the ghost of bobby dunbar

February 22, 2010 at 9:50 pm 6 comments

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!


Entry filed under: belief, doubt, life. Tags: , , , .

the year of living like a new kind of christian break up with Jesus

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Steve  |  February 22, 2010 at 11:11 pm

    Thanks for the recommendation – I just got the show and will listen to it tomorrow at work.

  • 2. Sabio Lantz  |  February 23, 2010 at 3:56 am

    The parallel to finding out the truth about Jesus and the tension in your life is wonderfully clear. Thanx for the recommend, I listened to it early this morning. And to think, this story was less than a 100 years ago in the time of mass media. The Gospel of John was written about the same time from Jesus’ death.

  • 3. atimetorend  |  February 23, 2010 at 6:34 am

    @Steve, thanks for stopping by, hope you enjoy it.

    @Sabio, regarding the parallel with the historicity of the gospels, that is a good observation, I honestly don’t know if that came to mind when I listened to the episode. There were other parallels with faith as you note that were more apparent to me.

    I think spoilers should be fair game in the comments, right? I’ll note that in the original post.

  • 4. The Wise Fool  |  February 24, 2010 at 9:44 am

    Great post attr. In my walk as a skeptic, I’ve generally run into two classes of people: one class which simply dismisses any skeptical argument and another (minority) class which will honestly consider what is debated. However, every now and then, I find someone with an “I don’t want to know” attitude with regard to examining the foundations of their faith. Even some of my own family members are this way.

    For those people, it seems that their faith is their coping mechanism for life, and they don’t know how they could go on without it. Given that faith “works” for them, I find myself very hesitant to press them towards a deeper investigation. They have a peace and happiness as they are, so why try to break that.

    I have a version of the truth, and even if I can prove without a shadow of doubt that the scriptures and modern Christian interpretations are racked with error, I still can’t prove or disprove with 100% certainty what went on 2000 years ago or if a god, let alone the Jewish/Christian God, exists. My “truth” is thereby tainted and unsure.

    The Bobby Dunbar story did have peace and happiness found through the pursuit of somewhat painful truth, yet on the scale of religion and faith we have to take it up to another level; that level of the intangible spirit and soul. That is a whole new ballgame, and is one with reportedly eternal consequences.

  • 5. Steve  |  February 24, 2010 at 9:54 am

    I enjoyed that story very much! I even spent some of the time at my wife’s birthday dinner telling her about it. ;)

    While my faith has not been entirely “rent” as yours has, I have obviously embarked on a voyage that many in my family and friends group don’t appreciate or understand, so I can sympathize a bit. It’s one reason that I tend to favor the tactic that encourages them to examine their beliefs rather than impose my new beliefs upon them, as we sometimes, like Margaret, are forced by circumstance to do, with the potential of really sad results.

    Thanks again!

  • 6. atimetorend  |  February 25, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    Steve, glad you enjoyed the story. Your poor wife! :^) That a great approach, encouraging people to examine their own beliefs rather than imposing our own, especially if we are open to examining our own beliefs as well, even the new ones. I try to do that as well, I hope, though I know I can be too opinionated.

    Wise fool, the “I don’t want to know” attitude is difficult to deal with. Well, difficult because the conversation is essentially over at that point. Ultimately I hope in conversations like that there can be a give and take, as long as I am willing to question my own beliefs as well, but I know it doesn’t always work out that way. What you say about faith in the intangible, spirit and soul is interesting. It alludes I think to the fact that there are different levels of evidences and different levels of faith required, there is more mystery involved in some things than in others.

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