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.

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This year more than ever, many families are anticipating an empty dinner table. Shawn Kaplan lived this experience when his father passed away, leaving his mother who struggled to provide food for her two children. Shawn is now a dedicated volunteer and donor with Second Harvest Food Bank in Middle Tennessee and encourages everyone to give back this holiday season with Amazon.

Watch the full story:

Over one million people in Tennessee are at risk of hunger every day. And since the outbreak of COVID-19, Second Harvest has seen a 50% increase in need for their services. That's why Amazon is Delivering Smiles and giving back this holiday season by fulfilling hundreds of AmazonSmile Charity Lists, donating essential pantry and food items to help organizations like Second Harvest to feed those hit the hardest this year.

Visit AmazonSmile Charity Lists to donate directly to a local food bank or charity in your community, or simply shop smile.amazon.com and Amazon will donate a portion of the purchase price of eligible products to your selected charity.

Acts of kindness and compassion are always inspiring. A veterinarian gave a different spin on the phrase "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em".

The poor little pup in this video walked into this shelter with a history of being abused. He was so traumatized that he wasn't eating. The vet treating him wasn't sure what to do, so he decided to book a table for two: a the dog's place. It is not clear whether he got an official invite from the canine in question, but he felt pretty safe about showing up unannounced. He walked into the cage and sat down next to the dog. With his back up against the corner of his new (and hopefully temporary) domain, the rescue stared apprehensively at his human guest. The vet presented a dog dish with food and put it in front of the dog. The frightened pup just looked at the dish and made no attempt to eat. Then he broke out another dog dish identical to the one he just gave to his four-legged patient and started eating out of that bowl. And then came the turning point.


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A lot of people here are like family to me," Michelle says about Bread for the City — a community nonprofit located in Washington DC that provides local residents with food, clothing, health care, social advocacy, and legal services. And since the pandemic began, the need to support organizations like Bread for the City is greater than ever, which is why Amazon is Delivering Smiles to local charities across the country this holiday season.

Watch the full story:

Amazon is giving back by fulfilling hundreds of AmazonSmile Charity Lists, and donating essential pantry and food items to help organizations like Bread for the City provide to those disproportionately impacted this year.

Visit AmazonSmile Charity Lists to donate directly to a local charity in your community, or simply shop smile.amazon.com and Amazon will donate a portion of the purchase price of eligible products to your charity of choice.
Anne Owens and Luke Redito / Wikimedia Commons
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When Madeline Swegle was a little girl growing up in Burke, VA, she loved watching the Blue Angels zip through the sky. Her family went to see the display every time it was in town, and it was her parents' encouragement to pursue her dreams that led her to the U.S. Naval Academy in 2017.

Before beginning the intense three-year training required to become a tactical air (TACAIR) pilot, Swegle had never been in an aircraft before; piloting was simply something she was interested in. It turns out she's got a gift for it—and not only is she skilled, she finds the "exhilaration to be unmatched."

"I'm excited to have this opportunity to work harder and fly high performance jet aircraft in the fleet," Swegle said in a statement released by the Navy. "It would've been nice to see someone who looked like me in this role; I never intended to be the first. I hope it's encouraging to other people."

As Swegle's story shows, representation and equality matter. And the responsibility to advance equality for all people - especially Black Americans facing racism - falls on individuals, organizations, businesses, and governmental leadership. This clear need for equality is why P&G established the Take On Race Fund to fight for justice, advance economic opportunity, enable greater access to education and health care, and make our communities more equitable. The funds raised go directly into organizations like NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, YWCA Stand Against Racism and the United Negro College Fund, helping to level the playing field.

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Do you know that guy who has never had an issue with his TV/internet provider? Neither do I. If you claim you have never had issues with your bill going up without warning, then you are either lying or you own the cable company. Jake Lawson apparently does not own a cable company, and was prepared to communicate his frustrations regarding his bill in a most creative way.

First off, Jake understands what everyone should realize. The customer service representative doesn't own the cable company either, so yelling at someone who is just trying to make a living like all of us is not the answer. Their job is hard enough as it is so give them a break. Jake gave them more than a break. He gave them a song.


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