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This I Believe II: More Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women

This I Believe II: More Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women

3.1 11
by Jay Allison

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A new collection of inspiring personal philosophies from another noteworthy group of people

This second collection of This I Believe essays gathers seventyfive essayists—ranging from famous to previously unknown—completing the thought that begins the book's title. With contributors who run the gamut from cellist Yo-Yo Ma to ordinary


A new collection of inspiring personal philosophies from another noteworthy group of people

This second collection of This I Believe essays gathers seventyfive essayists—ranging from famous to previously unknown—completing the thought that begins the book's title. With contributors who run the gamut from cellist Yo-Yo Ma to ordinary folks like a diner waitress, an Iraq War veteran, a farmer, a new husband, and many others, This I Believe II, like the first New York Times bestselling collection, showcases moving and irresistible essays.

Included are Sister Helen Prejean writing about learning what she truly believes through watching her own actions, singer Jimmie Dale Gilmore writing about a hard-won wisdom based on being generous to others, and Robert Fulghum writing about dancing all the dances for as long as he can. Readers will also find wonderful and surprising essays about forgiveness, personal integrity, and honoring life and change.

Here is a welcome, stirring, and provocative communion with the minds and hearts of a diverse, new group of people—whose beliefs and the remarkably varied ways in which they choose to express them reveal the American spirit at its best.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Allison and Gediman's newest omnibus highlights 75 more essays from the archives of the successful NPR program, a contemporary version of Edward Murrow's classic radio show. Culled from writers both legendary and previously unfamiliar, each essayist presents what he or she believes in 500 words. From Robin Baudier's tract on "Strange Blessings," detailing her experience living in her parents' FEMA trailer after the devastation of Katrina, to Michelle Gardner-Quinn's credo for "upholding reverence for all life" (Quinn was tragically murdered after completing this essay) to Kim Phuc's essay on "Forgiveness," borne of her experience as that "girl in the picture" running naked, napalm-burnt on a road near Saigon, each micro-essay stuns with its singular beauty, lucidity and humility. Icons like Helen Prejean, Studs Terkel and Elie Wiesel find estimable company in heretofore unknown writers who distill their individual truths with affecting sincerity and admirable aptitude. (Oct.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

This title follows last year's Audie® Award-winning, New York Times best-selling collection of the same name. Both derive from the National Public Radio® (NPR) show, which in turn derives from a 1950s Edward R. Murrow-hosted radio broadcast. Here, we again hear from a range of essayists (everyone from a diner waitress to former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright) about their personal credos. Five-time Peabody® Award-winning broadcast journalist Jay Allison, host of the NPR show, introduces the readings, each of which, though unique in substance and delivery, manages to meld into a harmonious whole-no small feat in sound engineering. Enthusiastically recommended for libraries where the first title did well.
—Raya Kuzyk

From the Publisher

“In the second collection derived from the extraordinarily popular and influential National Public Radio program This I Believe, pithy, personal, and stealthily affecting essays grapple with life's big questions from myriad perspectives and with refreshingly positive energy....Infused with gratitude and hope, these declarations are at once grounding and uplifting.” —Booklist

“By turns moving, thoughtful, cheering and heartbreaking, in an age of irony these essays offer a little something to believe in” —St. Petersburg Times

“This book opens with a formidable challenge: 'What would you say in five hundred words to capture a core principle that guides your life?' Before you try to answer that question, you might want to read some of the 75 essays collected in This I Believe II: More Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women. Many will leave you breathless. And those that don't astonish may simply humble you . . . Many of these speakers articulate beliefs 'forged in hardship'–sometimes horrific experiences of tragedy, illness, or loss. Yet over and again they affirm the good to be gleaned–by those willing to recognize it–from the largest and the smallest lessons of human experience . . . The book's purpose, says Allison, is to 'counter . . . divisiveness' and 'raise a flag for thoughtfulness.' These essays do that but they also do something more: They speak to the best in all of us and leave us in awe of the unheralded virtue that surrounds us every day.” —Marjorie Kehe, The Christian Science Monitor

This I Believe II features 75 pithy essays by authors young and old, famous and unknown, and engaged in every walk of life. In 'The Right to Be Fully American,' Pakistani-American Muslim attorney Yasir Billoo describes the anguish of being made to feel like a foreigner in your homeland, while virtuoso cellist Yo-Yo Ma expounds the benefits of cross-fertilizing cultures, both in life and in music. In 'The Faith That Brings Me Peace,' Betsy Chalmers describes how the implicit belief in marital faithfulness has enabled her to remain committed to her 30-year marriage to a convicted criminal; in 'God is God Because He Remembers,' Elie Wiesel puts the value of shared history into stark perspective. In the foreword, co-producer Jay Allison describes This I Believe as 'a snapshot of the convictions of our age.' Even a preliminary reading of the book will reveal that these varied convictions arise from a diverse range and depth of experiences.” —Aisha Motlani, Shepherd Express (Milwaukee)

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This I Believe II

More Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women

By Jay Allison, Dan Gediman, John Gregory, Viki Merrick

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2008 This I Believe, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-3383-4


Finding the Strength to Fight Our Fears

* * *

Terry Ahwal


When I was eleven years old and living under the Israeli occupation, I took a chance and after curfew I ran to visit my grandmother who lived two blocks away from us. On the road I had to hide under a truck to avoid soldiers who were coming my way. For twenty minutes I lay there in utter fear watching their boots walk back and forth in front of the truck. My heart was pounding so fast and loud that I was afraid one of the soldiers would hear it and I would be killed instantly.

To calm myself, I started begging God to take mercy on me and save me from these men and their guns. I remembered the words of my mother after Israeli soldiers beat my father. She told us to put our fear and anger aside and pray for the poor soldiers, who were also afraid because they were away from their homes in Israel.

I began to feel bad for the soldiers. I wondered: Where do they sleep and are they afraid of little children like me? What kind of food do they eat? Do they have big or small families? Their voices began to remind me of my neighbors. My fear dissipated a bit as I pictured the soldiers as people I knew. Although my twenty minutes under the truck seemed like an eternity, I believe that shedding my fear literally saved my life.

Thirty-six years later I look around and see another kind of devastation created by fear. I saw the collapse of my city, Detroit, when so many white people fled the city out of fear. After 9/11, the Arab and Muslim communities segregated themselves because of the level of suspicion directed at them from others. Fear of association because of ethnicity led many to retreat within themselves and their community. They stopped socializing with non-Arab/Muslim colleagues and neighbors. Once again, we allow differences to separate us because of fear.

When I was hiding under that truck, if my terror had made me lose control and I had started to cry, the jittery soldiers might have pulled the trigger because of their own fears. Thank God I lived to wonder about this. I understood as a child that fear can be deadly.

I believe it is fear we should be fighting, not the "other." We all belong to the same human tribe; that kinship supersedes our differences. We are all soldiers patrolling the road, and we're all little children hiding under the truck.


I Will Take My Voice Back

* * *

Quique Aviles

I BELIEVE THAT ADDICTION CAN KILL ME, but that writing and performing will save me.

I am a poet and an actor. I am also a crack addict and an alcoholic, and that's how a lot of people see me: a pipe head, a drunk, a problem, an epidemic, a disaster area.

I came to Washington, D.C., from El Salvador in 1980 at the age of fifteen. When I told my mom I wanted to be an actor, she said, "You mean a clown." But I make a living — although meager — through my poetry and performances.

In the early '80s, crack came to D.C. I saw my city change and me with it. Crack is a killer. Crack turns a ladybug in your house into a hungry rat. Crack transports you into paranoid obsession. You don't sleep. You don't eat. Your high lasts ten to fifteen seconds so you need to keep pumping your brain with this poison over and over again.

Mine has been a life of duality. I can function on drug street corners and at wine-sipping theater receptions. In 1995 I was part of a show at the Kennedy Center, but I was sneaking beers into my dressing room before the show and getting high after. I often feel a sense of pride when I put my book and loose poems in my bag before going to do a reading. And yet, I am also this other person — this shadow, this vampire.

I've just turned forty-one and have finally realized that crack will kill me if I keep on shoving it up my brain. The alternative is death and I don't want it. I want to get old.

About a year ago, I completed my third rehab. I decided that I would use writing and performing as a catapult for rebound. I decided to stand onstage and share stories from my notebooks that have borne witness to my nightmare.

I want to keep playing with verbs
Write letters to old friends
And ask them to keep writing
I want to hold on to the lives of consonants and vowels

In a world of zero tolerance, talking like this about my addiction — even saying it out loud on the radio — may mean artistic suicide. But by telling my story here and onstage, I will take my voice back. People will bear witness to my life. I believe that crack can kill me, but that in the end, that communication and direct human contact will save me.


A Silent Night That Brought Healing

* * *

Steve Banko

I'VE BEEN MOVED BY THE MAGIC OF Christmas music since the nuns in grammar school etched the words of the carols into my brain. That magic persists despite the memory of our prepubescent male voices that sounded more like a pond of bullfrogs than the Vienna Boys' Choir. The music rose above us. Even our childhood rivalries and petty differences were no match for the spell of that music. I believe that Christmas music can touch the spirit.

Those nuns taught me the music and the lyrics, but I would learn of the real magic about ten years later.

On Christmas Eve, 1968, I was a patient in a military hospital in Yokota, Japan. My leg had been shattered by a couple of machine-gun bullets in a five-hour battle in Vietnam. My body was full of shrapnel and my hands had been badly burned. For three weeks, army doctors in Vietnam struggled to save my leg. They sent me to Japan on that Christmas Eve to give a new team of surgeons a chance to work their magic.

And I was in desperate need of magic. Somewhere it was Christmas, but it didn't feel like it to me — at least not until I heard the music piped through the PA system.

A chorus sang of "peace on earth and mercy mild" and promised "God and sinners reconciled." Another voice called to "let us all with one accord sing praises to our heavenly Lord" and another, to "sleep in heavenly peace," but heaven and peace seemed so distant to me.

My misery was interrupted by a low moan coming from the next bed. All I could see was a white cast shaped like a body; cutouts for his eyes, nose, and mouth were the only breaks in the cast. Even as the music inched me toward comfort, the reality of pain anchored me in the present. But looking at my neighbor enclosed in God-knows-what-kind-of-pain, mine didn't seem nearly as important.

The soft strains of "Silent Night" were filling the air of the ward when the nurses made final rounds with our medications. When my nurse approached, I asked her to push my bed closer to the man in the cast. I reached out and took my new friend's hand as the carol told us "all is calm, all is bright."

We spoke no words to each other. None were needed. The carol revived the message of hope and the triumph of love for me. I felt a slight tightening on my hand and for the first time that Christmas I felt I would survive my ordeal, and for the first time in a long time, I wanted to.

I believe there is magic in Christmas and the music that celebrates it, because it brings us closer together and closer to our own hearts.


Living with Integrity

* * *

Bob Barret

I BELIEVE IN INTEGRITY. IT'S A BELIEF that's tested in those gut-wrenching moments when conflicting values pull me in opposite directions.

Back in the early 1980s, I was in a training session for mental health workers who were volunteering to provide counseling to cancer patients who had a terminal diagnosis. Each of us was given sixteen index cards and asked to write on each the names of people, abilities, things, and values we hold dear. In the course of our imagined cancer, we had to surrender cards or somewhat abruptly have them taken from us.

At the end I had two cards: One read "Integrity" and the other read "My Family." How could I choose between these two? Such a choice was unfair and impossible. My initial thought was that I would give up my integrity, because I love my daughters and would want their comfort at my death. But then, I would realize that dying without integrity might be worse. I drifted back and forth, not wanting to choose. In the end, I uneasily kept the integrity card because I reasoned that if I lost my family, integrity would still be possible; if I lost my integrity, my life would be without value.

I ended up spending five years working with cancer patients and their families, and when the HIV crisis came in the mid-'80s I used my training to help gay men face their deaths. They did it with rare courage and integrity.

As I worked with these gay men, I began to be aware that my life was sort of a lie. When I met their caretakers and friends, I realized that I had more in common with them than with my straight male friends. For a while I tried to silence this growing awareness, reminding myself that I loved my wife and children, and that they deserved a husband and father who was respected in the community. If I began to identify as gay and claim my integrity, surely I deserved to lose my family and possibly my job and all of my friends.

As it turned out, integrity was the painful choice I made. I suppose few of us want to hurt people we love. For me, telling my wife and later my daughters that I am gay was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. At age forty-eight, I did not know how to be gay, never mind how to find men to date. So I was alone a lot, and in those lonely days my choice haunted me.

Many times I was tempted to abandon my integrity and go back to the person my family wanted me to be. But returning seemed useless, for if I left my integrity at the door, I would not have much to offer other than my presence.

Today, at age sixty-seven, I live totally out as a gay man. To my surprise, being gay has turned out to be an opportunity for me to help sexual minorities and their families. For a while I feared I had lost my family. I think they felt betrayed and ashamed of me. But today we've found ways to live in our love — each of us true to our own integrity.


The Strange Blessing That Brought Me Home

* * *

Robin Baudier

I BELIEVE IN STRANGE BLESSINGS. I HAVE never been in such good shape. I have never spent so much time outside. I caught the last three sunsets in a row and unless I am mistaken, I will catch the one tonight. I have never felt so close to my family. I have never felt so sure that I was doing everything right.

I live in a FEMA trailer with my parents. I moved home from L.A. February before last, quitting the job it had taken me almost a year of miserable internships to get, to make sure firsthand that my family was okay. Now I work on my dad's house on the weekends and at his dental laboratory during the week. Shutting the curtain on the bunk bed area doesn't always cut it for privacy, so I spend a lot of time outside exercising the dog and just trying to get away from people. I take her out on the levee and run to get rid of all my frustration with not being able to have a job that will allow me to afford rent. I run to get out, when I have been stuck inside, reading to escape from life, not even able to sit up straight in my tiny bunk. I run to feel like I am doing something when I am overwhelmed by all the things I can't do anything about.

The reason I caught the sunset yesterday is that we have been waiting for two weeks for FEMA to come fix a leak in our plumbing. I was so frustrated with running out in a towel to turn the water off, then mopping up the floor with the rotating assortment of towels that we have hung outside the trailer, that I decided to put on my bathing suit and shampoo under the hose. But God, that was a beautiful sunset last night.

I know it might sound strange that I am indirectly describing Hurricane Katrina as a blessing, since it took my family's home and recovering from it has taken over our lives. But I love my awful life so much right now, that I find it hilarious when I am unable to convince anyone else of it.

I make less than the people working at Popeye's. I repeatedly have to suffer the indignity of telling people that I live with my parents. But I have finally gotten rid of back pain that the doctors always told me was from stress. I occasionally have weekends when I realize that I am building a house with my dad, which I used to dream about when I was six and watching Bob Vila with him. And I am back where I belong, no longer kidding myself that there is anywhere else I want to be.

I believe in strange blessings, because taking away my house brought me home.


Returning to What's Natural

* * *

Amelia Baxter-Stoltzfus

I BELIEVE IN SEMIPERMANENT HAIR DYE: THE kind that lets you have a few wacky purple-headed weeks in the depressing months of winter term, but leaves you plain and brunette again in time for graduation pictures. The kind that lets you be whoever you want without letting go of how you got there. The kind that lets you embrace those internal contradictions that make up an entire, oxymoronic, complex, complete human being. I believe in hypocrisy, just a little.

Semipermanent hair dye is about finding security within unlimited freedom. It's about recognizing what I have in my life and holding on to it, even if only at the base of a follicle, because I also believe in roots.

My mother always tells me that the hair color you're born with is the one that looks the best on you, and I want to make sure that there's something inside of me that's always going to be worth returning to. Maybe the house I lived in with my parents will never be home for me again. Maybe I'll fall out of touch with people I thought I was prett again. Maybe I'll fall out of touch with people I thought I was pretty close to in high school. Maybe I'll hate the way a darker brown washes me out. But I'll know that in twenty to twenty-six washes, I'll come back to something that I've had naturally forever, and I'll know it looks pretty good.

Here's where the hypocrisy comes in. Every time you get away from home, thinking how you're going to reinvent yourself, you end up hanging on to the things about yourself that are the most familiar. Feeling safe isn't about setting limits on the outside. It's about hanging on for dear life to what's on the inside, no matter how your context changes. Because, honestly, you'll never know whether you look fantastic as a redhead unless you've tried. What you will know is that you have brown to return to, when you're ready.

I've just moved into my first apartment all on my own, and New Jersey has never felt so far away. But this new independence could only come from dependence, from knowing that there are unshakable things in my life that have made me ready to face all the Big Bads in the world. We can't be toddlers or teenagers forever, and there's too much out there to experience to make me want to dwell too much in the past. So I do believe in permanent change — just not for my hair.


The Right to Be Fully American

Yasir Billoo

I AM AN AMERICAN AND LIKE ALMOST everyone here, I am also something else. I was raised to believe that America embraces all people from all faiths, but recently, that long-standing belief — along with both parts of my identity — have come under attack. And as an American Muslim of Pakistani descent, this attack is tearing me apart.

Twice, I have sworn to uphold and protect the Constitution and the laws of this nation: once when I became a citizen and once when I became an attorney. I live and work every day with the thought that this is my home. This is the place I can't wait to get back to when I go overseas. I feel the same relief many of you do standing in the customs line and just hearing English again. It is the simple relief of coming home.

But I am also a Muslim. I was born in a foreign land, my skin is not white, and I have facial hair even though it barely passes for a beard. Not only am I a Muslim when I pray my daily prayers or when I fast during the month of Ramadan, I am also a Muslim when I walk through airport security or in the mall when I accidentally leave a bag of recent purchases unattended. Every day, I have to introduce myself to new clients, judges, and other attorneys and actually think of how I can say my own name so that it might sound less foreign, less threatening.

When I am in Pakistan, I find myself defending America, our way of life, and our government's policies. My Pakistani cousins are quick to point the finger at America for any world problems and I push back to ask what the rest of the world has done that is so much better.


Excerpted from This I Believe II by Jay Allison, Dan Gediman, John Gregory, Viki Merrick. Copyright © 2008 This I Believe, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Jay Allison is one of public radio's most honored producers. He has produced hundreds of nationally broadcast documentaries and features for radio and television. His work has earned him the duPont-Columbia and five Peabody Awards, and he was the 1996 recipient of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's Edward R. Murrow Award for outstanding contributions to public radio, the industry's highest honor. He was the curator and producer of This I Believe on NPR and he produces The Moth Radio Hour. Before his career in broadcasting, Jay was a theater director in Washington, D.C. He is also the founder of the public radio stations for Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, and Cape Cod where he lives.

Dan Gediman is the executive producer of This I Believe. His work has been heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Fresh Air, Marketplace, Jazz Profiles, and This American Life. He has won many of public broadcasting's most prestigious awards, including the duPont-Columbia Award.

Dan Gediman is the executive producer of This I Believe. His work has been heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Fresh Air, Marketplace, Jazz Profiles, and This American Life. He has won many of public broadcasting’s most prestigious awards, including the duPont-Columbia Award.

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