The J Bomb

by Will Rogers


Some of our language’s most powerful words can also be some of the most alienating. Consider the words “homosexuality” or “marijuana,” or “NRA.” Some words, when uttered, separate an audience into two groups: comfortable and uncomfortable. Some words become instantly risky, especially when you put them in the center of your story. Not surprisingly, one of these words is “Jesus.”

This word can separate groups of listeners very quickly - alienating some and endearing others. In "After the Quake: Patients and Healers", producer Dan Grech handles the word “Jesus” skillfully, by staying rooted in an experience that transforms lives.

Quick summary: several health-workers are in Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake. In a tent filled with patients who have all kinds of wounds and trauma, a man enters with a guitar and starts playing. Before long the whole tent erupts into singing and dancing, singing “Thank you Jesus for loving me.” Such a genuine expression of gratitude in the midst of trying circumstances transforms the lives of the health-workers.

Now the question: how does this piece communicate that transformative power, through sound?

This piece weaves the voices of four health-workers. It’s cut tightly, in a style similar to the one I described in this post, where one voice will often finish another’s sentence, and each voice moves the story forward while giving a fuller image of what is going on.

Exactly half-way through the piece, the song begins to emerge from the background, along with a noisy blend of sounds in the hospital tent. This music takes the listener back-in-time, to the moment that the medical workers continue to describe. This is a special aspect of radio: it simultaneously provides reflection while also putting you in-scene.

As the volume of the music continues to build, the producers stack three voices on top of each other, each one saying the same central word, the first word that any of them recognized in the powerful song they were hearing. From three different perspectives, the word “Jesus” stood out in the song.

The Haitians sang, “Thank you, Jesus, for loving me”

“It was like a knife hitting us,” says a surgeon in the piece, when he learned that the patients were giving thanks, even in the broken state they were in.

It will hit you like a knife, too, when you hear it, five and a half minutes into this piece. Pay attention to the way this piece skirts the polarizing capability of a powerful word by staying grounded in personal experience.

"After the Quake: Patients and Healers"
Produced in 2010 by Dan Grech and Kenny Malone, with help from Sammy Mack
Under the Sun
8 minutes
First heard on saltcast


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