Kevin Kling — The Losses and Laughter We Grow Into
March 7, 2013

Kevin Kling is part funny guy, part poet and playwright, part wise man. Born with a disabled left arm, he lost the use of his right one after a motorcycle accident nearly killed him. He shares his special angle on life's humor and its ruptures — and why we turn loss into story.

(photo: Renee Jones Schneider/Star Tribune 2012)

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Video Interviews with Krista Tippett

In the Room with Kevin Kling

Watch the unedited recording of our live stream of Krista's interview with the humorist and storyteller at American Public Media studios in downtown St. Paul.

It's raw and uncut. Enjoy!

Selected Audio

Kevin Kling's Stories

We chose some of our favorite poems and stories, as told by Kevin Kling, for you to listen to and savor. Feel free to download them and share with your friends and family!

Pertinent Posts from the On Being Blog

On these early spring days, this 53-second story from Kevin Kling is a fine way to kick off the week. Listen, and take heart.

Kevin KlingKevin Kling is “part funny guy, part poet and playwright, part wise man.” And, we here at On Being were delighted to have the playwright and storyteller in our studios to share his life lessons and experiences with us.

A Presbyterian minister's favorite spiritual music comes not from the sanctuary or Sunday morning choir, but from Saturday night taverns with Patty Griffin, Jennifer Knapp, and Over the Rhine.

A playful duet between one of country music's greats and one of America's favorite children's authors — with a touching solo tribute to his father.

For one kid from the Bronx, the story of eating dates only on Christmas Eve takes on special meaning as told to him by his Polish grandmother.

Sit down with these sketchnotes while listening to Krista's interview. See what you hear differently as you peruse these visual notes. Tell us about it.

There are times in our worst hour when we discover that what will save us is just the thing we’ve been doing our whole lives.

Check out this story from The Moth by string theorist Jim Gates who had one such epiphany, hearing an unembodied voice telling him to make his own trail while alone on a mountaintop in Iceland, clinging to his mortality.

Trent Gilliss finds inspiration in all things good: a civil rights pilgrimage in Alabama, a video on empathy, a potential pope right under our noses, and some playful voices in the Twittersphere.

About the Image

Kevin Kling at home in his kitchen.

(photo: Renee Jones Schneider/Star Tribune 2012)

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Thank you and your production crew for presenting a wonderful program. I may not always agree with your geust, but I always have someing to think about. For me that is good programing.
Listing to the program I had two things come to mind, not be a victum and to keep on living a life of meaning.
When we face a painful lost we have a chooice to live in that dark pit of self-pity, we all go thought that at frist, or we can try to climb out of that pit. We may need help to do that and that is fine. We not the great one, or all powerful.
The second thing is to live a life of meaning. This is something we human seem to fail to do. We must work from our strengths and work on out weakness.

I was so struck by his imagery of running from home and finding it again while growing from the traumatic circumstances we are born with and growing into the traumas we acquire (and acquire us from time to time). I was thinking about how this directional healing is somewhat simultaneous for those that grow up with the trauma of abuse. We grow from it (and run away from it) and then grow into it, piece our lives together with this new information, new meaning, and new harvesting of ourselves from the disaster and the great gifts that we seem to only after beginning to heal discover were there all along. To heal in two directions at once hurts so much, but in the end there is a double-helix of stories that make sense even if we don't fully understand what happened.

An inspiring show of perseverence. Some of his Biblical details were incorrect, but he used them well. Mystery is not doubt, mystery is mystery. Not a fairy tale - a fairy tale is created by our imagination, religion is based on God's revelation to man. Very good show.

I tried to find the poem from the book of Ruth that he cited and came up short.... I love the poem and want to use it in a euology for my friend Ruth but want to give correct credit...so did Kevin just make that up or what???

I`ve never enjoyed listening to someone as much as I did Kevin. He is so easy on the ears and refreshing to the brain. If the world were full of Kevin's it would be a remarkable place to live. Thank you so much, you touched me deeply.

His musing on the need for myths in our lives and then seeming to relate that to religion/Bible. It also sounded like he was tying it to the human ability to tell a story and change our perception.

My experience is that our lives are the myths and the things God has said are reality.

Nathanael

for many years, I have not been able to find the words to describe the last 15 years of my life - until I happened to get radio reception, since I was in a car, and heard the last 10 or 15 minutes of the show.

Tears of peace. Finally.
Cancer, losing both breasts, home burning down with everything I'd inherited and/or owned - mostly irreplaceable, to my toothbrush... and Bucks, the cat who was in charge of the house on the hill in Alaska, where I had enjoyed mountains out the back, Mount McKinley (Denali) out the front & the water in between.

Life continued on to my neck falling apart (I had been in a very bad car accident years before), more surgeries, having to close down the business I was passionate & successful in, my husband leaving me, and then my spinal cord falling apart.

Surgery is not a possibility for that - but replacement spinal cords haven't been invented yet, anyway!

And then... I spent every penny of my retirement & all my reserves, trying to stay alive & pay for the medicine I required (my medical insurance I'd paid $968/month for was cancelled... shame, oh shame - I had actually used what I 'bought' every month!).

And the result? I went from being about the most independent person I know, to filing bankruptcy, because Social Security's state-run organizations that approve/disapprove SSDI (disability) that I'd paid so much into for many years, denied me over & over, for 4 years.

BUT luck was with me!

Why? The new bankruptcy law of 2005 made it harder for those who really had money to file Ch. 7 (total/complete) bankruptcy; BUT it also gave Federal Bankruptcy Judges the ability to waive the $300+ bankruptcy filing fee!

And still I laugh. And some who know just a little about me, may think I'm crazy. ;)
But I'm not.

Those who do not know about my last 15 years - when they ask 'what's life been life?' - I have never found the words to explain it.

But tonight, I heard that I am just growing into my losses. And laughter!

If I ever get enough money together to buy Kevin's writings, I will do that in a heartbeat. I need them! And I eventually will have enough to do so. A few years ago, a Federal Judge finally saw my case, cancelled my scheduled hearing & approved my disability unconditionally, back to when I first applied years before.

So many tears since I heard the end of this program - and hope now, because someone else out there in the world understands, and is also growing through pain, PTSD, etc., into loss and laughter.

If you follow up with Kevin - please - please - let him know how much the last few minutes of the program meant.

I have been 'isolated', not having anyone in this little town that comprehends this kind of trauma... but hearing him & seeing this great picture of he & his wife makes me feel connected to the world again - just hearing the voice of someone else on this journey into loss and laughter.

Thank you. Thank you.

Hi Kevin:

I found your show very inspiring. We listen to Krista's show all the time. You are a Stand Up Guy.

I also had both a very serious life-threatening disease and (more recently) an accident, myself.

I was lucky enough to survive both my Dengue Fever case, and a broken spine in my accident, without long-lasting injury.

I count my blessings, but realize their are lessons - that I try not to forget.....At least I like to think so (not true always!)

I happen to be starting a small poetry club at our church, and intend to recite (and credit) "Tickled Pink", if that is OK.

From the heart is the only true inspiration - and it is indeed from yours. Fair play to ya, as they say - and all the best to you for the future.

If you have time to respond to this, I am sure it will further inspire our group!

Scott

Oh my.... Your rope tow story brought back one of my own! My brother was born with a deformed leg. One was quite a bit shorter than the normal leg and only had two toes. So once he was a teenager and close to being fully grown, the decision was made to amputate below the knee, and he learn to use a prosthetic leg. Problem was he really wanted to play football in the worse way! He played as a younger kid with his brace but was thrown off the team because he hurt too many of his own players with his brace! So now he could play football! Well, there he was out there for the kickoff and he did really well, except for one thing... His foot went flying through the air along with the football! I will never forget the look of consternation on those faces around me in the stands. They too thought he lost his foot as he fell to the ground and swore!

Like Kevin Kling, I grew-up in Osseo, Minnesota. His sister was my English teacher in high school. As an artist myself, I have always had such admiration for Kevin. Six years ago I began my voyage with chronic pain. Kevin’s In the Pink is the most striking and inspiring piece of writing I have heard - in relation to my own struggle to grow toward the pain. I am grateful for In Being and this opportunity to spend an hour with Kevin.

He spends much of the program talking about how the loss of his arms have affected his life, and how he has grown because of it. He was born without the use of his left arm, and lost the use of his right arm in a motorcycle crash. He told humorous stories of using words to get his way when he was younger, which taught him the value of words and storytelling. At one point he recounts, "As a teen I learned your night before was only as good as your ability to tell about it." He used storytelling throughout his life to bring him joy and to connect with his family. I was surprised when he talked about his problems with PTSD because he came across as so easygoing. He explained that there were days after his accident when he didn't want to do anything, and he was angry at the whole world. This gave him perspective into getting rid of these emotions. He says he can be hit with a flare of PTSD at any time, and it is important to keep himself grounded. His stories were metaphorical in nature, and had deep meanings about dealing with life with disability, or even just being different.

I heard Krista Tippett's interview with Kevin Kling live -- and then downloaded the podcast to listen to it again. Kevin is so great with words and stories that speak to me. I have a disability (have lived with multiple sclerosis)since 1994. Kevin is right on in his assessment about living a large part of life fully able bodied, and then, bam, your life changes. Thank you to both Kevin and Krista for sharing a touching and helpful conversation. I am going to share it with others who have M.S. in my community in St Cloud.

Wow! I just listened to the Kevin Kling interview. Maybe serendipity here. Yesterday I visited a son in jail for contempt in a bitter divorce case, thanks to vindictive wife. That was bad, but the worst part was going to his apartment where I witnessed his out-of-control life, littered with papers, empty boxes, packing, hundreds of dollars (maybe thousands) in wasted purchases, many in original packaging, there for months. Piles, literally, of garbage bags full of unwashed clothes. When he ran out of clean ones, he just bought more. etc. etc. I read pages covering years of psychiatric evaluations from his doctor, starting in year 2000, witnessing son's struggle with major depression, ADHD, and a diagnosis going from "possible bi-polar" to "probable bi-polar". This Sunday morning I was too exhausted, both emotionally and physically (I'm 77) to go to church so listened to OnBeing, about another disabled person. So, WOW again. I can't wait to buy his book and send it to my son in jail and share with church group. And get a copy for myself to mark up and dialogue with. Thanks Onbeing and thanks Kevin.

Wow! Just listened to Kevin Kling. Maybe a serendipity. Yesterday I visited a 47-year-old son in jail. While that was a horrible experience, it was worse to go to his apartment and witness his out-of-control life. Empty boxes and packaging all over, debris everywhere. In three of the rooms, it was almost impossible to find a path where one could walk. Uncontrolled spending, probably thousands, in expensive clothes, much in unopened packages, electronic equipment, etc. etc. I read pages of psychiatric reports starting in year 2000 with a diagnosis initially of severe depression, ADHD, possible bi-polar. Then later years changing to “probably bi-polar.” These conditions/disabilities cannot be cured in this life, which causes me (age 77) constant despair. Kevin talked about the difference between healing and curing. That gave me hope. I can’t wait to buy Kevin’s book to send my son, then later send him podcast, etc. And buy the book for myself and share, as I mark it up and dialogue with it. I cannot thank you enough, Onbeing and Kevin. WOW!

One of my favorite interviews! Amazing and very needed words. Thank you Kevin.

My goodness! As a 64 year old grandfather with three grandchildren, Kevin Kling's imagery of the old and the young being in the same light --- twilight --- was remarkable. I have used too many words trying to explain the power of grandchildren, now I can say it much more succinctly. Yes, I believe God is waiting for me much as he "let me come" into this world. Also, the words he used around his near death experience reminded me so much of my dad. I always believed that he chose not to let his first severe heart attack take him to God. He loved his family too much. Yet, many years and hospital visits later, I entered his hospital room. He looked at me and said it is time now son; I will not be leaving this room. He accepted his death with faith and hope, knowing God was on the other side. I hope Kevin has a similar experience and knows when he will no longer be living in two places.

God's peace,

carl

If that apron says Vermont, like i think it does, I love this man even more. So incredibly wise and down to earth in every way. Thanks for sharing Kevin Kling with us.

I was so excited about this interview. In the late 1990s I would stay at work on Friday evening hoping to hear Kevin Kling on NPR, just sitting in my office listening to the stories without interruption. The stories were so fun and sometimes so sad and Kevin has always put joy in the telling. I was sad after the accitdent, and now glad that time has passed and he is still telling stories.
I also feel that I was running from home for a long time and now that I am 60 I am trying to come back home. I wish I had done it sooner since most of my family is gone, but as others said, you can't live with regret and self-pity without losing hope and meaning.
I love his CD I bought about 12 years ago. I will be getting his book.

Such a wise man - Kevin. Krista - thanks for such a beautiful program. I heard this program serendipitously - and believe it is a gift from the Universe. Kevin Kling, you are far more than just a story teller. 'Every scar is a monument to a battle survived' - oh yes. May your public engagements be prosperous and frequent. Another comment references a CD Kevin made - that would be great to find. I will try to download this program and the readings you generously posted on the On Being site. This is a wonderful program. Bless you all - and Thank You.

This is a very inspiring inerview of Kevin Kling. He is from Minesota, and was born with a defect. His left arm was disabled and shorter than his right arm. Years later, in his 40's, he was involved in a motorcycle crash which resulted in paralyzation of his right arm. First, I couldnt imagine living with a disability from birth. I suppose one would become used to it as its all they know. But, to deal with that, and then loose the use of the other arm, and almost die in an accident... How easy would it have been to have given up.

He turned these traumas into motivation. He compared life to a journey, always changing. Even if you think that you know the path hat you are on, you may turn a corner and see paths in completely different directions. A Quote that I related to from him was,

"You spend the first half of your life running away from home, and the second half trying to get back in."

This is so true. As we grow as a person, our priorities shift. We think we need to get away to expereince things when we are young, but after we go and do those things,we realize that the important things were around us all along.

I enjoyed this program very much, and would like to thank having broadcast it. Kevin Kling's story was uplifting and brings a new spin on religion and faith that brings up several great points. I enjoyed that Kevin chooses to use humor and storytelling as a therapeutic way of gracing life's little imperfections. The way that Kevin uses his words, carefully, and poetically creates vivid imagery for the audience to place themselves right into his sight of things.
A few parts of the program that gave me that "ah-ha!" moment were, for example, when speaking about his relationship and his grandparents, "...I connected with my grandparents. And I think we were in the same light. I mean, I was in the dawn and they were in the twilight. But we were in the same light. And because of that, they're heading to the Creator and I'm coming from the Creator. And it seemed because of that, we spoke a very similar language." Another moment, in regards to his family and their predisposition to being struck by lightning, "And so as it's coming down, if you're the easiest path, it will take you." Not only would I connect this to the obvious, lighting, but also could be thought of as a relationship with God; Christianity is to seek a relationship with God to be in His kingdom, so if we make ourselves available and our hearts open to Him, then we shall have that relationship we seek.
Thank you again for this program!

This is a very inspiring inerview of Kevin Kling. He is from Minesota, and was born with a defect. His left arm was disabled and shorter than his right arm. Years later, in his 40's, he was involved in a motorcycle crash which resulted in paralyzation of his right arm. First, I couldnt imagine living with a disability from birth. I suppose one would become used to it as its all they know. But, to deal with that, and then loose the use of the other arm, and almost die in an accident... How easy would it have been to have given up.

He turned these traumas into motivation. He compared life to a journey, always changing. Even if you think that you know the path hat you are on, you may turn a corner and see paths in completely different directions. A Quote that I related to from him was,

"You spend the first half of your life running away from home, and the second half trying to get back in."

This is so true. As we grow as a person, our priorities shift. We think we need to get away to expereince things when we are young, but after we go and do those things,we realize that the important things were around us all along.

I found this podcast particularly interesting since story teller and humorist, Kevin Kling, is from Osseo Minnesota. He speaks of our "Minnesota accent" and refers to familiar places so it is easy to connect with him. Kevin has been through alot in his life but has been able to turn these trials into encouragement and laughter for others. He was born with a disfigured left arm and when he was 40 was involved in a car accident that took the full use of his other arm. For many, this would lead to depression and the tendency to give up, but Kevin was so thankful for the second chance that he had been given at life that he did not dwell on the negative. He tells of how he was pronounced dead at the scene and one of the witnesses to this day believes he is a ghost. Needless to say, he is very lucky to be alive and he is not willing to waste one moment of his life wondering why this happened to him.

In reference to his riding he said, " it all started because I wanted to fly. I wanted to have a foot in two worlds so I bought a motorcycle and from my body I flew." He loved the freedom he felt while riding a motorcycle but inevidably it almost cost him his life. Even though this was a terrible experience he maintains that there is a blessing in everything when tragedy strikes we are still the old person who just needs to adapt. Crying and laughing both bring healing and we need both to deal with these situations.

I love the way he describes the word disability. He says the prefix "dis" is a place of shadow and reflection so a disability does not mean unability just that things need to be approached differently. I really learned alot from this podcast and I think Kevin Kling truly brings the gift of wisdom, laughter and storytelling. He has turned his disability into something that causes people to connect with him instead of turn away from. I have great respect for him and believe we all need to learn from his attitude.

What a great inspiration. Kevin Kling helps my perspective. Can't wait to see him perform live at the annual Buffalo Commons Storytelling Festival next week!

Excelente! Gracias

If you EVER get a chance to see Kevin Kling live don't walk RUN to the theatre, tent, pub, etc. where this man is performing. These recordings are great but they fail to fully convey his humble and yet overwhelming presence.

These type of stories are very interesting and informative. Kevin Kling also a man who is a poet and play wright, he lose his left arm and he can do everything. When a person want to do everything his confident will give him the success.
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Voices on the Radio

Kling is an author and playwright, whose works include "Lloyd's Prayer" and The Dog Says How. He's also a participant and advisory council member of Interact.

Production Credits

Host/Producer: Krista Tippett

Senior Editor: Trent Gilliss

Senior Producer: David McGuire

Technical Director/Producer: Chris Heagle

Producer: Nancy Rosenbaum

Associate Producer/Online: Susan Leem

Coordinating Producer: Stefni Bell

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