From the 1950’s until his death in 2009, Paul Harvey was one of the most recognizable and influential voices on American radio. Over the course of his career Harvey was engaged in a variety of news formats but he is best remembered for his twice-daily News and Comment and The Rest of the Story.
I was introduced to Paul Harvey when I was a youth riding around town in my father’s pickup truck as we ran errands on Saturday mornings. In particular I remember The Rest of the Story in which Harvey would relate a story about a well-known person or event but keep the name or defining details hidden until the end. Usually the stories uncovered little known facts about a person, contrasted a unique perspective with that of the mainstream, or introduced a critical, but little known, element to a defining historical event.
Paul Harvey was the first to tell me that before FedEx was a multi-billion dollar company it was an economics paper at Yale…that received a “C” grade. Those radio spots also taught me that Jasper Newton Daniel smuggled booze during the Civil War and learned distilling from his Primitive Baptist Preacher long before he founded Jack Daniel’s, and that Abraham Lincoln was not the keynote speaker at Gettysburg on November 19th 1863 and that before he gave his two minute Gettysburg Address Edward Everett had already given a two hour oration.
Some of Mr. Harvey’s stories may have been trivial or slanted but the concept for The Rest of the Story resonates with the reality of our lives. It is not simply a rhetorical style; the rest of the story defines our experiences and relationships. Throughout my life I have been guilty of knowing people and things by name only. I have a tendency to accept headlines or other people’s perspectives as fact and only later realize that my experiences paint a very different picture than the ones I have inherited from others.
Though Paul Harvey taught me many facts, the most important thing I gained was an understanding that there is always more to a story than the headline. The truth, that life is lived below the headlines, is at odds with the way I often consume news, approach faith, make purchases, give of my resources, and judge my neighbors. Whether it is due to a lack of time or a short attention span I frequently want quick answers to questions like: Who do I vote for? What should I invest my money in? Where should I send my child to school? What’s God’s will? What’s the best neighborhood to live in? And where should I contribute my charitable dollars? I can’t be an expert at all of that, somebody tell me what to think!
In September I attended a fundraising seminar in preparation for our end-of-year campaign. The training provided me with a lot of valuable insight but an unnerving reality set in as I listened to the presentation and reflected on the Stewart Center’s fundraising efforts – we must generate headlines to compete for charitable dollars. In print, on-line, and in speech we must validate the Center’s existence in 180 characters or less. Pictures, statistics, and vignettes must tell the story of the Center and our children.
Maranda has been a part of the Stewart Center since she was three or four years old, long before I arrived on the scene. She is in tenth grade at Maynard Jackson High School and is currently a part of our youth group and serves as an assistant counselor in our after school program. Maranda is strong willed and tender, sassy and smart, determined and indifferent. She has grown up in the neighborhood and has aspirations to be a doctor, join the Navy, travel, and ultimately return to Atlanta to make a difference in the lives of her neighbors. She’s been raised by a single mom although she has lived on and off with other relatives and spent over a year in foster care. She has survived the death of close family members, struggled with her grades and was dismissed from middle school a few years back. At one point she and I were at such odds that I forbid her attendance at youth group meetings.
During a particular Bible study when she was being especially disrespectful I abruptly stopped the session, looked her straight in the eye and told her that I didn’t care if she gave me the middle finger in her mind while I talked so long as she sat there and kept her mouth shut. Maranda and I have both grown since that day and our relationship has never been the same. We have an understanding and respect for one another that would not exist without an engaged relationship.
These few facts about her life do not begin to reveal the beautiful, complex, intelligent, vulnerable and driven person that is Maranda. Her story is only one of the many at the Stewart Center, and that is the point, it is her story, not my story, not the Stewart Center’s and I only give it now with her permission and with the fear that it might objectify her in the eyes of some.
I love and respect Maranda and because of that I cannot summarize her life and our relationship in a headline so that others will value the Center’s “work.” Maranda is a huge success story, but it is her success, to be experienced by her and those involved in her life. I have no solution for the tension within me, I must represent the Center but I must never use someone’s life as fundraising fodder.
Here’s hoping that in 2015 we read a few less headlines and experience more of “the rest of the story.”