Sunday, March 21, 2010

Another pen pal in Michigan

This week This American Life re-broadcast a show originally aired in 2003 called, My Pen Pal. It describes a true story of a pen pal relationship between an 11 year old northern Michigan native, Sarah York, and the infamous dictator, Manuel Noriega. (You can see a picture of them here.) I love this story. It makes you think about how we classify who is bad. Noriega goes above and beyond in his letters to York in a way that cannot be justified only by political motive. You are left to wonder about the soft side of an evil man's heart and whether York's pen pal relationship led her to live off the grid with her family.

The last seven minutes of the show tells a second story. A woman describes her pen pal relationship with her husband to be preferable to the one they have when they live in the same house. This reminds me of a passage I once read in Margaret Atwood's book Blind Assassin that describes a reunion after a long period of time. The character's memories had softened and distorted over time, but when she met the person again all their harsh lines and wrinkles were once again revealed. There are some people we prefer at distance.

I am going to have to track down a copy of that book to find out how the eloquent Atwood described this, especially since I last read it when it came out 10 years ago. In the meantime, enjoy the podcast!

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