To the storytellers

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I became estranged from my family -- at least at dinnertime -- when I was about 13 years old. I put my dinner on a tray each night, and took it to the den where I could watch the news and wonder how on earth the nation could survive the forces within it.

In those years, there was the body count from Vietnam, cities in flames, police dogs in Selma, and a presidential candidate dying in his own blood on the floor of a hotel kitchen.

How could we survive this?

By waving at each other.

Charles Kuralt taught us that when he told the story of Joseph Charles of Berkley, Calif., who retired and stood outside his home waving at people. I've posted this before, but you can never really get too much of this.

Shortly after 9/11, a guy dressed up as Superman and stood on corners in St Cloud, Minn., waving.

" I am on a mission, and my mission is to unite people, and give people a good feeling about being an American. And even make them slightly believe that there is a Superman," he said.

There are Supermen and Superwomen who walk among us. This is a fact.

I thought about this again today, when colleague Matt Mikus called my attention to last weekend's Steve Hartman piece on a school bus driver.

Hartman has been a worthy successor to Kuralt as the nation's storyteller.

Maybe it's because he, too, had a wife who gave him Kuralt's collection of tales in 1985, the one containing this paragraph which found its way to the wall of whatever cubicle I inhabited.

To read the front pages, you might conclude that Americans are mostly out for themselves, venal, grasping, and mean-spirited. The front pages have room only for defense contractors who cheat and politicians with their hands in the till.

But you can't travel the back roads very long without discovering a multitude of gentle people doing good for others with no expectation of gain or recognition.

We live in a golden age of storytelling that seems to have a uniquely Minnesota pedigree.

Hartman worked at KSTP for a time. And we still have Boyd Huppert at KARE, Catharine Richert at MPR News and Mary Divine at the Pioneer Press, among others. And as long as we do, there's still a chance that hope will win out over despair.

That the voice of America's "gentle people" will be amplified and drown out those who belong in the margins.

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