My life is richer, simply because I asked

Or: An oral history project, incredible families, much talk on adoption, China, love, and family, and how I found a title for this project

Last January, I was struck with an idea for a project. I had read a book about a generation of Chinese girls who had been adopted into families worldwide, with a huge number of them becoming part of American families. (I wrote about it too.) Tens of thousands of these girls are growing up Chinese-American, in predominantly upper-middle class families, and they have a distinct perspective on the world, and their spot in it.

 

That Americans have been adopting from Asia is not new information to most people; American families with an adopted Chinese (or more generally Asian--Korean, Vietnamese) child is more and more common in the general public. On the sitcom Modern Family, Cam and Mitchell adopted their daughter Lily from Vietnam, and that diversity is one of the mainstays of the "modern" aspect of the family composition on the show. In your own community, at the grocery store or Target, multicultural families are an ever more common site within the larger populace.

 

What I realized--in one of those sudden ideas that come to mind only when a combination of other triggers intersect perfectly--is that there is an important historical story here, and that I could help to tell it, begin to collect it, with the tools I have. I had been thinking a lot about identity, and the concept of "roots," genealogy, and biology, and thinking about how much, how deeply, it doesn't matter in the end. I had been thinking a lot about how much I want to adopt in my own life. And I had been thinking about the group of people--oftentimes members of Families with Children from China (FCC)--who is here, connected, who live this story every day: the families. Also being a public radio addict, I love podcasts and the new media we have to share stories and collect and share history, and decided the internet combined with an audio format would be the perfect way to tell this story.

 

Over the course of a few months in early 2011, I wielded in and narrowed my enormous original scope, and decided on what would become the final capstone project for my master's in public history.

 

I would collect oral histories of families who had adopted children from China (mostly girls, but a few boys as well), who live in the Metro Atlanta area. They will be delivered in an online format, much like a podcast, and often in small series that connect the stories of various families to each other.

 

I wrote a paper to end the semester, with grand ideas, plans, and notions of this project. Then in the fall, I had to begin to deliver on my many (many) promises. An important thing to point out is that I knew not one singular person in the Atlanta community who had adopted a child from China. I am not in the age demographic of adoptive parents, and I am not even married. Nor do I have kids. I spend a lot of my time at work and at school. So I started cold-calling people, with a very strange request, indeed, when they did call me back or answer my unknown number: "Yes, hi, I am a graduate student at Georgia State, and I am working on a project about families who have adopted children from China. If you are interested, could I explain a little bit about what I am doing?"

 

Strangely, I only felt really nervous the very first time I did a dialing session. That first, painful, jump into the icy water. Turns out, the water was not cold at all. A few returned my calls or answered, and connected me with people who were either more directly involved, or spoke to me themselves. In each case that I have spoken with a mom, dad, or family as a group, I have been allowed a little more access into their lives, and they have shared my project with their friends, people also connected through FCC--the Atlanta chapter and beyond. It has been extraordinary.

 

What began as a few contacts in the fall has snowballed in 2012. I have been graciously welcomed into homes, invited to hear personal tales of how these families became what they are--decisions about family, ethnicity, fertility, biological children, and all other manner of real, complex lives.

 

I ate Chinese food to celebrate Chinese New Year with one very active playgroup, the kids averaging about six to ten years old, and it was a rowdy, wonderful evening, meeting parents and further discussing and explaining this project and my goals.

 

I watched a rehearsal performance of the Atlanta Chinese Dance Company, which has become a haven and passion for a number of adopted Chinese girls over the years, many of whom continue to dance into high school and college.

 

I was invited to a monthly book club begun by mothers of adopted Chinese girls and boys, who found there was a need to read the literature (spanning many topics) on kids, adoption, China, parenting, and a number of issues within these topics, and that reading them together was more meaningful. I have begun attending them, and the most striking note I took away from my first session was that there are issues of confidence, perception from outsiders, and even simple semantics that arise in every adoptive mothers' mind, and that the support from small groups like this one is indispensable for these women. It was so lovely to sit and discuss their most recent selection, Lucky Girl, with them--quite frankly, most I did was listen.

 

I listened to one mother console another on the fear that she, who had never had children biologically, somehow loved her daughter in a less, or different, way than the mother who had two biological boys before adopting her Chinese daughter. This second mother listened earnestly, and then vehemently countered that, having both, she promises there is not one thing different in the love for each of her three children, biological or adopted. She repeats this for emphasis, staring her friend straight in the eye. She is brought to tears when talking about it further.

 

It is moving. There are many times I am near tears in working on this project. The stories, the love, the shared experiences are so moving. I am up to my ears in adoption stories, and pictures of young, growing, and grown-up families; it only makes my conviction and desire to adopt stronger, if that was possible.

 

I was invited by two girls, ages 8 and 9, to watch the videos their older sister (film-producer earning her master's at Columbia, might I add) made of their respective adoptions, after I had finished interviewing their parents. It was the first time in the course of this work that I watched, in moving picture, the moment when a little two-year-old met her parents and sisters. It was remarkable, joyous, and scary, and sad all at once--many in that room captured on film feeling so many varieties of emotions all at once. It is a moment not everyone would perhaps want to share with me; I was honored, yet again, by their gracious invitation into the lives of others.

 

Is it that adoptive families tend to be willing to share, because they are used to being the ones in the room who created their family in a manner somewhat different from "normal"? I don't know the reasons, but I am grateful for their positive responses to this project, the excitement some have expressed, and the thanks others have shared. We all recognize that these are stories worth telling, collecting, connecting, sharing. I think they are especially rich in the aural format, voices captured in this moment in the lives of these families. The little girls, little boys, teenagers I have spoken to--those voices are being saved, and their notions of themselves are now recorded, as documentation that this is how they felt in 2012, about their spot in this wide world. I giggle, I cry, I am in awe as I listen back to the words and thoughts that I have collected. How far I have brought this, into fruition, into something quite extraordinary--something I wanted but that, if I'm being honest, seemed impossibly large to attempt.

 

I have been invited into homes, back into homes, met kids, siblings, parents, friends, interviewed many of them. I've met with people without the voice recorder on as many occasions, listening and talking and proving that I can be trusted with their family's history.

 

I was most recently offered two beautiful, hardcover books that have been compiled from families' personal photographs ad writings, on the China adoption experience. The collection is from photo collections and families across the United States, who all have this same experience in common. The first of the books was compiled and designed in the basement of the family I most recently interviewed, and they insisted they had "too many copies" lying around, so gave me one of each of these two books. They are cherished additions to the resources I have already compiled as I entered this world to begin work on this project. From one, I found the inspiration to finally settle on a title:

A Thousand Ways Richer:

The China adoption experience in Atlanta, An Oral History

 

I have been shown unbelievable support, consideration, and openness as I have thus far explored the China adoption community in Atlanta. The most striking discovery has been confirmed and reaffirmed by nearly every mother or father I speak to: the adoption of their daughter, son, or multiple children has brought them more than just a child--their lives have been enriched in a thousand ways they could not have imagined before. A child, yes. Also, culture, dance, food, language, history. Also, activity, sports, small businesses, and an entire community of support, best friends, love, play groups. Some who share this initial experience go on to become lifelong friends. One man's Chinese daughter has already made him reconsider his perception on race, and interracial marriage--and she's only eight.

 

I will explore many of these facets in the forthcoming website, where I post the stories and some of the audio. But the quick thesis to this thing, what has inspired the title, is a combination of the thousands of ways life is changed by adoption, and the countless ways I am also richer for knowing these incredible women, men, daughters, and sons. The ways my life has been enriched are too numerous to count, and I would have missed every single one of them if I had shied away from doing this, in favor of something easier, smaller, with people I already knew. It has been exhilarating to know what I am capable of, if I just pick up the phone and ask.

Oral history in practice: find the people, and a project becomes real

I've started putting into practice the things that up until this point in my oral history class have only been discussed, that existed only in theory, as things we would eventually have to do. I've begun the process of cold-calling a list of strangers, to me, nothing more than a series of names and phone numbers that I found on a national organization's Atlanta chapter site. And to them, I am a stranger asking to be let into their lives, who is asking to hear their stories, often quite personal and emotional. I am asking, after all, about the process of adopting their own children. This is a very strange thing to explain in a message on an answering machine to a person you've never spoken to.

And in several cases, I've had kids answer the phone, and take the message. This is even stranger, having to summarize in a brief sentence or series of key words to a child or teenager why this random graduate student wants to talk to their mother. (Note: It's about them. Talk about awkward to explain.) "My name is Jessie, I'm a graduated student at Georgia State, and I want to talk to your mom about an oral history project I am starting, on families who've adopted children from China." Hmm, random, indeed.

The first time I dialed a number, I was so thankful it was no longer in service, because I slammed the phone down and felt my heart rate come back down from through-the-roof heights. A few deep breaths, and onto name #2 on the list. Many calls later, I am slowly but surely reaching out to some families. All in its own time, I am in no hurry, and want these families to feel they can respond to my request in time. We're all busy people.

This is, by the way, preliminary work for what will be my master's capstone project: an oral history series and podcast series, compiled and stored on a website that also allows for interaction and visitor submissions, on the stories and histories of Metro Atlanta families who have adopted daughters from China. This enormous diaspora of Chinese girls has spread far across the world, and Atlanta is just one corner of that vast space. This community, the girls and their adoptive (and biological) families, are part of an important historical event, beginning largely in the early 1990s and reaching a peak around 1999 - 2005, and waning in recent years as the process has become extremely cumbersome and slow for adoptive families. This twenty-odd-year period marks an important occurrence in China-U.S. relations that reaches directly into the homes of American families whose families have changed forever because of it; and I want to study this in that historical context, by compiling the oral histories of those living it.

To do this, I've had to muster up some courage I haven't used since my days in student journalism--when it was nothing to phone a stranger and ask them some questions.

But oral histories are by nature very intense, quite distinct from a journalistic effort. And it has been thrilling so far, to find what's at the other end of the line, when you call someone out of the blue--a total stranger--and ask them about something like the experience of adopting their own child.

Exhilaration even more enormous than calling as a journalist. No, I'm not a reporter, I'm a historian, and I want to record your oral history. Just as we have talked about in class, people immediately begin to question you ("How did you get my number?"), and question themselves, retrospect on their own life--"I haven't done anything important." But they have and that's the point of oral histories. They are a part of history.

I am awestruck all over again, every time I think of the phone call I received last night, in return to one of my messages left with a woman's daughter. She was rightfully questioning of me, but I clearly passed the test, because she became so open and willing and engaging, by the time I hung up with her my jaw was literally hanging open. I sat in shock in the driver's seat of my car.

This family has an extraordinary part in the history of Chinese adoptions, from a very early point in the larger narrative timeline. Each of their three daughters is from China, adopted in the 1990s. I have researched this process and read books and articles, and I have never heard of a family like this, ever. And they are part of the exact Metro Atlanta community that I so want to document. I absolutely cannot wait to speak with her further, and collect her story (stories, for sure).

There is a huge difference between theorizing and structuring and dreaming up a plan, a project, and executing it--and making the final product effective, interesting, helpful to participants and the larger public. Without knowing who is out there to talk to, I had no idea if this would even work. I now feel that it is not only possible, but it has the potential of being extremely fruitful. The families who have adopted from China are an extraordinarily connected and close-knit community, across the nation. I hope this small project can somehow contribute to those within that cross-national community, and inspire other initiatives. It's an important international event that deserves to be contemplated in its proper historical context. I'm so excited to bring us a step closer to doing this.

Telling stories without paper: human voices and created objects

Without realizing it earlier, this semester I am in two courses that I have been extremely excited to take, and that both deal with forms of historical evidence that are neither paper nor text. The Document is the historian's love, her bread and butter, that which is often the basis of entire projects, which turn into the articles, tomes, textbooks, and popular history books that everyone else reads. In public history classes, though, it is a simple truth that the regular person goes to museums not to read lots of label text and long passages that, though their stories may be astonishing, do involve more words. No, they most often go to see the things that make history come to life for them. Artifacts, small and large, can often be so powerful, say so much with no words. And this is where my classes are taking me. The emphasis in Material Culture is obvious: the objects, created or altered somehow by man, that offer insight into customs, social patterns, lifestyles, foodways, and larger culture of the people of our past.

So too do I find this in Oral History, the other aforementioned class, where our discussions, readings, and projects revolve around the spoken word, in a historical context, and using a proper methodology that puts it far beyond casual conversation. In conducting oral histories, we are formally and methodically documenting the past, in ways that effect immensely both the narrator (the subject) and the interviewer (me).

I find both of these mediums so powerful. I conducted two oral histories earlier this year, after a one-class-period crash course in one of my other classes, and while they were on two very different topics, I discovered the many nuances that oral historians have been raving about since the 1960s; one of the most significant to me was the unexpected paths the interview can take, and also the candidness of my narrators. By asking very simple questions and then shutting my damn mouth, it was astonishing what stories they would tell me, without my ever having to ask them something provocative or controversial. Not that the primary goal is provocative information, not at all. But, for example, I was interviewing a couple in the late forties who have a young daughter they adopted from Guatemala, and there were a lot of delicate and sensitive subjects I wanted to broach with them, like whether or not they would someday tell her about her half-siblings that they knew she had back in Guatemala, or whether they would help her in finding her biological roots, if she ever wanted to know more about them. These were things I didn't think I would have the guts to ask. But I never needed to: the family was so welcoming and so willing to explore their complicated emotions on those subjects, via other more basic questions I had asked within the larger subject of their family and their relationship to Guatemala right now. I know this won't always be the case, and this is a topic I am continuing to work with, but it was an extraordinary first dive into the process, and into the revelations of what oral histories are, and what they do for larger historical projects you are producing.

And material culture, whose roots can be found across disciplines--archeology, folklore, sociology, history--has been enchanting academics in these fields for far longer than I have been alive to ponder its worth. I am not a natural at gleaning information and historical clues from innate objects the way I have been able to do with documents, even though, at their core, neither one is more or less equipped than the other to tell a story about the person who created it. Documents are not purveyors of truth any more than a three-dimensional object that lacks a description or context of any kind. Just because something has words on it, a handwritten letter, say, does not mean we can understand it any better upon finding it than we would a shard of porcelain. My goal this semester is to begin to better navigate and interpret our material past, in more nuanced ways than I have ever known or cared to explore.

Museum staffs, and so, museum exhibits, have as their goal the interpretation of the past, in a way that makes people look at their own lives and relate the past to them, to where they live, to those around them. This can be done very well with historical documents, presented in a cohesive manner, that tell a wonderful story. But, as soon as you add the human voice, and the objects created by men and women in that same story, you have brought the exhibit to life. You have succeeded in a more successful, effective way, in relating the story to your audience, and they will leave remembering it more clearly, and hopefully in a way that connects them to the past, to its utter humanity and enormity.

Henry Glassie, in his book Material Culture, describes our relationship to things in our everyday life, and inspires us to think about them in more significant ways, as pieces that connect us to the larger humanity of the world. After all, if it as not us personally, someone created every single thing in our lives. That is a powerful thought. I leave you with the passion of his words, so inspiring and clearly telling, as he has spent his life studying the Things of People.

Among the new things, the most important, I believe, is the collection: the assembly of gifts, souvenirs, and commodities into a home--the domestic environment in contradistinction to the house. The collection represents a victory over disorder in industrial times, when the flood of goods threatens to sweep us to madness in a rising tide of irrelevant trash, just as the house of stone represented a victory over disorder in the days when people lived close to nature, when the lean wolves came down from the heath and the night winds wailed. But we should not be confused. Today, while we create things out of things made by other people, all across the globe, people in no way less real or alive are going up into the woods and down to the riverside. They are chopping out chunks of nature and fashioning artifacts that display their spirit and serve the serious needs of their neighbors.

Adoption series: Jim & Kristen Weathersby, and adopting from Guatemala

Click below to here just a snippet of the experience the Weathersby family had bringing their daughter Katie into their hearts and home. [audio:http://betheink.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Adoption-and-Guatemala.mp3|titles=Adoption and Guatemala]

**Please note** This is a rough-cut, sample pilot episode, constructed in a very short period of time, so as to exhibit some sample content for my HIST 7040 final project. This will not be the only piece on the Weathersby family, nor does it begin to cover entirely the many things we discussed in recording their experience. Over the summer, I intend to build more of the components of this project, including its own web site, a working title for the project, and an intro for each podcast episode. Please forgive the brevity of what I have now.

 

Podcast pilot episode: transcript

Jim and Kristen Weathersby on adopting their daughter Katie

Jim and Kristen Weathersby adopted their daughter Katie from Guatemala in 2008, bringing her home at the ripe age of seven months and one week old. In the case of their international adoption experience, the timing was everything, as, by the time they had invested over a year in the process, a legal complication between the United States and Guatemala immediately halted what had formerly been a popular program for Americans adopting abroad.

The Weathersbys had wanted at least one child and, after a long and morally challenging trek down the fertility path, determined they wanted to adopt. The nature of international adoption appealed to them over the domestic option, and Guatemala offered a short wait time upon submitting an application—about six to twelve months, relative to countries like China—which can run upwards of two years. For Jim and Kristen, their age was also a factor, and Guatemala was one nation that did allowed couples over thirty-eight to adopt infant children, rather than an older child.

The couple began the application process—itself reams and reams of paper, red tape, and bureaucracy—in December of 2006. Katie was born August 23, 2007. A few weeks later, after months of waiting, they got word that they had a daughter.

 

Kristen: In September, they said OK, we have a child. And they sent us a videotape, and a bunch of pictures of Katie at seven days old.

While the initial U.S. side of the adoption was behind them, they now embarked upon completing the requirements for the Guatemalan end of the process. They soon realized, with events that were taking place on the global stage, that they were about to be caught up in an international event.

Kristen: So the first half was the U.S. side of the adoption. From September on was the Guatemalan side of the adoption. And so at that time, the laws have changed since then, but since that time, there was a whole slew of government agencies that you had to get through and approvals you had to get through. And then they announced, mostly because the United States government insisted, there’s a Hague Treaty that involves our—the United States’ relationship with other countries and adoption, and it has more than adoption, but it also involves adoption. And, we were non-compliant.

 

Jim: The United States.

 

Kristen: The United States was non-compliant. Because one of the requirements of the United States, the Hague Treaty is, to do adoptions internationally, you can only do with other countries—with countries that control the adoptions centrally from a government, ok?

 

Jessie: I see.

 

Kristen: Now, Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in Central America, and they have an incredibly poor and corrupt government. So to bring a governmental agency into it is, I could talk for days about that. But, at the time that we did it, it was still a private process.

When the Hague Treaty violation rose to the surface of international relations, the long-successful connection between adoptive families in the U.S. and orphan children in Guatemala was abruptly halted. For months after getting those first photos and video footage of their daughter, the Weathersbys did not know if they would be allowed permission to go and get her before the tiny window that remained open was shuttered entirely. As it turns out, they made it through with only days to spare, in the last weeks of 2007.

 

Kristen: So we got in December sixteenth, they closed on December thirty-first. December fifteenth.

 

Jim: Yeah. Fifteenth or sixteenth. Yeah but still.

 

Kristen: They closed on the—we were told at that point in time, that, on December fifteenth-ish, that it may be August, July or August, before we were going to get her, even though it had closed, so we were preparing for that.

I spoke with the Weathersbys about the reaction they received during their two visits to Guatemala, and some of the perceptions of adoption that existed in the country at that time, in 2007 and 2008—partially as a result of very same governmental trouble that had almost left them waiting months, or even years, to bring Katie home.

 

Jessie: What were some of the responses, did you, I don’t know how long you were in Guatemala, but, um, you [Jim] were kind of saying before that there was this sort of—

 

Kristen:  Guatemala is a tough country. Um, they aren’t one hundred percent—OK. Guatemala as a culture only has two classes, lower class and upper class [indicated with hands]. And um, lower class typically is the native population, the Mayans, and, uh, the twain don’t meet, very much. So, they don’t adopt. Their culture does not, you will not find a upper-class family adopting a Mayan kid, that doesn’t happen. So, at some point in time, there was, there’s plenty of rhetoric, especially as they were changing the laws and going through the change from—

 

So I don’t know of we did this, let me back up. So, PGN is the, was the part that you had to get through, to know that you were going to get to adopt.

 

Jim: The equivalent of their attorney general’s office.

 

Kristen: Under the old laws. And you had until December 31st [2007]. If you made it through PGN by December 31st, you would officially have adopted your child and you could—otherwise you had to start all over again, your adoption, and all that process that you’d gone through for the last year meant nothing. And you had to go restart under the new laws. Well they, after that, they closed for a whole year. So even the restarting process, you couldn’t do for a whole year, because they had to figure out how to have the infrastructure of an adoption program—

 

Jim: From nothing—

 

Kristen: From nothing. With no money. Zero money. And a corrupt government. So, part of the rhetoric during this whole process was that Americans were stealing babies. That rich Americans came down and they stole all the children. So there was this assumption, um, that everyone was down there stealing babies. It’s already—one of my, my former head of security was with the secret service, and he was stationed in Guatemala for seven years—it’s already, like adoption, no adoption—it’s a gun state. You have any money down there, you have a bodyguard. Locals have a bodyguard. We stayed in the nicest section of Guatemala city, and the restaurant next to our hotel had been sprayed with gunfire. Um, because there had been an attempted robbery, right there. The Intercontinental Hotel, there were armed—like rifle-armed—armed guards posted all the way across the sidewalk. You know, we, because we were adopting, were taught, kind of, to fear. Now I have friends who go to Guatemala on vacation and they’re not afraid, and that’s not—but, there was this kind of, culture of—

 

Jessie: With the connotation.

 

Jim: They told us not to leave the hotel, basically.

 

Kristen: Mm-hmm. And when we did leave—

 

Jessie: That was because of the changing... ?

 

Kristen: Well one thing, you’re assumed as Americans to have a lot of money.

 

Jessie: That’s true.

 

Kristen: You’re assumed to be stealing a baby. So, we had armed guards pretty much with us at all times.

Katie’s adoption story, and the experience with international politics within that story, highlights one of the many complications involved in adopting across national borders.  Cultural perceptions affect the host country’s citizens’ willingness to adopt, which means some cultures, like Guatemala’s, are left with larger numbers of orphaned children who will not be adopted in their country of origin. For Jim and Kristen, this opened up the world to them, as their daughter is the admitted light of their lives.

Jim: You know, I mean, it was a long process, but in the end, and I’m not, I’m not the first one to say this, because I’ve heard several people do this already who did the same thing—it’s well worth it. I mean, it definitely well worth it. Um, she, you know, she’s just the light of our life.

 

StoryCorps and the lives of ordinary people

Recently I've taken a keen interest in oral histories, and in the technical and artistic feats behind creating audio stories and making them powerful and relevant. I am overwhelmed by how natural the journalists on NPR and its member stations make it seem. There is a lot of work, a lot of practice--and a lot of talent, really--behind making a compelling audio story. I'm interested because I am starting the groundwork on my own podcast project, a history podcast. The topic or range of themes, I don't know yet, but I have a few ideas I am working on. I want to take the notions of community and of roots, and really challenge notions of identity and nationality through the stories I seek (or happen to find) and the questions I ask. Anyone who has read this blog knows that I am fascinated with the fluidity of nationality and its meaning in lives and across national boundaries. So when I sit down to think about communities, I inevitably return to this thought, to this theme in the multicultural lives we live today. There are more specifics that I can expound on later when I have solidified my project further.

But one of the first places I began looking for inspiration, of course, was the StoryCorps project, which is an initiative of NPR, and both are funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The StoryCorps project records regular people (with often far beyon regular stories to tell) who are interviewed by a friend or family member in booths located at various spots throughout the country (and in the traveling booth). Interviews are housed in the Folk Life Collection at the Library Of Congress, where they stand as historical record that the lives of everyday people matter in our past and in the present.

Beside the fact that NPR is absolutely my primary source of news, and I am admittedly an NPR-podcast junkie, the goal of StoryCorps is valuable and significant in ensuring that people feel both connected to the past, and feel that they matter themselves. This project cannot disappear now, just when technologies are allowing us to share stories in more ways than we ever could. It is a brilliant way of collecting oral histories, focusing on whatever the interviewer wants to know about their loved friend or family member. I am thinking I will take my dad sometime very soon.

I was reminded the other day of one of the most memorable stories ever to air on Morning Edition, the morning program that regularly airs a brief interview from the StoryCorps booth: that of mother Sarah Littman and her then-12-year-old son Joshua, who  has Asperger's. Their poignant conversation (which you can read more about and hear, here) received an incredible response, and is still considered a milestone event in their lives. Littman wrote about it recently, in an effort to illustrate how important StoryCorps's mission is, and to remind everyone how much it meant to her, her son, and everyone who heard and was moved by their story.

She had this to say:

I’ve tried to analyze why our interview had such an impact on so many lives. I’ve wondered: Is it because it helped raise awareness about Asperger’s syndrome? Is it because the interview helped people understand that seeing the world “differently” isn’t necessarily a bad thing? Is it because—and this is the gift of StoryCorps—it showed how much we learn from “ordinary” people (whom, it turns out, are really anything but) if we take the time to sit down and listen?

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s all of these things, but at the core of it all is that last question from my son. This question is at the root of what all of us, no matter who we are or what our age, gender, race, religion, or social status, wonder. Deep down, we all have the desire to know—Do you love me the way that I am? Am I who you expected me to be?

Josh is now 17 and a senior in high school. When applying to colleges for the fall, he chose to write his application essay about our StoryCorps experience. I plan to take him back to the StoryCorps Booth after his first semester for another interview to talk about this next chapter in his life.

StoryCorps’ single largest funder is CPB. The elimination of federal funding for public broadcasting would essentially be a death knell for StoryCorps, which not only has brought so much joy to so many, but in our celebrity-obsessed culture is an incredibly important reminder that every individual matters, and that there is so much to be learned from our stories if we’d only take the time to stop and really listen. This isn’t a partisan issue. It’s about what really matters.

Her sentiment and thoughts on the matter really got to the heart of how I had been feeling about the issue, and about how NPR and the programming I love could take a huge hit in the very near future. She just expressed those thoughts much better than I. So I ask you to also stand up for the value of all of our lives, big and small. Let Congress know everyday stories and lives matter in our collective past. I got a response from Sonny Perdue's people last week.

Do it for me! Where else will I get my daily 2+ hours of news and entertainment?