October 9th, 2006
Making tonight's program (at 7:30; repeated on Friday night at 10:30) was quite a moving experience. My in-studio guest, Chris Gardner, is a remarkable man who has succeeded despite terrible hardship -- as vividly described in his new memoir, The Pursuit of Happyness. Gardner suffered through a trying childhood with a brutal stepfather, as well as an early adulthood in the Bay Area that at one point found him and his young son spending nights in a BART station restroom. The fact that he was able to lift himself up out of those situations and become a successful stockbroker -- and, more impressive, a loving, constant father to his children -- certainly explains why Hollywood was inspired to make a soon-to-be-released movie based on his life (starring Will Smith). But what could possibly explain the resilience that allowed him to keep on going, despite everything? That question was at the top of my mind as we sat down to chat. And as raw and revealing as his book can be, I found him in person to be even more accessible -- one of those interviewees who are alive and present for each moment of our conversation.
Preparing for the interview, my crew and I went out to do a field piece at Glide Memorial Church, where Gardner -- in his bleakest hours -- had received invaluable support. (He's now a major contributor to the church's many social programs.) I couldn't have had a better guide: The Rev. Cecil Williams himself, who has led Glide for decades, took me around the church's Tenderloin neighborhood. At one point, we witnessed a heartbreaking encounter between Rev. Williams and a young woman on the street who had approached him. The woman was clearly going through a tremendously hard time, and Williams received her with great kindness and respect; the moment was so intimate that my crew and I almost felt as if we were intruding by simply being there. Even watching the footage later, with our editor, I found myself moved beyond words.
Life can be so hard -- especially for those whom society has, in its neglect, tacitly labeled as expendable. Through the loving efforts of people such as those in the Glide community, the Chris Gardners of the world can sometimes actually experience the happiness that we are all supposed to be free to pursue.
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