Blessed Feathers

Happy New Year!

Donivan Berube here. I originally wrote this letter in response to the comments on our NPR interview, which was posted yesterday. But their website moderators keep deleting it, so here we are.  And to be honest with you, my expectations for this whole NPR thing were pretty low. We’re a relatively tiny band, but we’ve been reviewed and interviewed a billion times. What does it really mean to see your name in a Rolling Stone magazine? To hear your biography told on a radio station? Not so much, as it turns out. “Nobody really hears these things, right? Why would anyone care about Jacquelyn & I’s story?”

And so it was that yesterday morning, just moments after our little four-minute interview aired, dozens and dozens of emails started pouring in from all over the country. People from California, Texas, Colorado, Kansas, and even into Canada were writing in to tell us how much they loved the interview, how much they loved our album, and how inspired they were by the fact that we’d given up everything and outran society, just to travel around in our little orange tent. This was kind of incredible, and for a second I was overwhelmed with gratitude and inspiration. “People are really getting this,” I thought. “I’m really glad we did this.” But when I clicked on the link to the story on NPR’s website, and the comments started unrolling, all that joyous gratitude and anxious excitement began shrinking away, until I felt nothing but ashamed. Over the course of the day, 80-something people felt moved enough by the story to leave a comment, presenting us with scroll-like threads full of all kinds of opinions. Things like: “In your ignorance, NPR newsstaff, you have allowed Mr. Berube to twist the facts. His motive was obviously to sensationalize his story so as to get air time.” Or: “This young man isn’t telling the whole story. It is not the Romeo and Juliet story that was told. I’m sure this young lady is very nice he could have married her and had his music and family.”

First let me say this: This was a four-minute ‘Music We Missed’ segment, not some hour-long Terry Gross opus on religion. Maybe I did tell the whole story, but parts of it got lost in the fact that they had to edit our one-hour interview down to just a few minutes. Or maybe everyone was missing the point entirely, maybe all these people hadn’t even listened to our music, and were only interested in arguing against my backstory. Regardless of your religious views, what we presented in this story is merely biographical. I tried to hide our relationship from my friends and family, but the more obvious it became, the more I heard things like: “You know Donivan, she’s tall like you, she’s nice like you, and she even plays music like you, but she’s not a Jehovah’s Witness. Why don’t you try bringing her into the truth? Why don’t you invite her to the Kingdom Hall sometime?” A lot of the comments on our story were in relation to this, and the harder your arguments were fought, the more ashamed I became of what I’d started here. You’ll notice in the interview, around 1:45, that I tried to explain my understanding of what’s happened. I didn’t want this to turn into an anti-religious or anti-JW segment, because that’s not how I feel. You all have your strong faiths, which is great. My family has their strong faiths, and they’ll take care of eachother. People in India have their faiths, and people in the Middle East have their faiths too. Do not throw stones at Jehovah’s Witnesses. Do not throw stones at ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses. Do not throw stones at Muslims, Mormons, Christians, Catholics, or Atheists. Every believer in every religion knows that they are right, that what they’re doing is true, and I have nothing but the highest respect for that. But then this article turned into a messy little cage for adults to play war in. Many of you posted scriptures arguing for or against aspects of our story, and somehow the US Constitution came under fire. I don’t know why, but you even brought up legal versus biblical rape and slavery. You’re right, I could have talked Jacquelyn into becoming a Jehovah’s Witness, or I could have stayed a Jehovah’s Witness and married her anyway. What does it matter? I made those choices years ago, and the fact that I was going to lose everyone was a consequence I had already accepted.

For strangers to come here calling me a liar and a sensationalist is not only silly, but it’s beside the point. NPR decided to feature us in a short segment about music, not doctrine. And to all the people who wrote in to wish our love well, to offer us a place to sleep when we’re on the road, or merely to let us know that they liked the interview and downloaded our album, we will owe you our infinite thanks. In the two-week interim between writing my letter of disassociation, and the elders announcing it publicly, the single-most heartwarming thing that happened to me was when my older brother Kyle wrote me an email. He said that he understood what I was going through, and signed his letter “Special K,” my funny nickname for him. I haven’t talked to him in over half a decade now, but to know that underneath our differences there was still someone there that could relate to me, that still cared enough to make me laugh, that can still exist as a person on this earth, did more good for religion than all your comments quoting scriptures and telling me I was wrong. Maybe the best thing that you can do by God is to keep your heart open, and not your mouth, because embarrassing fights like this only turn people away from the gospel, not towards it.

I was glad to be given the opportunity to relate with and inspire a few people who had experienced something like what we described, to give people a new song to sing while they celebrate the New Year, and to encourage people to not be afriad, to follow their dreams. Thank you to everyone who got it. Thank you to NPR for having us, for listening to our music. And thanks to the many people who wrote to us with kind things to say. You will save lives some day.