Podcast: I, I, I. Him
ALIX SPIEGEL (HOST): Hey, there. Before we get to the show, I wanted to let you know that INVISIBILIA is going live on April 19 at the Lincoln Theatre in Washington, D.C. We will be on stage with our friends from Story District for a night of storytelling and fun. You can find out more information at nprpresents.org. That's April 19 in Washington, D.C. See you there.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) HANNA ROSIN (HOST): A few months ago, my mom started talking to me about jumping out of an airplane - my 74-year-old mom who's not at all physically adventurous or any kind of adventurous. She doesn't ride bikes or go jogging. She doesn't even eat at new restaurants. Like, the most adventurous thing she did before this whole airplane thing was probably fall asleep one night without her heating pad.
MIRIAM ROSIN: Makes sense to you?
H. ROSIN: (Laughter).
M. ROSIN: Yeah.
H. ROSIN: Does it make sense to me? I mean, when you first told it to me...
M. ROSIN: Yeah.
H. ROSIN: ...I just was shocked because you're not that kind of person. Like, what do you mean you want to go skydiving? It just seemed crazy.
(LAUGHTER) M. ROSIN: Yeah. You know, obviously because - I mean, who at my age will do it, and it would be considered sane?
H. ROSIN: The whole thing started with a loss - the kind of loss that subtracts from your life something so central that you no longer really know who you are. About a year earlier, her husband, my father who was a super vital guy, was diagnosed with a rare stomach cancer and died within a few weeks.
M. ROSIN: Healthy.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) M. ROSIN: Athletic to death. It just did not compute in your head what went wrong here.
H. ROSIN: They'd been married for 51 years, and they did everything together - everything. Like, he drove her to the subway every morning. He picked her up in the evening. He made her tea every night, and it had been that way for over 50 years. Every inch of their lives, they had walked together. And my mother had no way of understanding her life story without him.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) H. ROSIN: Do you feel - what thoughts about Eli's death were going through your head over and over?
M. ROSIN: Could I do more? Did we miss anything? Why didn't I just take him and went to another hospital? All day long, all day long it hit me - could've saved him.
H. ROSIN: Month after month, she went on like this - scratching circles into her brain, unable to make her way out.
M. ROSIN: Don't want to eat. I don't want to cook. I don't want to - completely stuck.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) H. ROSIN: But then, as the first anniversary of his death approached, I got a text which suggested a very different kind of thought had bloomed in her head. It was a link to a place called Skydive Philadelphia.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) H. ROSIN: A photo of a guy doing two thumbs up and a really happy-looking woman and the word interested.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) H. ROSIN: Honestly? No, I was not interested. I mean, I am really terrified of heights. Like, I can barely look out a third-floor window. I knew my brother had gone skydiving in college, so I called him up thinking maybe he would go with her instead.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: No, I'm not doing it. I did it already.
H. ROSIN: And?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: And it's psychotic. So...
H. ROSIN: But what do you mean it's psychotic? Like, why?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: OK. Go to something that says granny skydives fail.
H. ROSIN: (Laughter). That's where you're sending me?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Yeah. No, go to YouTube.
H. ROSIN: All right. I'm...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: No, no, watch it. Watch it. No, seriously, just watch it while you're on the phone and see what the hell happens here.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) H. ROSIN: OK. Granny really does not want to get out of the plane. She's gripping the sides of the door. So the skydiving dude - he has to pry her hands off the side of the plane and then shove her out.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Keep looking. Yeah.
H. ROSIN: Oh, my God. Oh, my God.
As they free fall, her butt starts to slip out of the harness that's attaching her to the parachute. And then she keeps slipping until she's practically hanging from her ankles by this little strap in the sky.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Laughter).
H. ROSIN: Granny makes it to the ground alive but barely.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) H. ROSIN: Why did you show me this?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Because (laughter) - 'cause your mom's about to embark about something that's [expletive] stupid as that.
H. ROSIN: Wow. This was, like, really not helpful. This was really not helpful.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: No, I wasn't trying to help you.
H. ROSIN: All right.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) H. ROSIN: If I was going to be a good daughter, I needed a reason to jump. So I texted her, why do you want to do this?
All right. Can you just read what you texted to me?
M. ROSIN: Oh, this one?
H. ROSIN: Yeah.
M. ROSIN: OK. Up there, we'll say hello, and we'll meet someday.
H. ROSIN: That was her idea.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) H. ROSIN: Up there, she would catch a glimpse of her husband, deliver a message.
M. ROSIN: Yeah. That's exactly the thought, you know? We'll say hello to him, and we'll tell him we are going to meet someday again. And this is to give you some early (ph) comfort, you know? You know, you're hoping that you will really see him one day, you know, no matter where, no matter what. But that's exactly what I want. Yeah. It will be great.
H. ROSIN: It was a little deathwishy (ph), but you'd have to have a heart of coal not to be moved by this - this ballet in the air. My dad leaps from above, my mom from below. They meet for a second and then separate - a vow to meet again soon. The end.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: All right, guys. We're going to start getting load one trained up (ph).
H. ROSIN: Load one?
M. ROSIN: I'm so excited.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) H. ROSIN: Welcome to the fourth season of INVISIBILIA. I'm Hanna Rosin.
SPIEGEL: And I'm Alix Spiegel. INVISIBILIA is a show about all of the invisible forces that shape human behavior - our beliefs, concepts, emotions. This season, we have tales of bank robbers, publicly shaming harassers and spies who are coming for your mom. Lulu Miller, our other host, is moving into a contributing editor role with the show, so you'll hear from her later this season.
H. ROSIN: But today, we're asking what's the best way to lose? We look for clues in grammar, in my mom's desire to jump out of an airplane...
SPIEGEL: And by talking to a beekeeper who thinks he's been swindled by Russian mobsters. Stick around.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) H. ROSIN: After my father died, I found myself constantly drawn to stories about loss - people losing their job or their house or their dog or their democracy. It felt like what was inside my head was happening outside everywhere. When my son lost his tooth, I drew the line - no more losing. I refused to give it to the tooth fairy. Instead, I woke up at 3 a.m. to steal it from under his pillow and then started obsessively fantasizing about how I could put it back in its rightful place - his mouth.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) H. ROSIN: When my husband accidentally donated a bag filled with our most beloved baby books to the local library sale, I started to panic. So at dawn on the day of the sale, I woke up, I biked to the library in my pajamas and accosted the ladies running the sale to let me find my bag among the hundreds of bags. And I found myself standing in the middle of the street in my pajamas holding our old Richard Scarry book. Why? Why did I care so much about some old Richard Scarry book? Why couldn't I get on with it?
So while I was in this funk, I came across a story in a California newspaper about this guy who seemed just as lost as I was. I had to start over from scratch is what he'd said. I couldn't get that line out of my head. In the middle of his loss, this man was reaching for something. He was trying to get on with it, too. And that's how I ended up in Choteau, Mont., a beautiful small town at the foot of the Rocky Mountains at the farm of Lloyd Cunniff, who's a beekeeper.
LLOYD CUNNIFF (BEELINE COMPANY): Hi.
H. ROSIN: I just can't believe this is what you get to look at every day.
Lloyd is a compact guy with glasses. He isn't easily riled up or impressed.
To me, it looks so beautiful.
L. CUNNIFF: Oh, yeah, I know. It's nice and quiet.
H. ROSIN: Lloyd and his wife, Brenda, moved here to Lloyd's grandfather's farm about 25 years ago to build their small family bee business - Beeline Honey Company. Since then, beekeeping has gotten automated and commercialized but not on their farm. As global forces were completely reshaping beekeeping, Lloyd and Brenda were somehow finding ways to hold onto the past.
BRENDA CUNNIFF (BEELINE COMPANY): We sort the darker combs from the lighter combs so that you get nicer honey, and we do it the old-fashioned ways.
H. ROSIN: Every morning, they woke up and checked on their colonies one by one, just like you check on children in their rooms.
L. CUNNIFF: I'm going to have to go see what the girls are doing and (laughter)...
H. ROSIN: That's awesome.
And for years, it was fine. It was hard work but satisfying. And then in 2016, the first big blow. Their bees had been hit hard by something called colony collapse disorder. You've probably heard about it. It's this kind of mass exodus of worker bees that destroys the hives and has decimated lots of beekeepers.
L. CUNNIFF: We lost half of our bees.
H. ROSIN: They were down to their last 500 - 488 hives to be exact. And then came the second blow. It was dry that year, and their honey crop from the remaining hives was meager. Honey was their sole source of income, and so they were teetering, about to lose everything unless they got some fast money. And for a beekeeper, the only place in America to get fast money is California because that's where you'll find...
HANNA ROSIN AND BRENDA CUNNIFF AND LLOYD CUNNIFF: Almonds.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) H. ROSIN: The almond rush started about 15 years ago after the nut broke out from the rest of the nut pack and became an international health food superstar. Suddenly, everybody wanted almonds - coastal elites, the aspiring middle class in the U.S. and China and India, the Obamas.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING) BARACK OBAMA (44TH US PRES): You know, almonds are a good snack.
H. ROSIN: Almonds are now a $5 billion business.
L. CUNNIFF: It is huge money.
H. ROSIN: To satisfy this global appetite, it seems like much of California was made over into one giant almond orchard. Eighty percent of the world's almonds are grown there. And what do California's almonds need? Bees. Lots and lots of bees are trucked into California every year from all over the country to produce lots and lots of almonds. Now, from Choteau to California is a long way, and Lloyd and Brenda both know that their bee babies...
L. CUNNIFF: They're not designed to be moved around. They move themselves around, you know, three miles at a time. You know, they're not designed to be loaded up and trucked thousands of miles and...
B. CUNNIFF: On a rattling truck for days, you know. That's not what bees are supposed to be doing.
H. ROSIN: But Lloyd and Brenda were desperate. They needed to make as much money as they could from the 488 hives they had left and going to California would get them a quick hundred grand for those hives. Take one little bite of the California poison apple, just one little bite, and then they could retreat home. So on a freezing cold day in January of 2017, Lloyd set out in his truck to California, the last shipment of hives strapped tight in the back, listening to the music he found most soothing...
L. CUNNIFF: Metallica.
H. ROSIN: ...The volume cranked up, his worries running in the background.
L. CUNNIFF: I just knew when we got down there, they weren't going to make it.
Couldn't do it.
It was too cold.
They'll freeze to death.
One little virus.
(CROSSTALK) L. CUNNIFF: I want us to get the hell out of there.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) H. ROSIN: Couple days later, Lloyd pulled onto a gravel road in Yuba City just outside of Sacramento along a field of sunflowers. He climbed onto the truck bed and found himself pleasantly surprised.
L. CUNNIFF: After we took the lids off of them, they were just snug as a bug in there.
H. ROSIN: Lloyd laid the boxes out on the dry grass one by one exactly 2 1/2 feet apart in neat rows, 10 in each row. His plan was to come back early the next morning and feed them.
L. CUNNIFF: And we quit at 4:30 in the afternoon when it was starting to get dark and foggy. And we went home, and I called her on the phone, told her how good the bees were and...
B. CUNNIFF: He was all excited. The bees have never looked this healthy in years. They're wonderful.
L. CUNNIFF: ...That we only had one dead one and three of them that were kind of dinky.
B. CUNNIFF: In heaven - heaven. It was wonderful (laughter).
H. ROSIN: They were healthy, vital, just like my dad had been. Lloyd left that evening secure in the knowledge that he had saved his beautiful life with the bees.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) H. ROSIN: Early the next morning, Lloyd got back in his truck to go feed the bees.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) L. CUNNIFF: So I'm going down the road where I thought I was supposed to going, and I was on the right road. And then I pulled off and I pulled in on this levee, said, whoa, I must be on the wrong road because the bees aren't there. So we drove to the next place, and they were gone. And we drove to the next place. And all the way down, there's four places, and they were all gone. That was it. We didn't have anything. We had one hive of bees left.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) H. ROSIN: It wasn't like a cancer, a known villain. Lloyd lost the core of his identity in the most absurd and improbable way. It took a couple of hours at most. It turns out, Lloyd wasn't the only person hungry for fast almond money. Thieves wanted in on it, too. They came in the middle of the night. They drove to the remote field where Lloyd had carefully placed his bee children.
ALEX STORENKO: (Unintelligible) foggy, foggy night (ph).
H. ROSIN: That's Alex Storenko (ph). He's a beekeeper in the area and also used to track escaped convicts for the Russian army. He didn't see the crime, but he's figured out how it would have gone down based on tire tracks and just knowing a lot about bees. The other voice is Ryan Cousins (ph), also a beekeeper, who was asked by the local sheriff to help investigate the crime. According to Alex and Ryan, the thieves probably used a big truck to pull off the heist.
RYAN COUSINS: Perhaps semi-truck with a 48-foot trailer.
H. ROSIN: Some men would get out of the truck...
COUSINS: Four guys.
H. ROSIN: ...In vinyl white coveralls, white hats, veils, beekeepers. They immediately set to work, go row by row and start stacking, loading Lloyd's bee boxes onto the truck...
COUSINS: Stack them in stacks of three to four pallets.
H. ROSIN: ...All the way to 488, then tie the hives in so they don't fall off the truck...
COUSINS: Four-inch ratchet straps that you throw over the top of the hives and you ratchet them tight.
H. ROSIN: ...And then head to the highway with the contents of someone's whole world in their truck bed.
COUSINS: Pretty gutsy of those folks, what they pulled off, yeah.
H. ROSIN: It was the largest beehive heist in a single night anyone out there can remember - Lloyd's hives plus 200 others. For Lloyd and Brenda, it felt like an alien force had snuck in and hijacked their story.
L. CUNNIFF: I was pissed. You know, I can't believe that somebody would steal somebody's livelihood right out from underneath their nose.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) SPIEGEL: What do you do when someone takes your livelihood, your identity and leaves an empty space where your whole life used to be?
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) SPIEGEL: We'll find out after the break.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) SPIEGEL: This is INVISIBILIA. I'm Alix Spiegel. When we left off, Lloyd and Brenda had lost not just their livelihood but also the thing at the center of their identity. So they were reeling, looking for someone to blame. Here's Hanna.
H. ROSIN: Who is the enemy? Who was responsible for their suffering, and what had shifted in America to put a small-time family business like Lloyd's in such danger?
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) H. ROSIN: Lloyd started to suspect that someone high up in the country was not doing their job.
L. CUNNIFF: They brought in a [expletive] load of criminals out of the - from the Eastern bloc and brought them in here and dumped them right in the middle of us, so they could steal us blind.
H. ROSIN: Lloyd got this idea in his head a few months after the hive heist when a couple of guys named Vitaliy Yeroshenko and Pavel Tveretinov were arrested for the possession of stolen property. They both pled not guilty, and the case is still making its way through the courts in Fresno. The prosecution contends that the men ran a kind of beehive chop shop - rent out the bees, dismantle the hives and then resell the parts. That's how they supposedly made their money. Yeroshenko and Tveretinov, the suspects, they're part of this huge influx of Slavic refugees who settled in Sacramento over the last couple of decades. And some of them have gotten into the bee business. From Lloyd and Brenda's perspective, these newcomers - the Slavic beekeepers - they were turning the world of beekeeping into a lawless and reckless place, displacing and terrorizing small-time beekeepers like Lloyd and Brenda. That was part of what they wanted to talk to me about.
B. CUNNIFF: So what do you think about all this stuff that goes on about the immigrants, the illegal immigrants and the DREAMers?
H. ROSIN: They seemed to be grabbing at bits and pieces of ideas that are out there right now, like immigration policy, as the cause of their pain - because their pain was so big and overwhelming, it demanded an explanation.
B. CUNNIFF: Why can't they make it right? Because...
H. ROSIN: Oh, I see. I see.
B. CUNNIFF: ...They were getting a free pass.
H. ROSIN: OK. OK
B. CUNNIFF: So what I don't understand is why they aren't trying to be legal.
H. ROSIN: Sitting in the kitchen over slices of pizza, listening to them talk immigration, I realized this must be something we're all susceptible to when we lose big - creating a grand narrative of good and evil with ourselves at the center of it. They just needed some way to deal with all this hurt they were feeling.
B. CUNNIFF: For me, it's like - I just spent 25 years paying the bills and doing - and I have my house paid for. I'm not going to mortgage it again. I have to sit here and go - you know, I have to start all over. Do I want to at 58 years old? You know, when we started in this bee business, my daughter had to eat ramen noodles and - for years. You know, and we built this. You take that all away from me in one night.
H. ROSIN: We talked for a long time, opened the windows and then closed them again.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) H. ROSIN: I noticed their whole house was a kind of shrine to bees. There were bee pillows, a bee thermometer, a bee flyswatter, a collection of these hive-shaped wicker baskets called skeps. And it was clear as the evening passed that Brenda's mind cannot come to rest. When she wasn't following the immigration thread, her mind would circle around her pain in other ways searching for other possible answers.
B. CUNNIFF: Did I deserve this? Did I do something to cause this?
H. ROSIN: That seemed so obviously wrong. But when I questioned her, she didn't even hear me. She was so lost in this internal logic.
I mean, who could judge you for that? It's like - somebody came and took, you know, everything you had.
B. CUNNIFF: Have I not been a good enough person? Do I deserve - that's me.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) H. ROSIN: Did I deserve this? Did I do something wrong? Could I have fixed this? I, I, I, me - the way she was talking, it sounded very familiar. Brenda was doing exactly what my mother had done all year since my father died - scratching circles into her brain, not really able to take in the loss and what it meant, not really able to think about who they could be now.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) H. ROSIN: Just getting stuck.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) H. ROSIN: It seemed like an impossible problem. When the thing that holds your world together disappears, how do you find your way out of your old story and into a new one? I called around, and there was this one guy whose answer made some sense to me. His name is James Pennebaker. He goes by Jamie, and he's a professor of psychology at UT Austin. He studies words and language.
JAMES PENNEBAKER (UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN): And how we can use words to influence our ability to cope with upsetting experiences.
H. ROSIN: Jamie is married to a novelist. And the way he thinks about life is, we all walk around with a story about ourselves, and we're always shifting and editing that story. But then, sometimes, something huge and terrible happens - something that knocks out such a big chunk of the story that it just doesn't hold together anymore.
PENNEBAKER: Let's say that someone very close to you dies suddenly. That touches every part of your life, your daily routine, how you connect with other people, linked to your health - all of these different parts of yourself. And it's hard to put those all together. So you'll walk down the street and you'll think about one aspect and you'll get upset, and then you'll switch to another thing, you'll get upset. But the ability to get on with it is the ability to put this experience into a simpler, perhaps more coherent story.
H. ROSIN: Now, some people can do that with relative ease. They can tell themselves loss is a natural part of life, or, I'll find someone new to share my life with, or, instead of bees I'll try llamas. Or, whatever. But then there are the harder cases, people like Brenda and Lloyd, or my mom. They reach this cliff where they have to face this critical question.
PENNEBAKER: Do I change my story about my life, or do I continue persevering with the old story even though the facts don't fit very well?
H. ROSIN: Jamie wanted to know if he could find clues to the differences between the two groups, the ones who shifted and the ones who circled in place. So several years ago he came up with a computer program that could measure, mathematically measure, the differences. When people are doing a good job coping with loss, exactly what words are they using, and how many times are they using them?
H. ROSIN: Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count.
PENNEBAKER: Which I pronounce Luke (ph).
H. ROSIN: In a few different studies, Jamie had people come in and write about what they'd been through, usually for 15 minutes a day for three or four consecutive days. And then LIWC, the mechanical grammarian, divided up the words into different categories and catalogued them. In some studies, Jamie followed up with the essay writers several months later to see which ones felt better physically and emotionally.
PENNEBAKER: What really jumped out were there were huge differences in pronouns.
H. ROSIN: Pronouns.
H. ROSIN: You know.
PENNEBAKER: He, she, they, we.
H. ROSIN: Actually, he found the most important pronouns to track were I words - I, me, my. A person who uses I words at a higher than average rate...
PENNEBAKER: Tends to be more personal, more honest, more self-aware.
H. ROSIN: In my book, a good person to hang out with. But, according to Jamie, a person who stays in the I mode all the time and never shifts, you need to worry about.
PENNEBAKER: Depressed or depression prone.
H. ROSIN: I, that single-letter word, is a cunning little beast.
M. ROSIN: Why didn't I? Why didn't I just...
B. CUNNIFF: Have I not been a good enough person?
M. ROSIN: I don't want to eat. I don't want to cook. I don't want to...
B. CUNNIFF: Did I deserve this?
M. ROSIN: Why didn't I pay attention more?
B. CUNNIFF: Did I do something to cause this?
M. ROSIN: I don't know.
H. ROSIN: Jamie has also sicced LIWC, the grammarian, on poets, to count their pronouns.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING) SYLVIA PLATH (POET): I am nobody. I have nothing to do with explosions. I have given my name and my day clothes up to the nurses.
H. ROSIN: That's Sylvia Plath. The poets who used more I words are much more likely to have taken their own lives.
PENNEBAKER: Almost as though she keeps digging and digging into her misery, as opposed to trying to stand back and get a broader perspective on it.
H. ROSIN: The pattern the computer program picked up was the people who benefited the most were the ones who switched from I to he, she, we and then back to I again. Not because this meant they were selfless or deeply invested in others, but because perspective switching...
PENNEBAKER: Implies detachment.
H. ROSIN: You looking at yourself from a little distance, writing your story as if it were someone else's. If they were able to do that...
PENNEBAKER: They started to develop a more coherent, structured story.
H. ROSIN: Different than the one that had been circling and circling around in their brains. There was another category of words that turned out to be critical to coping.
PENNEBAKER: Think, understand, realize.
H. ROSIN: These were words that showed evidence of working through something, which led to Jamie's ultimate conclusion, and the reason that his research hit home with me. Brenda had a story she kept repeating. My mom had a story she kept repeating. But if you're having trouble coping, it's no good to just have a story, a ready-made one about what had happened to you that you kept repeating over and over again to yourself and everyone else. You have to step outside at some point and actively construct a new story. There had to be some moment, somehow, where you saw what happened to you as if you were the author writing about it, not the character living it.
Does constructed - does that mean made up?
PENNEBAKER: No. A constructed story is putting things together.
H. ROSIN: Taking the pieces that exist and rearranging them in some new way that puts the ghosts in the background, that matches the facts and lets you find a new place to stand in the world that you are actually living in.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) B. CUNNIFF: Pollinating's not for us because we don't want the go, go, go. We don't want that fast pace. We're these little farmers from Montana that, you know, like, you know, the slower pace.
H. ROSIN: Just tweak your story - it sounds simple. But it is so hard. When I was with Brenda and Lloyd, I could feel the ghosts of their old story still stubbornly hanging around. We walked through the old wooden barn that Lloyd's grandpa had built, a cold, dark space that was very neatly arranged. Along one wall stood a big stack of bee boxes.
So these are the boxes that were stolen?
B. CUNNIFF: Some of them. Yes.
L. CUNNIFF: Yeah. Some of them.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) H. ROSIN: And where are the bees that were...
L. CUNNIFF: The bees are - I chased the bees out.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) H. ROSIN: The boxes were stamped with the name of the company that the thieves had set up and the phone number. Lloyd hadn't gotten around to painting the boxes over or throwing them out, so the pile had just been there for months.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) H. ROSIN: I could feel Brenda start to circle again.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) B. CUNNIFF: I grew up agriculture. I'm used to the - not making any money and going for next year. But when - when a person does it to you, it's more like a rape.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) H. ROSIN: You mean you just - in the sense you feel - like, you feel...
B. CUNNIFF: Yes. It's violation. It's not just Mother Nature, or, you know, it's...
H. ROSIN: Personal.
B. CUNNIFF: Yeah, it's an attack.
(SOUNDBITE OF BOX UNLATCHING) H. ROSIN: Lloyd cracked one of the boxes open.
L. CUNNIFF: There's a few crawling around in there (unintelligible).
H. ROSIN: Apparently, he hadn't chased all of them out.
L. CUNNIFF: Yeah. (Buzzing).
H. ROSIN: For the first time all day, Lloyd seemed totally relaxed - in his element.
(SOUNDBITE OF BEES BUZZING) L. CUNNIFF: It's a beautiful white honey. (Unintelligible) you can't even tell it's liquid there.
H. ROSIN: Lloyd dipped a stick into the honey.
L. CUNNIFF: Taste it.
H. ROSIN: Oh, that's delicious.
The circling and circling that Lloyd and Brenda had been doing back to the moment of pain and loss - the experts might not recommend it - but sometimes it gives rise to something raw and beautiful, like honey or poetry.
(SOUNDBITE OF POEM, "TULIPS") PLATH: (Reading) I only wanted to lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty...
(SOUNDBITE OF BEES BUZZING) PLATH: (Reading) ...How free it is. You have no idea how free.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) M. ROSIN: I find myself going to places, like, we used to eat together - even breakfast. And, all of a sudden, the things that we really loved to eat had no taste. I can't even swallow them.
H. ROSIN: One of the main things keeping my mom stuck was she couldn't bring herself to do any of the things that she liked to do when my dad was alive - eating a toasted sesame bagel at the bagel place, walking down Queens Boulevard, shopping.
M. ROSIN: Because I feel guilty - everything that I do - because it's almost like betraying him. Why am I here enjoying life, and he's not there with me? Do you understand? He's buried.
H. ROSIN: And then one day, my mom was just ready. I honestly did not expect it. I can say from a fair amount of experience that she has not historically been a pivoter. It happened the way Jamie Pennebaker said it would but completely independently. Like, my mom didn't know I just talked to him a few days before. A thought just popped into her head while she was home alone during the holidays.
M. ROSIN: I reversed the feeling.
H. ROSIN: Meaning she switched places with my dad - switched from I to he and him.
M. ROSIN: That I said, if I would be the one who died, what I would like him to be - in what position? Would I like him to enjoy life, to continue doing whatever he continued to do with the grandkids, to go continue with a friendship, to continue normal? And the answer was immediate, on the spot, a hundred percent yes.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) M. ROSIN: And that opened my eyes, all of a sudden, to - now I'm convinced that he will do - he would like me to do the same thing.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) H. ROSIN: People had said that to her before. He would like you to enjoy life. But, for whatever reason this time, it stuck. She was fully able to step outside herself and see the same story from another perspective - my dad's. And that little thing changed everything.
M. ROSIN: When I reversed the whole thing, and I said what I would like him to do if it would be reversed, and the answer was a hundred percent yes - I don't want him to suffer - that make my life much easier and accepting. And the jump would be a conclusion of the whole thing. And hopefully that would enable me to, you know, to continue life and just keep going.
H. ROSIN: Here, specifically, is how the jump fits into it - how my mother took bits and pieces of her life and rearranged them, where the jump closes one chapter on her story and lets the next chapter begin.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) H. ROSIN: Her new story begins in 1967...
(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING) H. ROSIN: ...With a knock.
M. ROSIN: Knock on the door, and we were all shaken.
H. ROSIN: At the time, my mom was in a bomb shelter at her aunt's house. This was in Tel Aviv during a war.
M. ROSIN: And the entire country was in complete blackout. I mean, you couldn't see even one inch in front of you.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) H. ROSIN: My dad had already been gone for 60 days. You see, he was a paratrooper.
M. ROSIN: And I was a young bride with a 6-month-old baby.
H. ROSIN: That was my brother. And when the knock came, my mom did not get up. She didn't move.
M. ROSIN: We didn't want to open the door. That means that they're coming to give us bad news - that, you know, your spouse or whatever is dead.
H. ROSIN: That's what a knock meant at the time.
M. ROSIN: And finally, when we opened the door...
H. ROSIN: It was my dad.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) H. ROSIN: The truck that was transporting his unit had broken down and wouldn't be ready for 24 hours. He had hitchhiked to Tel Aviv just to sneak in a kiss.
M. ROSIN: Just say that - I'm here. I'm alive. I'm fine. Give us a kiss, and he left.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) H. ROSIN: I've heard this story over the years, but this time? She took it in a whole other direction.
M. ROSIN: And that's the only thing that was his that I never shared 'cause I never went to the army. I just had ideas and stuff like that. But I said, here I have an opportunity to do something that he had done that we never shared. And it's like - felt complete that I'm risking it. And I want to do exactly what he did at that time. And it make me feel - you know, feel good. I just wanted to do it.
H. ROSIN: So it's like completing a story?
M. ROSIN: Completing a story. Yes. So here it is. I'm doing it for your sake. I'm not even thinking about the danger. I'm just doing it because I want to share everything that you did that I missed.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: What do you think is going to be like out there?
M. ROSIN: Cold, windy (laughter) - cold, windy and wonderful and free. It's a free feeling, absolutely, yes. It's going to be awesome.
H. ROSIN: On the day of the jump, my mom took two old sweatshirts and sewed the letters E-L-I onto them. That was his name, Eli. In Hebrew, it suggests ascending to God, something up high. I sat in the back of the tiny plane as we climbed on high trying not to look out the window, not to track how very far up we were going. In order to resist my strong urge to totally disassociate, I stared at my mom who was just in front of me. She looked so happy. The skydiving guys took it to be a two-thumbs-up kind of happy, but to me, it looked religious. Her lips were moving.
M. ROSIN: I love you, Eli. I love you, Eli. I love you, Eli. And I'm doing it for you. I love you, Eli. Yes, I love you, Eli. I love you, Eli. I love you, Eli. And I'm doing it for you. I love you, Eli. I love you, Eli. I miss you, and I'm doing it for you.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) H. ROSIN: The young guy in front of us tumbled out the door, just fell away. My mom was next. She took her position at the edge of the open door.
M. ROSIN: I love you, Eli. I love you, Eli. I'll be doing it for you.
H. ROSIN: The wind was freezing and brutal and I desperately wanted to pull her back in. She raised her chin, arranged her arms like wings.
M. ROSIN: I feel you. I really do.
H. ROSIN: She didn't look back.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) SPIEGEL: That's Hanna Rosin. After a quick break, a sneak peek of next week's episode. Stay with us.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) SPIEGEL: INVISIBILIA is hosted by me, Alix Spiegel.
H. ROSIN: And me, Hanna Rosin.
SPIEGEL: Our show is edited by Anne Gudenkauf. Our executive producer is Cara Tallo. INVISIBILIA is produced by Megan Kane (ph), Yowei Shaw and Abby Wendle. Our project manager is Liana Simstrom (ph). Lulu Miller is a contributing editor.
H. ROSIN: We had help from Alex Chang (ph), Rebecca Ramirez, Mark Memmott, Michael Ratner, Stephanie Hayes (ph), Brin Winterbottom, Nancy Shute, Meredith Rizzo, Nurith Aizenman, Jon Hamilton, Chris Benderev and Maggie Penman. Our technical director is Andy Huether. Our vice president of programming is Anya Grundmann. Special thanks to the Storenko family and Ryan Cousins for providing background details about the case of the great beehive heist, to my mom for talking so openly with me, to my brother for being my brother and to my dad way up in the sky. I love you.
SPIEGEL: Thanks to the band Peals for letting us use their song "Grapefruit" from their album "Honey" from Rough Trade Publishing and music by Kai Engel and Lee Rosevere used under a Creative Commons Attribution license; additional music for this episode from Blue Dot Sessions. For more information about this music and to see original artwork by Sara Wong for this episode, visit www.npr.org/invisibilia.
(SOUNDBITE OF DANIEL TEPER AND PETER HAJIOFF'S "SPINNING PIANO") SPIEGEL: Tune in next week for our brand-new episode, the tale of a singer...
UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in foreign language).
SPIEGEL: ...And a journalist who take on terrorism with reality TV.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: He was like, we're making a TV series in Somalia a la "American Idol."
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING) UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Somalia.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Are you interested?
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) SPIEGEL: And now for our moment of non-Zen.
H. ROSIN: I mean, honestly, I just think it's like a demented activity.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Of course it and I told you. Was I right?
H. ROSIN: It's like - it has a nice name, but then it's - like what it is is that you go up in an airplane...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: That's all rickety and stuff.
H. ROSIN: ...And then you walk out of it.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) H. ROSIN: OK, Mommy, can you - wait. Can you say the phrase join us (laughter) stop laughing.
M. ROSIN: (Laughter).
H. ROSIN: Can you say the phrase join us next week for more INVISIBILIA?
M. ROSIN: Join us next week for more INVISIBILIA.
SPIEGEL: Hey. So in addition to our stories, INVISIBILIA creates all sorts of cool, original, digital content around each episode on npr.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter to see photo essays, read Q&A's is with our experts and learn more about the topics we discuss every week. You can also sign up for our newsletter at npr.org/newsletter/invisibilia.
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