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April 23rd, 2011

Why we do this stuff...

This is going to be a tricky post for me... because it is based on an email I got a few days ago, which I am still not sure how to react to.

I've made no secret about how little I think of television, either watching it or being on it. So it was something of a shock to get an email from a teenager who saw me on TV a few weeks ago and felt moved to tell me how much it meant to him. It's tempting to just quote the whole letter, but that's unfair to him. He wouldn't want it posted, and would probably be embarrassed at all the grammar and spelling mistakes -- the very things that convince me that the letter is real... it is so very much from a fifteen year old. And that's what makes it so moving.

Here's my version of what he says: he's fifteen, one of a gang of nerds in his high school somewhere in the American Bible Belt, someone who loves astronomy but gets grief from his friends because they think it makes him an atheist. The tension was driving him to depression and thoughts of suicide. He saw me on the National Geographic show, and what I said meant a lot. Except, of course, he confesses that he doesn't remember what it was I said. Only that someone like me was there, saying it.

And that's the whole point, of course. What I say on TV, what the interviewers quote me saying, doesn't matter... not nearly as much as the mere fact that someone like me is on TV saying it.

And a million kids see it. And one of them is moved enough to write.

And it puts me in my place. Good and bad. My place is not made up by the brilliant and clever things I say. My place is where I happen to be.

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