The How and Why of Life and Death Kevin Kling takes us on a journey that starts with learning how to use voice-recognition software after a motorcycle accident; then to Dante and the things in our lives that haunt us all; some we are born with and others we create with the choices we make.

The How and Why of Life and Death

The How and Why of Life and Death

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Kevin Kling takes us on a journey that starts with learning how to use voice-recognition software after a motorcycle accident; then to Dante and the things in our lives that haunt us all; some we are born with and others we create with the choices we make.


Storyteller and commentator Kevin Kling was in an accident a while back. And his recovery was a real experience for him and for his four legged companions.

KEVIN KLING: Several years ago I was in a motorcycle accident that made typing difficult. So I invested in voice activated software for my computer. The voiceware has to get to know my vocal patterns and inflections, so there's this series of sentences I read into the computer and then it learns my vocal nuances.

I remember when the movie Fargo came out, people kept calling my local radio station saying, hey, what's the deal? We don't sound like that. So I'm reading away when my dog and cat get in this fight. It's like bow, bow, meow, meow.

And I look at the computer and it's written - how, how, why, why, why, how, how. And that explains a lot about cats and dogs. I think when it comes to the underworld, most people are either dogs or they're cats. It's either how or why?

For me the underworld is like a good haircut, that it probably falls between something I had and something I wanted. But we just don't know. We do know whenever you take a trip there's the trip you plan and then there's the trip you take. You get out your maps, you pack just right, but at some point you just have to give it up to the ride. You got to give in to the journey. And face it, the only place that looks like the map it's from is Nebraska.

Time was only a select few got to visit the underworld, like Odysseus, Orpheus, Dante, Nixon. Now anyone with enough money can go to hell. When I had my accident, I got a glimpse of things to come. As I lay unconscious, I had that experience so often talked about.

Now I never saw the light, but as the doctors were working to save my life, I was heading for this amazing sense of peace. And at some point I was given the choice to continue on or to return to this plane of existence where it was made clear there would be consequences. I did return, but without the use of my right arm.

And at first it bothered me that I returned. I mean why didn't I follow that peace? And then I remembered Australia. In 1987 I was visiting Australia and it was so peaceful, so beautiful. I wanted to stay there the rest of my life, but my visa was only good for three months. And as the clock was winding down, this woman named Rae said she would marry me so I could stay an acquire citizenship. I just met her that day. She said yeah, I don't care, I'll marry you.

So we were set to get married when at the last minute I said no, I can't go through with this. I got to go home. I got to get back where I can do something about this world we live in. I mean I need tension. I mean I'm the kind of guy that wears socks with sandals just cause I know it ticks people off.

So I returned to the living - well, I thought I had. There was this guy who saw the accident who thought I died. He went around telling people that I had died. And even to this day he believes it. I see him on the bus every once in a while and I try to talk to him, but he looks right through me. He honestly thinks I'm a ghost. And at first this was disconcerting, but he's right. I haven't completely returned and I can't. And I've grown used to the fact that I do have a foot now in two worlds.

Well, we all have things that haunt us - ghosts, things that we can't find a home for that go bump in our hearts and minds. We call them names like sins or regrets or desires and they to seem to fall into two categories. Kind of like Kentucky Fried Chicken - they're either original or extra spicy.

Okay, original ones are the ones we get before birth. Little tiny time bombs lurking in our genetic weed bed, just waiting to spring into acts of passion or illness. We can't do anything about those. We don't even know why they're there. They're like that Tae Kwon Do school in a shopping mall. Why is that there? It just is.

Then there's the haunts that we create by losses or choices made in life and they tend to trouble us even more. And our great fear is that they will follow us into the afterlife. Dante understood this. When he entered the underworld midway through life, he called the underworld Dis, D-I-S. The Latin for the underworld, the place of shadow and reflection, a place to contemplate and round off the rough edges of torment and desire.

He knew you can't cure a trauma, whether it's a broken limb or a heart or promise. The heart especially, is an instrument once broken never plays the same. And although it can't be cured, it can be healed. Dante knew Dis was a necessary step toward paradise. It's also the prefix for words like disability, which doesn't mean unability, it means able in a different way, able through the world of shadow and reflection. A foot in two worlds, Dis.

We have this basset hound we got as a puppy and we were told by the breeder when training a basset hound, they start out slow and then taper off. I mean if he sees a squirrel, he goes crazy and runs after it. But if the squirrel goes up a tree, the dog thinks wow, it's gone. How, how, how, how, how. And there's the squirrel up in the tree looking down at his problem.

Ever since my accident, I don't fear death. I get a sense of peace to think I'll see my ancestors, friends that I've lost, my dad, my first dog and my arm. But until then it's how, how, why, why, why.

SIEGEL: Storyteller Kevin Kling lives in Minnesota.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.