My new Friday morning ritual has arrived. Along with millions of others, I will be listening to Season Two of “Serial,” the wildly popular investigative podcast by Sarah Koenig and crew. Season One had a Circes draw for me, mostly because I grew up in Baltimore not far from all the spots where this now-reopened murder case had transpired. And I love Sarah’s method. We were discovering facts along with her, and more intriguing to me, she posed the very questions that we were asking. As this exploration of U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl unfurls, we’ll talk more about its revelations. (Fearless women always want to chat about the new cultural phenomenon, don’t you think?)
But this first episode evoked something else in me. Early on, Sarah is discussing why she chose this story. On the face of it, it feels a curious choice, a military story that has been widely covered in the press, unlike the buried tale of Adnan Sayed. But early on in the first episode, she remembers a children’s book she shared with her kids called Zoom. Her description of a red blob was transformed as the camera “backed up”: The red turned into a rooster comb, which turned into a scene at a farm, which turned into a baby’s farm toy set, which turned into a picture in a magazine, and so on…. Her point, which resonates so solidly, was that it’s all about perspective, and that our assumptions should always be questioned. What we think about Bergdahl—he’s a crazy; he’s a deserter; he’s a spy, or worse, a collaborator; he’s no one we want to spend any time with. What she has found, and why she decided to spend her stand-out creative capital on his tale, is that he is, as she says in her intro, “such an interesting and unusual guy, not like anyone I’ve encountered before.” (And she works with Ira Glass!) In short, the story we know about him, from news headlines and short clips, is not at all the person you castigated for being a traitor, or sympathized as a victim.
It’s the time of year when we find ourselves judging our friends and family members at our numerous holiday gatherings. (See my related post about presenting yourself at those parties here.) It’s that time when we take stabs at New Year’s resolutions, asking who we are and who we want to be. And while it’s hard to peel back that onion of character, for others or our deepest selves, maybe we should take a page from Sarah. And question, reflect, maybe even find a little good in that crazy uncle who drives us mad! It might make all of them understand a bit of what our aging selves are facing…and bring some good will into the world all around.