Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tucson Festival of Books - Part II - NPR's Scott Simon

Before starting the recap of Scott Simon's program, I have to say that people filled the ballroom to hear Scott Simon, so I was unable to get a picture. However, considering his topic, the picture I've used is perfect. Since Scott Simon does Weekend Edition Saturday for NPR, his program at the Tucson Festival of Books was called "A Weekend with Scott Simon." He was introduced, saying he has covered stories all over the world, including the war in Afghanistan. He has also won a Peabody Award for his weekly essays. 

Scott Simon had recently done an essay about what happened in Tucson. He ended that essay by saying it was a glimpse into what Tucson gave us, the "Resilience of the human soul."  And, he choked up when he thanked everyone in Tucson who had gone out of their way to be nice to him and his family. He is a friend of Gabby Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly. In fact, Mark asked him to be on the Commission for Civil Discourse, which will be held in Tucson.

But, Simon said he was there to talk about his book, Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other: In Praise of Adoption. It's the story of how he and his wife, Caroline, adopted two little girls from China, Elise and Lina. He said he always cries when he talks about his children. His wife was in the room for the program, along with the girls. They were having a wonderful time at the Tucson Festival of Books, where they were enriched by literature, kettle corn, gelato, roasted corn, and chicken barbecue.

Before he talked about his book, Simon said he wanted to talk about a topic that was in the news that day because it struck him that it was worth mentioning. Former Representative Newt Gingrich had been on a news show discussing his marriages. He said he loved his country to much, that his service caused him to do something wrong, against his values and principles. He committed adultery. Scott Simon saw that as very shrewd political judgment. A lot of adulterers are deeply misunderstood. Now, candidates can say they were driven by patriotism to commit adultery. Simon said adultery is a bipartisan issue.

He started by reading from a section of the book. I'm sure it wasn't easy to read the section in which he and his wife were trying to get pregnant, but Simon managed to make it humorous. Then he said, he never thought they'd write the book. Their long-time social worker told them people who adopt, particularly from overseas, are the most literate people in the U.S., and they all want to write books about adopting their child. But, Simon said most books end when the child comes home. He said there's so much to learn afterward.

Then, Scott told us he really doesn't talk about his children on NPR as much as people think he does. He said you can even search the Internet, and find that out. But, one day, he came in the office to find a book on the table, Shut Up About Your Perfect Child. When he told his editor they don't normally do that kind of book, she said she wanted him to read it.

Scott Simon told us he believes in adoption. It's a flesh and blood miracle. He believes we're wired to look at children who are left without family, and take them as our own. He said even ancient accounts show that warriors, upon finding children left alone by war, would pick up the infants, and adopt them. He hopes his  book opens a window and door into adoption.

Simon kept making eye contact with his wife and daughters during the program, admitting he's still in the rapturous stage. He said he does understand that they'll go through demonic possession later.

Some of Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other, tells stories of other adoptions. Some stories are by the children who were adopted, and others of parents who adopted children. He said his NPR colleague Steve Inskeep is adopted. He mentioned a Chicago judge who had five adopted children.

Then, Simon told the story of Senator Paul Simon (no relation). He and his wife, Jeanne, adopted a son, Martin, after having a daughter. They were told Martin was an American Indian, and they always treated his heritage with interest and respect. Senator Simon was on the Committee for Indian Affairs, and heard hearings on the reservation. But, when Martin's birth mother contacted him, and he finally met her, he asked her about his Indian heritage. She said, you're not Indian. You're Swedish. When she gave birth, they asked nationality, and she said we're 100% American, so they put down American Indian. And, Scott Simon remarked that it's rare to encounter a politician who is better up close than from a distance, but Paul Simon was.

Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other is actually a book of love stories. Scott said the families feel blessed by adoption. He thinks adoptive families are inspired to tell each other out loud how much they love each other more than conventional families do.

Simon told us that adoptions are down in the U.S. He said there are many good reasons for that, including the fact that there are ways to start or add to families via the lab. But, there are 150 million orphaned and abandoned children in the world, and each child needs the love of parents. Simon was very emotional as he said his book is a window into adoption, and he hopes adoption isn't just considered as a last option. We need more love in the world, and our children do, too. Love has the power to create the kind of global warning we could all use.

When it was time for audience questions, one person asked how we can manifest the love on a daily basis that the country shows after tragic events such as 9/11 or Katrina. Simon said he didn't have the answer, but the events should provide insight that helps us remember those feelings, and continue to show love. He said we have to look at the progress we've made, for instance on gay rights. He said, if you remember, Sarah Palin and Joe Biden had the same positions on gay rights. They favored partnerships, not marriage. But, there's been progress since then, and Simon thinks that will change. There have been great strides in our lifetimes.

Simon said, just look at the diversity of communities. He wife is French. His daughters, adopted from China, speak French and English. When they were in Houston, they had a cab driver from Morocco, and he and Simon's wife, Caroline, spoke French. We have to remind ourselves what progress has been made.

One woman, who lost a stepson to suicide due to mental illness, said we haven't done much for people with mental illness. Simon said we do have to have a civil discourse, and discuss what we should do about the mentally ill.

Simon was asked about the recent problems with NPR, and facing the loss of funding in Congress. He came right out and said he planned to evade that question because that issue was in front of Congress at the time, and he didn't want to say anything. He did say it was more important than ever for NPR to reach out to the American people. And, he told the staff, in the end, we work for the American people.

Scott Simon did criticize NPR for the terrible mistake it made in reporting that Gabby Giffords had died. But, later he relented and told them at work that he wants NPR to announce his death because then his family will know that there is still hope he can be restored.

For all of us who love NPR, it was good to hear Scott Simon say that NPR has 35 million listeners a week, a larger audience than any cable news audience. And, the audience for NPR, and Scott Simon, continues to grow.

Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other by Scott Simon. Random House. ©2011. ISBN 9781400068494 (hardcover), 180p.

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