In his introduction to This I Believe II, Jay Allison writes, "In an age of irony, an earnest statement is a target."
Yet the long-running NPR series from which this collection of essays is drawn, and for which Allison is the host and curator, is exactly that: the earnest statements of people of every age, gender, race, religion and station of life about what is most significant to them.
Almost every one of the 500-word essays is surprising in some way. If you're expecting tired platitudes about religion or family or patriotism, try this one: "I believe in semi-permanent hair dye." That's Amelia Baxter-Stoltzfus, who wrote her funny but insightful essay as a high school student.
Or how about "I believe in strange blessings," the opening line of the essay by Robin Baudier, a young woman who found her life turned upside down by Hurricane Katrina — and found the good side of living in a FEMA trailer.
Some of the contributors are famous. Skateboard icon Tony Hawk believes in taking pride in what you do; Craigslist founder Craig Newmark believes in the Golden Rule; singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter believes "in what I learned at the grocery store" after a life-threatening pulmonary embolism.
Others are ordinary folks, like David Buetow, who believes in his dog, and Ivory Harlow, who believes "a short stack of pancakes can bring about a small shift in society." There is even an anonymous contributor, a former Guantanamo Bay interrogator who believes in the redemptive power of acceptance, even of the worst among us: "It is powerful to those who receive it and more powerful to those who give it."
By turns moving, thoughtful, cheering and heartbreaking, in an age of irony these essays offer a little something to believe in.
Colette Bancroft can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8435.