Essay by PaperNerd ContributorCollege, Undergraduate March 2001

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It's a Sunday night last year. I am almost violently repenting that I have not started my weekend homework earlier. Dangerously lulled towards sleep by the assigned reading for U.S. History, I turn on the radio to keep myself awake. I subject myself to popular classic rock and opera, all in the name of American History. At ten o'clock, the music stops and I hear instead voices, reading and speaking in various monotones. For a while, I am able to block the noise out of the background. Then I begin to listen. There is a story about a man who runs for president as a utopian nudist, a woman who expounds on the importance of finding greater meaning in life, and a boy who gives up gangs to take up religion. I forget all about the History of American Foreign Policy; I've lost myself in the world of This American Life.

This American Life is a weekly radio show that presents stories about life in America from an immigrant's perspective. Each week, a centralized theme unites the interviews, short stories, monologues, and radio plays that are on the show. Beyond that, the show is very difficult to describe because the subject matter varies so widely. There have been stories about guns, the Great Depression, summer vacations, tragedies, racism, and countless other topics.

This American Life is about the absurdities of our culture, about obsessions, about immigrants, about artists, and about the work and dreams of people. The most unique characteristic of this show is that there are no boundaries to the materials it uses to describe American life. No subject is too insignificant or too specific to bear some meaning to the reader. The unsuccessful letters of a job applicant, the cruel way in which children treat each other, the show uncovers meaning in things that are often considered commonplace and overlooked. To me, this is the most powerful characteristic of the show. There is drama, a certain quality of strangeness to be found in everything, even in the most ordinary and everyday of events. There is perversity, insanity, beauty, happiness, ugliness, love, and significance in every person's life. There is significance in all experiences. I have the feeling that I must not let any experience slip away. I must capture them all down in my memory because all experience is important, has meaning, and is worth remembering.