Roots to Grow


Thursday, December 20, 2007

By Cristina Olivetti Spencer

I believe in celebrations. All the predictable ones: Birthdays, Anniversaries, weddings, graduations, and holidays of all kinds. And the not so predictable ones: first tooth, last nursing, the day our pear trees and tulips are all in full bloom at the same time, among others. To me, these occasions are all opportunities for being with the people I love and feeling what its like to be connected to the unstoppable flow of life.

The first time I noticed how important these kinds of moments were to me, was when I was planning my wedding ten years ago. From the beginning I had a sense of relief that there was an established way of marking the occasion. There would be a ceremony, a dress, and a party with people I cared about. In contrast, other transitions had happened in my life without obvious ways to recognize their magnitude. My parents had divorced, I moved cross-country, I found my first job, bought my first car, had my first apartment, and while I experienced all of these moments, nothing contained them in a way that said what they meant and how life would be different. And so they all sort of evaporated (with the exception of a worn polaroid picture of me in front of my brand new Saturn station wagon), in a way that was starting to make me feel like my life lacked a kind of continuity or connection.

So when it came to the wedding, I ran with tradition. I let myself sink into a pattern that was there for me, and I tried to use the opportunity to invite my family and friends to do the same. And as I did, I realized that the pattern created a context for all of us to experience some fundamental connection to life's big and mysterious picture. I learned that when we gather together to honor life, love or family, by listening to the sound of a trumpet marking a moment, or by making a toast, or by filling dance floor with our sassiest moves, we are connecting--to each other, and to the mystery of our being here. At my wedding we did all of that, and the connection was really there.

Since then I've been on a quest to explore opportunities for this kind of connection. Among other experiments, I came up with this idea of Roots to Grow, to be a place for us to share our ideas, specifically for each of us to share thoughts about what brings meaning and happiness to our lives. If we can do this, i think this little corner of the web will be its own kind of celebration--a place for us to feel a part of the big picture by telling young people who are following in our footsteps a little bit about what it means to be a part of the unstoppable flow of life.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

I expect to hear from a number of special people in the New Year. Most proudly, I can report that my Uncle Eddie (a Roman Catholic priest, age 94), the oldest living relative on my mom's side of the family has offered to contribute. I sent a copy of This I Believe to him and to his companion Jean, both of whom responded immediately. Their responses follow:

December 15, 2007

Dear Christina:

I want to thank you for the book you sent me. It is a very interesting piece. Page by page, it brings back the fact that Our Lord is to be honored, loved and obeyed. It takes part by part where the faults are and gives us the answer to what is right. I thank you very kindly for your thoughtfulness and the reason you gave it to me.

With much love,
Uncle Eddie

December 15, 2007

Dear Christina:

I also want to thank you for sending me This I Believe book. Your uncle has been reading it little by little and enjoying it. For myself, right now with the holidays, it is making it a little difficult for me to sit down and read a few pages. Things will calm down after the holidays and I should be able to read and enjoy the book. I know your uncle will be writing an essay and I'll send it to you after he does it.

Thanks again.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Anyone is invited to contribute an essay to this collection. An especially eager invitation is extended to family and friends, neighbors, teachers and other people who know my family. The basic rule is to speak for yourself as much as you can, and to refrain from using the "royal we." Keep it short, be specific, but most of all have fun.

Here is the original 1950's invitation from

The Original Invitation from 'This I Believe'

This invites you to make a very great contribution: nothing less than a statement of your personal beliefs, of the values which rule your thought and action. Your essay should be about three minutes in length when read loud, written in a style as you yourself speak, and total no more than 500 words.

We know this is a tough job. What we want is so intimate that no one can write it for you. You must write it yourself, in the language most natural to you. We ask you to write in your own words and then record in your own voice. You may even find that it takes a request like this for you to reveal some of your own beliefs to yourself. If you set them down they may become of untold meaning to others.

We would like you to tell not only what you believe, but how you reached your beliefs, and if they have grown, what made them grow. This necessarily must be highly personal. That is what we anticipate and want.

It may help you in formulating your credo if we tell you also what we do not want. We do not want a sermon, religious or lay; we do not want editorializing or sectarianism or 'finger-pointing.' We do not even want your views on the American way of life, or democracy or free enterprise. These are important but for another occasion. We want to know what you live by. And we want it in terms of 'I,' not the editorial 'We.'

Although this program is designed to express beliefs, it is not a religious program and is not concerned with any religious form whatever. Most of our guests express belief in a Supreme Being, and set forth the importance to them of that belief. However, that is your decision, since it is your belief which we solicit.

But we do ask you to confine yourself to affirmatives: This means refraining from saying what you do not believe. Your beliefs may well have grown in clarity to you by a process of elimination and rejection, but for our part, we must avoid negative statements lest we become a medium for the criticism of beliefs, which is the very opposite of our purpose.

We are sure the statement we ask from you can have wide and lasting influence. Never has the need for personal philosophies of this kind been so urgent. Your belief, simply and sincerely spoken, is sure to stimulate and help those who hear it. We are confident it will enrich them. May we have your contribution?

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