Tag Archives: NPR

Only Love

The last time I was at the Music Box theater was over a year ago, with Ryan.  It’s a fun theater which shows quirky fare.  Tonight they were screening several of this year’s Oscar-nominated documentaries.  The second one we watched was titled “Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall.”

Over the forty-minute long film, we come to know Jack Hall, an 83-year-old World War 2 veteran who is serving a life sentence for murder. He has congestive heart failure, has been in the hospital wing for the past 10 years after multiple heart attacks, and is not doing well. We follow him around as he is wheeled out into the yard to visit with his friends, we follow him to worship services and doctor’s visits and eventually follow him into one of the two hospice rooms of the Iowa State Penitentiary.

It is a startling, intimate, humanizing look into the lives of several men who are incarcerated – and what it means to die with dignity in prison.

The most arresting moments we were invited into were the moments that Jack shared with his hospice care-givers – volunteers who spent 10-12 hours a day with him 5 days a week, in shifts so that he was never alone: bathing him, holding his hand, praying with him and for him, rubbing his back, shaving him, laughing and joking and simply being with him so that he would not die alone.

One of the volunteers was named Love – serving a life sentence for kidnapping. Love was with Jack as he faded into a coma, and became unresponsive. Love was with Jack as he stopped breathing.

And for someone who all too often tears up while listening to “This American Life,” I was gone.

Such a beautiful picture of what reconciliation can look like – life transformed and made new…  Even the murderers and kidnappers and the embezzlers and the gossips and the liars and the racists and the selfish and the greedy and the prideful – Jack, and Love, and you, and me…


(for more on “Prison Terminal,” check out this piece on “Fresh Air.”)



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Everybody’s got a story

Earlier this week I went with a few friends to a story slam put on by “The Moth.”

Basically, The Moth is a non-profit “dedicated to the art of story-telling.”  At this story slam, audience members put their name in a hat, 10 names are drawn, and those 10 people are given the chance to share a story.  5 minutes, no holds barred, honest, true stories…  And it was phenomenal.

As we sat (or stood) in the crowded room, listening to strangers tell funny, intimate, moving, hilarious, ridiculous, awkward stories, I was struck by the fact that all too often I forget that everyone has their story.  Every person I sit in class with, bump into in the supermarket, dodge on the street as we’re out for our afternoon runs, or crush next to on the El has their own story of beauty, tragedy, laughter, joy, and life.  So many stories, so much beauty, and all too often we miss it.  We don’t make space for it.  I don’t ask people to hear their stories.  I don’t tell my stories.  But I want to.

So, maybe that’s what Thursday nights will be: story nights.  …open invitation for Thursday night dinner and stories at my place.  Come on over, listen, and share.  I want to hear your story…




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The games we play

Sitting on the freeway this morning: barely moving, ominous clouds rolling in, lightning skipping between clouds in the distance and thunder rumbling in your core.  Late for class, and we’re not moving because of the rain.  Impatience.

And then this:

Games Part 3: On the Winning Side by Radiolab

(it’s all good, but the juicy goodness starts at 15:27)



(Dang it NPR.  Why do you always make me cry…)

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The Story

I wish I could blame the sun, or a drifting cloud of teargas (even though they seem to be much harder to run into in rural Wisconsin than in Rio de Janeiro) for the water in my eyes and and the sobs that began wracking my shoulders.  After all, why should I be so affected?  It was just a story I was listening to…

On the drive home from Milwaukee yesterday afternoon, I was listening to NPR’s “The Story.”  And in honor of the beginning of the Passover feast, they were retelling the story of Steve Barry and Carrol Walsh.  65 years ago, in the closing months of World War 2, Steve Barry boarded a train at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp along with 2500 other (mostly Jewish) prisoners.  After several days of transit, they were abandoned by their SS guards.  Shortly thereafter, an American scouting party came across the train, still full to bursting with prisoners.

Steve Barry recounts how he found an SS coat (it still being quite chilly in April of that year, especially for his emaciated, 90-pound frame) and draped it over his shoulders, huddled on the embankment in the shadow of the train, next to a small fire he and his friends had managed to start.  As he sat there, weak and traumatized, he saw an American soldier, one of the first scouts, scramble down the embankment and gingerly approach the fire.  The soldier looked down, saw Barry and gently sat down next to him.  The nameless soldier slowly pulled out a pocket knife from his bag, opened the blade, and leaned over to cut off the SS death’s head insigna on the coat, and threw it in the fire.  Barry and the soldier watched it burn in the flames.

As Barry told this story, his voice cracked, and I began to sob – driving in my car down the interstate through rural Wisconsin, sun shining on my face.  I think it was a combination of things – of the sadness and tragedy that took place, of the blindness and unwillingness of people to act to stop it (many because they “couldn’t believe things like that could happen,”) the tragedy of saying “never again” and seeing it happen again and again and again…  Yet also there was a beauty – of seeing that rescue and redemption and liberation are possible, that occasionally there are happy endings, that small act of humanity redeemed the SS coat and the once-prisoner but no longer, allowing him to reclaim a small piece of his dignity and personhood…

It’s a beautiful tale – and even more so because it’s true.


*For more info (including pictures), check out NPR’s “The Story.”

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