the ghost of bobby dunbar
This American Life is a wonderful program on National Public Radio featuring essays and interviews about people’s lives. Describing the show on their website they say, “There’s a theme to each episode, and a variety of stories on that theme. It’s mostly true stories of everyday people, though not always. There’s lots more to the show, but, like we said, it’s sort of hard to describe.” I have listened to maybe a half-dozen episodes and have found each one impressive, often moving. Podcasts of the episodes are available free, I think each one is an hour.
I recently listened to this episode, a fascinating and haunting story in its own right, which also provides insight into the way people hold beliefs. I will not include too many details to avoid spoiling the story for anyone who might want to listen.
The episode is introduced on their website as follows:
In 1912 a four year-old boy named Bobby Dunbar went missing in a swamp in Louisiana. Eight months later, he was found in the hands of a wandering handyman in Mississippi. In 2004, his granddaughter discovered a secret beneath the legend of her grandfather’s kidnapping, a secret whose revelation would divide her own family, bring redemption to another, and become the answer to a third family’s century-old prayer.
People can experience a very real sense of trauma when long and deeply held beliefs and convictions are challenged, which can create both internal and external conflict. The granddaughter conducting the research in this story experiences both. At one point a character in the story tells her, “Nobody wants to know,” about her research. Meaning that the granddaughter should stop prying into the past, even though it is her own personal family history she is investigating. But learning about the truth is more important to the granddaughter than remaining comfortable or making people happy. Sometimes the truth hurts.
Perhaps the person’s complaint, “Nobody wants to know,” does contain a grain of truth. Some or many people in the story likely will not deal with the turmoil well. Living in denial might maintain a degree of comfort, but is it best for him? What will really bring him peace? Will the truth set him free? Sometimes the answers to questions like those are not as clear as we might think.
But peace and happiness can be found in searching for truth even when it hurts, as this story beautifully demonstrates. Introspection into human nature, a mystery, truth, history, redemption… What more can one ask for in a story? Please let me know your thoughts if you find the time to listen (so there may be spoilers in the comments section). Warning before you get sucked in, the episode is an hour long and is devoted to this one story. Got some time on your commute? Need to turn the TV off for a bit? Enjoy!