The S-word that changed my life (and the 'S-Town' podcast) for the better.

First thing: The "S" in "S-Town" stands for shit, but that's not the S-word that came to mind in my listen of the new podcast.

The seven-chapter story — which has been downloaded more than 10 million times so far — follows "This American Life" reporter Brian Reed as he learns about the goings-on of Woodstock, Alabama, the shit-town in question, through one of its longtime residents: antique clock restorer, climate change fanatic, and dog rescuer John B. McLemore. From a potential murder and cover-up to forgery and buried treasure, this is not true crime as you know it.

"S-Town" host Brian Reed. Photo by Andrea Morales. All photos used with permission.


It's a deep-dive look into the world of McLemore. But more significantly, it's a beautifully produced case for sonder.

Sonder, a word invented by John Koenig for "The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows," is the idea that every single person you meet or see has a life as rich and complex as your own.

Sonder is essentially empathy+. While you are the star of your own life story, the people you interact with, even for a brief moment, are also the stars of their life stories. Unless they do something heroic, exceptional, or criminal, we don't always get to witness or hear everyone's experiences. But we know they're there.

"S-Town" lets you in on the secret. You're granted a front-row seat to McLemore's life, his complex story. It's sonder in action.

Reed with McLemore. Photo by Andrea Morales.

Listening to it feels intimate and self-indulgent, even borderline voyeuristic. Reed's reporting reveals a protagonist who is quirky and mysterious, who is highly intelligent and a self-identified semi-homosexual, who is well-known in his community, even if he's seen as an odd bird.

We get to know this man, for better or worse. It's a portrait of his lived experience few would ever see without this podcast. But as fascinating and compelling as McLemore is, he's just as remarkably ordinary as the rest of us. Sonder.

The beauty of "S-Town" was not McLemore himself, but that McLemore could have been anyone.

The unforgettable McLemore — and the riveting characters of "S-Town" — can be found in any town, with any family. Whether you believe it or not, we all have podcast-worthy lives.

Reed in the recording studio. Photo by Sandy Honig.

When we practice and recognize sonder, these previously unimaginable stories seem to reveal themselves.  

These characters walk among us. These stories already exist. You can explore new communities and dive deep into unique lived experiences just by listening — to podcasts, but mostly to each other.

You can practice and recognize sonder in your own life. Ask "How are you?" and mean it. Meet your neighbors. Introduce yourself to the people you see every day but never stop to talk to. Take your headphones off and listen to the sounds of your city, the people and places that make your neighborhood home. Recognize each of us has a part to play, large or small, in everyone's story. Who will you be for someone else? Who will tell your story? What will they have to say?

Because Reed might not be thinking about a second season of "S-Town," but you don't have to wait to discover the next great story.

Cats are notoriously weird. Everyone who's had cats knows that they each have their own unique quirks, idiosyncrasies, preferences, habits, and flat-out WTFness.

But even those of us who have experience with bizarre cat behavior are blown away by the antics this "cat dad" is able to get away with.

Kareem and Fifi are the cat parents of Chase, Skye, and Millie—literally the most chill kitties ever. They share their family life on TikTok as @dontstopmeowing, and their videos have been viewed millions of times. When you see them, you'll understand why.

Take Chase's spa days, for example. It may seem unreal at first, but watch what happens when Fifi tries to take away his cucumber slices.

When she puts them back on his eyes? WHAT?! What cat would let you put them on once, much less get mad when you take them off?

This cat. Chase is living his best life.

But apparently, it's not just Chase. Skye and Millie have also joined in "spaw day." How on earth does one couple end up with three hilariously malleable cats?

Oh, and if you think they must have been sedated or something, look at how wide awake they are during bath time. That's right, bath time. Most cats hate water, but apparently, these three couldn't care less. How?

They'll literally do anything. The Don't Stop Meowing channel is filled with videos like this. Cats wearing glasses. Cats wearing hats. Cats driving cars. It's unbelievable yet highly watchable entertainment.

If you're worried that Kareem gets all the love and Fifi constantly gets the shaft, that seems to be a bit for show. Look at Chase and Fifi's conversation about her leaving town for a business trip:

The whole channel is worth checking out. Ever seen a cat being carried in a baby carrier at the grocery store? A cat buckled into a car seat? Three cats sitting through storytime? It's all there. (Just a heads up: A few of the videos have explicit language, so parents might want to do a preview before watching with little ones.) You can follow the couple and their cats on all their social media channels, including Instagram and YouTube if TikTok isn't your thing, here.

If you weren't a cat person before, these videos might change your mind. Fair warning, however: Getting a cat because you want them to do things like this would be a mistake. Cats do what they want to do, and no one can predict what weird traits they will have. Even if you raise them from kittenhood, they're still unpredictable and weird.

And honestly, we wouldn't have them any other way.

True

We're redefining what normal means in these uncertain times, and although this is different for all of us, love continues to transform us for the better.

Love is what united Marie-Claire and David Archbold, who met while taking a photography class. "We went into the darkroom to see what developed," they joke—and after a decade of marriage, they know firsthand the deep commitment and connection romantic love requires.

All photos courtesy of Marie-Claire and David Archbold

However, their relationship became even sweeter when they adopted James: a little boy with a huge heart.

In the United States alone, there are roughly 122,000 children awaiting adoption according to the latest report from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services. While the goal is always for a child to be parented by and stay with their biological family, that is not always a possibility. This is where adoption offers hope—not only does it create new families, it gives birth parents an avenue through which to see their child flourish when they are not able to parent. For the right families, it's a beautiful thing.

The Archbolds knew early on that adoption was an option for them. David has three daughters from a previous marriage, but knowing their family was not yet complete, the couple embarked on a two-year journey to find their match. When the adoption agency called and told them about James, they were elated. From the moment they met him, the Archbolds knew he was meant to be part of their family. David locked eyes with the brown-eyed baby and they stared at each other in quiet wonder for such a long time that the whole room fell silent. "He still looks at me like that," said David.

The connection was mutual and instantaneous—love at first sight. The Archbolds knew that James was meant to be a part of their family. However, they faced significant challenges requiring an even deeper level of commitment due to James' medical condition.

James was born with congenital hyperinsulinism, a rare condition that causes his body to overproduce insulin, and within 2 months of his birth, he had to have surgery to remove 90% of his pancreas. There was a steep learning curve for the Archbolds, but they were already in love, and knew they were committed to the ongoing care that'd be required of bringing James into their lives. After lots of research and encouragement from James' medical team, they finally brought their son home.

Today, three-year-old James is thriving, filled with infectious joy that bubbles over and touches every person who comes in contact with him. "Part of love is when people recognize that they need to be with each other," said his adoptive grandfather. And because the Archbolds opted for an open adoption, there are even more people to love and support James as he grows.

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You know that feeling you get when you walk into a classroom and see someone else's stuff on your desk?

OK, sure, there are no assigned seats, but you've been sitting at the same desk since the first day and everyone knows it.

So why does the guy who sits next to you put his phone, his book, his charger, his lunch, and his laptop in the space that's rightfully yours? It's annoying!

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There have been many iconic dance routines throughout film history, but how many have the honor being called "the greatest" by Fred Astaire himself?

Fayard and Harold Nicholas, known collectively as the Nicholas Brothers, were arguably the best at what they did during their heyday. Their coordinated tap routines are legendary, not only because they were great dancers, but because of their incredible ability to jump into the air and land in the splits. Repeatedly. From impressive heights.

Their most famous routine comes from the movie "Stormy Weather." As Cab Calloway sings "Jumpin' Jive," the Nicholas Brothers make the entire set their dance floor, hopping and tapping from podium to podium amongst the musicians, dancing up and down stairs and across the top of a piano.

But what makes this scene extra impressive is that they performed it without rehearsing it first and it was filmed in one take—no fancy editing room tricks to bring it all together. This fact was confirmed in a conversation with the brothers in a Chicago Tribune article in 1997, when they were both in their 70s:

"Would you believe that was one of the easiest things we ever did?" Harold told the paper.

"Did you know that we never even rehearsed that number?" added Fayard.

"When it came time to do that part, (choreographer) Nick Castle said: 'Just do it. Don`t rehearse it, just do it.' And so we did it—in one little take. And then he said: 'That's it—we can't do it any better than that.'"

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