While the podcast Serial may not be able to prove its subject Adnan Syed’s irrefutable innocence, it has certainly proven one thing: the overlap between people who listen to podcasts and people who are interested in true crime sagas is more considerable than I could have imagined. Sarah Koenig’s engrossing nonfiction weekly, based on the circumstances behind the conviction of a Baltimore teenager accused of killing his ex-girlfriend, is currently averaging a staggering 1.5M listens per episode. I won’t get too involved in my personal appraisal of the show’s merit (Cliff’s notes: I like it, mostly) or my feelings about Adnan’s guilt. But I did want to focus on one nugget from Episode 9: “To Be Suspected.” In a brief aside during the episode, Sarah talks about how small acts of kindness have become cherished memories that have sustained Adnan during his incarceration (25:23):
“Often, when Adnan tells stories of this time, he zeroes in on some small moment when someone was kind to him: ‘[There was] someone in plain clothes who stuck his head in the door and he said ‘Hey man, just have faith.’ ..That’s it, that’s the whole story. But he’s mentioned this guy to me multiple times. Also, the white lady who was driving the cruiser that took him downtown, she was polite. There was the sheriff’s deputy that looked like Judd Hirsch who slipped him a candy bar. The 8th grade teacher, whose name he can’t remember, who wrote him that nice letter. I can imagine how you’d seize these kindnesses and that they’d nestle into your brain forever.”
Try, for a moment, to set aside the circumstances of Adnan’s indictment and conviction. That’s a big ask, I know, and I certainly don’t fault you if you can’t manage. But consider how incredulous Sarah sounds when she initially says, “That’s it, that’s the whole story.” It’s easy to underestimate the resonance that small, individual acts of kindness have. But when they’re brought into the context of someone’s personal struggle (and we’re all struggling in some way), their vitality and potential becomes so real.
At the end of this paragraph, once she’s talked through the acts, Sarah’s incredulity seems to come full circle. She says, “I can imagine how you’d seize these kindnesses and that they’d nestle into your brain forever.” So can we.