Monday, October 29, 2007

The Golden Rule, the Easter Bunny, and the Right to Bear Arms

So there's this irritating new-ish series on NPR entitled This I Believe. In it, a carefully chosen mix of "ordinary" and, I suppose, extraordinary people read pat, bite-size essays explicating various of their deeply held beliefs. I'm not precisely sure why, but this series drives me crazier than almost anything else on the air, including Fund Drive (arg), Radio Reader (is it just me, or does Dick Estelle sound like he's been welded to a morphine drip?), and the spectacularly boring, awesomely useless Congressional Moment.

Part of it is the whiff of faux-patriotic, 1950s-style righteousness. Part of it is the tightly packaged format, so reminiscent of seventh-grade writing prompts, to which the This I Believe essays must adhere (start with a compelling personal anecdote; explain how it shaped your most deeply held beliefs in 300 words or less). But if I'm honest with myself, I think most of my irritation arises from pure, old-fashioned jealousy. Who are these people, and what did they do to earn the luxury of deeply held belief?

Because belief is a luxury. It's a handhold, a support, something solid to stand on in an overwhelmingly squishy world. I crave deeply held beliefs, even as I can't help but be mildly enraged by the folks who have them. Which is maybe why, even though the very mention of "independent producer Jay Allison" makes me want to chew the bedclothes, I listen anyway. I may not drop everything and glue my ear to the radio like I do with Story Corps (yay Story Corps!). I may pretend to be eating breakfast or tying back my hair or rooting around for a sweatshirt. But I'm listening.

What do people believe in? I've heard people cram their belief into small boxes and large, into milk crates, watertight jars, voluminous bags. People believe in nursing. They believe in God. In tolerance, in love, in the big, meaningless words that cover you, like quilts, while you sleep. They believe unabashedly, whole-heartedly, and in tightly-edited prose.

All of which forces me regularly to ransack myself top to bottom, searching for belief like a desperate hostess hunting for the air mattress. I check closets, investigate the attic, crawl around under the bed. I believe in...

walking. OK, it's paltry, limp-wristed sort of belief. But there's not a lot more reliable, more satisfying, or more useful than locomoting, via the placement of one foot in front of the other, from location A to location B. When you walk, you interact with the world on a human scale. You can't pretend its not there, or forget its dimensions, or blot it out in a burst of speed. You can't honk at it, or give it the middle finger, or edge it out for the last good parking spot. Yesterday, I walked. Today I'll walk. Tomorrow, even though -or perhaps because- my life is colossal, insoluble mess, I'll walk. This I (messily, shamefacedly, in far more than 300 words) believe.

Walk with me.


Laura said...

You what drives me nuts on NPR? Frank fucking DeFord. Have you heard this guy? He's the sports commentator on Morning Edition, and damn if he doesn't ruin my day (or at least the three minutes he's on the air). Not because I don't like people who talk about sports (my sister is a professor of sports sociology), but because he is so damn pompous about it. Next time he's on, stop for a moment and attempt to put up with his unbelievable blowhard-ness. Agghh! Frank DeFord!!

Andrew said...

You might enjoy Penn Jillette's installment in the series.