A few weeks ago, I had the honor of interviewing Jeff Smith, a writer in one of the WWFC co-ed classes. Jeff had come to WWFC while his son, Whit, had been incarcerated at a federal penitentiary. While in prison, Whit became a victim of an erroneous assault charge, and deciding he could take no more of his present condition, took his own life. Jeff and his son had exchanged a multitude of letters and thus, Jeff’s name had been mentioned as a podcast guest last summer. His grief, the most recent portion of it, would have only been a year old.
When Jeff first dropped off a copy of the compilation of letters he and his son traded, it was the holiday season. Following the buzz of the season, I stopped one bright cold January day, when the New Year was just rolling over and answering the wake up call, to read these words.
Jeff and I met for coffee following my reading and together, we developed an outline that would encompass letters, blogs and eulogies. The day of the interview unfolded with a quiet hum as opposed to the usual buzz on the day we produce a show. The circle opened with candle, intentions, introductions and a poem.
William Stafford wrote, How you stand here is important. How you
listen for the next things to happen. How you breathe
And the show began. Through a grueling hour, with breaks for tears, and water, Jeff and I created a container to hold what was precious to him, the words of Whit, their relationship, Whit’s death, how others viewed his death.
Whit had experienced challenges as a young man, a rampant mind trapped in a body that was supposed to sit in school all day. The more he was contained, the more he wanted to be free. Until finally, he was forced, via incarceration, to make peace and bring his old self in line with the new. He used letters to his father, and blog postings to the outside world to do so.
Though Whit’s voice had been silenced in solitary confinement, Jeff’s authenticity in dealing with his son helped form Whit’s voice, a voice filled with anticipation and imagination.
As we wrapped the production, we read the poem again. How you listen for the next thing to happen.
A yogi friend had shared a Ganges River meditation that involved ridding oneself of the non-essentials in life to come closer to one’s core, imagining those trimmings had been turned to ashes and encapsulated in a vessel that would be placed in the river. Toss flowers in the river, alongside the vessel, as a send-off and watch it float away.
Whit knew how he stood would be important later on, for his father, for those who loved him. In this interview, listeners will hear how Whit pared down his life to the essentials of forgiveness, compassion, and yes, love. The audience will be rooting for Whit to persevere.
Listen, breathe, and take in this podcast, as an extraordinary man courageously calls forth words of wisdom while standing in the river of his grief.