just enough time to get engaged in the story but not enough to hear the end. Oh to have Tivo for radio.

I have at times opted to sit in the car to hear the rest of the story. It reminds me of the time my husband and I drove to Hingham for a baby shower, and sat outside in the car to listen to the end of a piece Ira Glass was doing...and we weren't the only ones. When we went inside, the story was a major topic of conversation.

It was about Martin Luther King, Jr. And Jesus.

We all admitted, men and women alike, that the story socked us in the gut and made us choke up.

I hope to relate the story the best I can from seven year old memory, because I can't find a copy of it online. But consider this a dramatic reinterpretation of the story, rather than literal and exact.

It was Martin Luther King, Jr. day, like today, which of course means important things we depend upon are closed, such as school and pre-school. It's easy to consider this an annoying disruption to the schedule, but this father decided to make it a fun, learning time with his son.

As they drove to their destination, his son noticed things closed that were normally open, and special events. He asked his father about it.

"It's Martin Luther King, Jr. day, so it's a holiday and many things are closed, like your school," the father said.

"Who was Martin Luther King, Jr.?" asked the boy.

"He was a man who looked around him and decided he didn't like what he saw. He saw people treating other people badly, as if they weren't worth treating well, just because of the color of their skin," the dad tried to explain.

"What was wrong with the color of their skin?" asked the boy.

"It was black, and for a long time, some people thought it was okay to be mean and treat people badly just because they had black skin. But it wasn't just black people who were treated badly; it was anyone who didn't have white skin."

"Why did they think white skin was better?"

"That's what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. asked," said the father, "And he decided there was no good reason, so it was time for everyone to be nice to one another. But some people didn't like that he thought this way. They didn't like that he gave speeches to lots of people and got them thinking that people needed to be nice to one another, too. Some people liked things the way they were, and didn't want changes, especially the kind Dr. King was calling for. Also, they were scared, because Dr. King had a lot of people who agreed with him. So they decided Dr. King was dangerous, and they tried hard to get him to stop talking."

The boy was silent for a bit, probably processing. But then he asked, "What happened to Dr. King, and why do we celebrate a day for him?"

The father paused, and considered. How do you explain something like this to a young child? How much do you say or not say?

When he finally answered, he explained about courage, and courage of convictions. He tried to tell his child that some people believe certain ideas and beliefs are so important, so right, that they will take risks to make changes.

"In the end," the father said carefully, "The risk he took was his life. And he was killed, because some people thought killing the man killed the idea. So now we celebrate Dr. King and all that he did to make us better people and this a better country."

The boy was quiet again, and the father wondered if his son understood what he'd said, worried whether he'd said it right.

After a pause, the boy said, "Kind of like Jesus."

And the father agreed, "Yeah, like Jesus."

Note: This post pulls a bit from last year's. Last year the challenge was to recognize other black heroes. The idea was to recognize other leaders.

How about if today's challenge is to recognize the ordinary people who made a positive difference in each of our lives? In honor of Ira, the average joe, and Dr. King.

UPDATE! SciFi Dad found the broadcast, so I included a link in Part II of this post. Please, if you've time, go have a listen. It's incredible, the story.

Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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Kat said…
That is a gorgeous story. Thank you for sharing it with us.
Anonymous said…
Hi Julie,

I always listen to This American Life as a podcast. That way I never miss a story and can pause and come back if I'm in the middle of something. It is truly Tivo for radio. Granted I'm always a few weeks behind, so I look forward to hearing this one. Here's a link to subscribe:

Of course my work blocks this site (facscists!), so I couldn't check the link.
Anonymous said…
Ditto on the podcast. Can't be listening during carpool - my kids would be picked up late every time!
Beck said…
I wish Canadian radio had programs as powerful as that. Beautiful.
That is a great story. Very wise.

Thank you, Julie.

SciFi Dad said…
Your post prompted me to search a little.

Is this what you're referring to:
Girlplustwo said…
beautiful and necessary.
Anonymous said…
NPR has something that I think they call the "Driveway Series," recordings that people stay in their car to hear the end of.
Melissa said…
I remember this one...I'll have to check the podcast, but the ending was actually more powerful than you remember.
S said…
i remember this too. it was so moving.
Unknown said…
I love IRA more!! I'm going to see him in NYC during the AWP. Think he'll mind a stalker?

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