Terry Gross is my Copilot

As a kid, I operated a radio talk show out of my bathroom. It was the best place for privacy and moments all about me. With my pants down to my ankles, I entered this imaginary world of interviewing. I was the subject and I was also the host.

How did that bike ride go?

Tremendous, freeing, fa la la la la, and then a kid went by me on a yellow bike a little faster. So, I went faster. Oops-a-daisy, I fell.

Did you get back up?


Wow, I’m so impressed. How did you do that?

I’m super strong and smart.

Anyhow, you get the point. I had a side project on the toilet. Isn’t that normal? Don’t answer. Regardless, I credit those moments with the beginnings of my career as a therapist. I love what I do, mostly because I am so curious about what motivates us as humans and what keeps us going. I especially love this way of thinking when applied to the artistic process.

Yesterday, I had a banner of a day because I happened to drive into the office listening to Terry Gross hosting Fresh Air, and I managed to drive home listening to the same episode during its evening re-air. NPR is an acquired taste, so I don’t expect everyone to know what I’m talking about. In short, Fresh Air is a radio talk show that features the best and newest subjects, showcasing whatever it is these fascinating humans do. Similar to an ideal memoir, Gross finds a way to angle in so that the audience receives the essence of the subject, and I think sometimes, in such an unassuming way that we learn more than maybe Gross (or maybe I) had anticipated.

And, while I pretend that she reminds me of my kid self on the toilet – getting to the heart of the matter to inspire – now, I listen to be both entertained and schooled in a master class on conversing throughout the onion layers.

As I listen to the timbre of Gross’s voice, my body lights up. She’s steady, wonderfully present, and capable of timing that question for Stephen Colbert or Jake Tapper, just as she asks a question about their own sense of timing.

She’s a mindful wizard. And I think I admire her most because she appears so comfortable with who she is that we are blessed to bear witness to authentic energy bringing out authenticity in others.

I believe that the brightest among us allow the rest of humanity to shine more brightly.

Driving home last night, I turned the dial back to my local NPR. Good, I thought, this is the interview I wanted to hear again. W. Kamau Bell was talking about a latest project he’s glistening the world with. It’s on geneology. He said something like he was told growing up he wasn’t as black as others and when his 73% to the average 75% African came back to him in a report, he thought that explained it all. Gross warmly chimed in with something like, that’s just margin of error. And Bell bantered back with a delicious response on how, rather, that two percent validates his whole developmental narrative.

I laughed as I listened. Somehow, the show took me to a higher consciousness, once again. What I gathered then, most importantly, is something beyond a skill: I learned about the humanity of others, and because I remain the center of my own universe too often, I learned about my own.

Part of me could reach out and hug Bell, thanks to Gross. His blackness, maybe like my jewishness, has its overlaps. Blond haired, small nosed, parents interfaith with the occasional Christmas tree, I was often told I wasn’t jewish enough. But, in the United Shades we live in, those things that make us feel different – a little darker, a little less christian, a little off trend, make us stand out. In that moment, Fresh Air did what I revere art may sometimes do best, it connected fragmented parts into a new beautiful whole. Someone’s life, quite different from my own, reached out and touched me, hugged me really.

It’s a gift of shared humanity that Gross gives us, and I am lucky to have her company – her guidance, really – as I drive to and from work.

Beyond boxes and percentages, I think of the only word I know to be true of me: relativist. Despite that point of view, I cannot help thinking I better understood a truth last evening: it is certain that Terry Gross has a talent for opening up both subject and audience, and the broader world.

As a kid, bathroom time was my sacred space where I could close a door, get away from broader stimulation, and have a heart to heart. Now I close my car door, drive, and trust someone else will ask the important questions.

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