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Finding Prosperity by Feeding Monkeys

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Finding Prosperity by Feeding Monkeys

Finding Prosperity by Feeding Monkeys

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Unidentified Man #1: I believe in the power of love.

Unidentified Man #2: I believe that a...

Unidentified Woman #1: I believe it deeply...

Unidentified Man #3: I believe in the importance of...

Unidentified Woman #2: I believe that everyone wants to love and be loved.

Unidentified Man #4: I believe in people.

Unidentified Man #5: This I believe.

NORRIS: In our Monday series This I Believe, we've been inviting you to send us your own personal credos, and we've received over 7,300 so far, including one from Harold Taw. He's an attorney from Seattle and the son of Burmese immigrants. Here's our series curator, independent producer Jay Allison.

JAY ALLISON reporting:

In the essays you've sent us, we have encountered all manner of beliefs: belief in the humble gifts of life or in the exalted ones, belief in country, God, family, self. We've learned of your belief in batteries, sleep or tent camping. But we have encountered only one belief like the one you're about to hear, and we don't expect to receive another like it. Here is Harold Taw with his essay for This I Believe.

HAROLD TAW:

I could say that I believe in America because it rewarded my family's hard work to overcome poverty. I could say that I believe in holding on to rituals and traditions, because they helped us flourish in a new country. But these concepts are more concretely expressed this way: I believe in feeding monkeys on my birthday, something I've done without fail for 35 years.

When I was born, a blind Buddhist monk living alone in the Burmese jungle predicted that my birth would bring great prosperity to the family. To ensure this prosperity, I was to feed monkeys on my birthday. While this sounds superstitious, the practice makes karmic sense. On a day normally given over to narcissism, I must consider my family and give nourishment to another living creature.

The monk never meant for the ritual to be a burden. In the Burmese jungle, monkeys are as common as pigeons. He probably had to shoo them away from his sticky rice and mangoes. It was only in America that feeding monkeys meant violating the rules. As a kid, I thought that was cool. I learned English through watching bad television shows, and I felt like Caine from "Kung Fu," except I was a chosen warrior sent to defend my family. Dad and I would go to the zoo early in the morning, just the two of us. When the coast was clear, I would throw my contraband peanuts to the monkeys.

I never had to explain myself until my 18th birthday. It was the first year I didn't go with my father. I went with my friends and arrived 10 minutes after the zoo gates closed. `Please,' I beseeched the zookeeper, `I feed monkeys for my family, not for me. Can't you make an exception?' `Go find a pet store,' she said. If only it were so easy. That time I got lucky. I found out that a high school classmate trained the monkeys for the movie "Out of Africa," so he allowed me to feed his monkey.

I've had other close calls. Once a man with a pet monkey suspected that my story was a ploy and that I was an animal rights activist out to liberate his monkey. Another time a zoo told me that outsiders could not feed their monkeys without violating the zookeepers' collective bargaining agreement. In a pet store once, I managed to feed a marmoset being kept in a bird cage. Another time I was asked to wear a biohazard suit to feed a laboratory monkey.

It's rarely easy, and yet somehow I've found a way to feed a monkey every year since I was born. Our family has prospered in America. I believe that I've ensured this prosperity by observing our family ritual and feeding monkeys on my birthday. Do I believe that literally? Maybe. But I have faith in our family, and I believe in honoring that faith in any way I can.

ALLISON: Harold Taw with his essay for This I Believe. For the last three years, Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo has allowed Taw to feed a monkey on his birthday, and he says he especially enjoys the times now when his parents are able to accompany him.

We hope that you, like Harold, might send us your statement of personal belief. You can find out more and hear all the essays in our series at npr.org. For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.

NORRIS: Next Monday on "Morning Edition," a This I Believe essay from magician and comedian Penn Jillette.

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