I love stories. Short ones, long ones, happy ones, and sad ones. Stories about the triumph of the human spirit, and ones about the completely trivial. I love stories that surprise me and stories about the mundane and familiar; stories about people I know and people I’ve never heard of.
I satisfy my story fix in lots of different ways: books, movies, Netflix series, and conversations with random people on the bus. But the most meaningful medium for me, the one that consistently makes me feel the most satisfied, is the magnificent weekly podcast This American Life (TAL).
I discovered TAL over 10 years ago and my instant love surprised me: I’ve been to America only once, I don’t have any affinity for its culture, and I don’t really like Americans as a rule. But truth is, TAL is not about Americans at all, it’s about what it is to be human.
Episodes are introduced by the show’s iconic creator, Ira Glass, with the simple statement: Each week we choose a theme, and we bring you several stories on that theme.
The themes covered are broad–from prom nights to poultry, quiz shows, twenty-four hours in a Chicago diner, building superintendents, and amusement parks–but the messages are consistent. Almost every narrative is about redemption. Sometimes they’re uplifting, sometimes terribly sad; but at the end of each episode, you come away feeling like the world is okay, grateful for a certain goodness at the heart of people.
If you do nothing else today, listen to this extract from my favorite episode, One Last Thing Before I Go. You’ll never look at a telephone booth the same way–it’ll stay with you. I promise.