Why Should I Care?

On my commute into work today, leaving early enough to enjoy my coffee & breakfast & writing stop at a local coffee house near the office, I listen to Episode 5 of Serial. I have been waiting for two weeks to hear the next installment on the case of Bowe Bergdahl. Last week, I tuned into the newly downloaded Episode 4 only to learn that due to the massive volume of information currently flowing, ebbing and changing, the staff of The Serial decided to start doing these episodes bi-weekly. So Episode 4 was a short announcement to stay tuned until next week, January 21- for that next installment. When I had pulled out of my garage earlier, and got my self in order while idling in the driveway, I pulled the iPhone out to access the podcast and found that I had a 53 minute episode to listen to; fabulous, enough content for a roundtrip commute. The episode this time has various guests that are participating interview style. Two of them work in an office that handles P.R. (Person Recovery). Another one is a personal friend of Bowe Bergdahl who is listed on Bowe’s personnel file as a contact should anything go wrong with Bowe. During these interviews, many details are offered up on each person’s efforts in Bowe’s recovery. The women in the government office share one of the frustrations is the sheer lack of awareness on the part of many of these people who have gone missing. In one instance, these two women went to the effort of creating T-Shirts to draw awareness of Bowe Bergdahl’s status as missing, it was for a specific event for the community about Bowe and other hostages or missing in areas of combat or simply in countries that are experiencing conflict. On their way back from the event, as they approached the entrance to their own work building, they were met by one higher ranking Department of Defense individual that stopped them and asked: “who is that on your t-shirt?”. Really? They thought. It’s insane. But it’s common. There is this one couple that was captured in 2012, a husband and wife who were hiking in Afghanistan. The wife was pregnant at the time. And in that instance, the wife ended up giving birth in captivity. And few people could name her. Very few people have any idea that happened. It’s barely covered in the news. Her name is Caitlin Coleman, she was 28 years old when captured; her husband is Joshua Boyle. And they are still held hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan; all efforts by US Government for their release have failed.
One of the things mentioned in The Serial by host Sara Koenig is the question of: Why Should I Care? She shares that a common sentiment among people listening to stories of capture, or reading these headlines, blame the victim. They were captured because basically they were asking for it. After all, who travels to Afghanistan? Who hikes trails in Afghanistan? Are they idiots? Duh. And so, these people made their own bed. They were stupid. The thing is is that in almost every single hostage case, there is a level of human error that has occurred in leading to their capture. Something they did without thinking it through. So should government or people in authority or leaders in roles that are meant to work on the release of these captors, should they just throw their arms up in the air and say: “whatever, they did this to themselves?”.
When I bring up Bowe and that I am listening to this interesting podcast that delves into his experiences and digs into his story, with some people – I can barely mention Bowe’s name without someone saying to me: he is a traitor, he walked off his post, he should be court marshaled. And in those instance, rarely do I see even one glimmer of compassion. It thoroughly smashes me down. I mean, the harshness of judgment on the parts of people who barely know the story except for the sound bite headlines, have cast their vote as if sitting in a jury seat and having only been read the line about why the defendant is on trial. No evidence has yet been rendered, no details of any significance. And for me, this reception of emotion from these individuals, I am on the receiving end having listened now to about 4 hours of data surrounding the when, how, what and in a way, why. I have a glimpse into the circumstances beyond the headlines. And, my heart breaks. I am not saying Bowe does not hold some guilt for having done a stupid thing. That he did not cause others harm and discomfort and for that, I recognize the dire circumstances and his, again, guilt. But I think about other victims of circumstance; the hikers up on a mountain that went up anyway even though the weather indicated caution. The woman who married the abusing boyfriend who is now held hostage in her own home for fear of retribution if she leaves him; or harm to others if she leaves him. Do we just ignore those who need help because they did it to themselves. So much more to say and think about on this topic. I want to care, I want to know, I want to understand. I want to not judge.

Podcasts – voices and stories

For a few years now, I have subscribed to various podcasts. It’s interesting to me how few people in my daily life understand what I am referring to when I share with them that I listen to podcasts. For me, it’s a regular part of most days, particularly a regular feature of my daily commute. My current list of podcasts is about a half a dozen long and includes spiritual matters with Pray As You Go (a Jesuit daily prayer exercise that I find soothing, thoughtful and helps me enter the day with a renewed gratitude and peace). There are three podcasts that are all about knitting, in various forms. The first two are more traditional in that they feature knitting tips, what’s on the podcasters needles, a fiber artist guest speaker and in one case, there can be some added Piper highlights as the podcaster is a bagpiper: Knitting Pipeline. I really enjoy this one- her cast of characters tends to be the same so one gets to know her regular co-podcaster voices. Then there is Curious Handmades, an Australian gal shares her knitting universe with the rest of us and again features special projects she is working on and key guests from the knitting community. These two are likely a big puzzle for non-knitters, after all how can it be interesting to listen to someone talk about knitting. If you are at least more than an ultra beginner, the sessions offer insights into knitting challenges, provides inspiration with new projects and can also offer tips on which yarns (wool, alpaca, cashmere or should I use silk?) are best for certain projects. Another knitting podcast I enjoy is called Teaching Your Brain To Knit; this one is focused on the mental aspects and benefits of knitting. This could be meditation, memory, well being and more.   This last podcast is hosted by two gals in the Northwest- they also talk about their geographic location and highlight their own projects as well. So one gets to know these personalities and at times, instead of local radio, I reach for the podcast to accompany me on my drives between home and work.

Depending on the season, that ride can take anywhere from a half hour to an hour an a half! In the last six months, I have added two podcasts that have been a great balance to the knitting and spiritual. These are basically radio journalism. Stories- true stories. The first one is called The Lapse, and the host offers these 20-30 minute episodes that are stories brought from real lives. He invites people to write in about their stories and then he creates the broadcast with their voices, throws in sound effects and brings interesting perspectives about the human condition to the air waves. These have been thought provoking as well as humorous in some cases; definitely mind opening.

I leave the best for last. A new discovery called Serial. This podcast is a weekly series delving into one important story. They are only on their second story- which drills down into the facts and situations surrounding Bowe Bergdahl. This is their second “season” or perhaps best called “series” .  The producers of the show have uploaded two episodes so far covering Bowe Bergdahl and the story; they are featured weekly on Fridays.  The episodes go into depth as the host Sarah Koenig, from NPR’s This American Life, explores questions of:  what happened, how, why… how did it affect his fellow platoon mates, his family and the controversy it drew with his release and swap for the 5 Taliban detainees.  Before the Bowe story, I listened to 12 episodes of the story behind Adnan Syed, a seventeen year old Baltimore high school student who has served 15 years so far of his sentence for being convicted of murdering an ex-girlfriend. Those episodes went through a process of interviewing a large volume of people surrounding the case, his sister who believe in his complete innocence, class mates, teachers, expert law sources and Adnan himself. Sarah Koenig, the host of the show, has this soothing intellectual voice, as one might hear in France “Sympatique”; meaning, she sounds like a friend – a smart friend, that is helping to open up the conversation again about this young man behind bars, is he guilty? Was it Muslim racial profiling? Does he have it him? Is he a pathological person? Is he too kind and too good to have done anything so heinous? The podcast, literally, casts new light on the situation and Adnan is up for a retrial in February 2016.
Podcasts, an extension of talk radio with the benefit of it being on demand, allowing one to connect with stories and voices. Opening a window for thought provoking analysis. Or, focus on a simple prayer for the day, a meditation with the odd cast on and knit two together, a yarn over discussion.  It’s a whole different world.