With Great Power

Jun 5, 2015
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Transcript

WASHINGTON: Welcome back to SNAP JUDGMENT from PRX-NPR - the "Godsend" episode. My name's Glynn Washington. And today, looking for messages from a higher power. Now everyone plays these little games with parental figures - right? - Peek a Boo, Hide and Seek. Well, in our next story, listen in 'cause it starts with a mysterious game, but you will not believe where it ends up. Some straight "Jumanji"-type stuff. SNAP JUDGMENT.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LIPPA: My dad would say to me, I'm going to write something down on a piece of paper, and then I'm going to hand it to you, and then you're going to close your eyes, and you're going to breathe in and out, and then you're going to tell me what you see. And then I'd go into what I saw. And then he'd tell me it wasn't that. This was a test, and I kept failing the test.

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LIPPA: My father co-founded a 1960s cult. It was called the Holy Order Of Mans. People thought they could levitate and move buildings with their minds. And I wanted to believe that I was the daughter of a prophet and that I had magical powers. When I failed at something like the folded-paper game, he wouldn't play it with me for a few weeks. It was sort of almost like a little punishment. Moving things with my mind became a big one.

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LIPPA: I would practice with small things - pencils and paper - and sometimes I thought that I'd done it. He had taught me a chant to say. The chant was, I feel, I sense, I know. But part of getting the chant right was to believe that it was going to work. And I feared that that was the failure - that I just didn't believe strongly enough. And what I would do is I would type my chants. I would type I feel that I have the ability to fly. I sense I have the ability to fly. I know I have the ability to fly. I feel that my mom's going to get us off of welfare. I sense that my mom's going to get us off of welfare. Most of what I attempted to control had to do with things that I wanted to be when I grew up, which was a famous actress, a good witch with real magical powers and a savior of the world.

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LIPPA: We were a news-watching household. Every single night, our living rooms were filled with terror. The entire country was aware that at some point, we probably were going to have a nuclear war with Russia - with the Soviet Union at the time. You know, I would pray about it. I tried everything I could think of - every day, every morning, every night, sitting at the typewriter and nothing worked. And because I was a failure, I hadn't brought my father back. I hadn't helped relations with Russia.

It was 1982. Samantha Smith was a year older than I. She had lived several towns over, and she had written a letter to the then-Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov to express her worry about getting into a nuclear war. And a week later, the Soviet Embassy called Samantha at home to say that a reply from Yuri Andropov was on its way. She got a response, and it was typed in Russian, and it was accompanied by an English translation that read, (reading) we in the Soviet Union are trying to do everything so that there will not be war on earth.

He invited Samantha and her family to go visit his country. And I stayed up late to watch her interviewed on "Nightline" by Ted Koppel.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "NIGHTLINE")

KOPPEL: And finally, tonight, the story of Samantha Smith, the 10-year-old girl from Manchester, Maine. Now that you've gone through this experience, what do you conclude from all of this?

SMITH: Oh, I just hope we can have peace and hope it'll do some good

KOPPEL: What else - what did the - what did the neighbors say? What did your parents say when the letter arrived this morning?

SMITH: Well, they just said they were proud of me and really happy that I thought of such a thing to do.

LIPPA: She was everything I wanted to be that I didn't think I was. My attempts to develop my powers became very focused on her. So now not only did I want to be a famous actress and a good witch and a savior, I wanted to trump Samantha Smith.

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LIPPA: She had gone to the Kremlin, the Russian Friendship Society, and she'd had a luncheon with the first woman cosmonaut. The news coverage was really big across the country. But because she was specifically from Maine, it was pretty intense here. For two weeks, I really seethed and cringed at every news story. I mean, she had really set in motion something huge, and she was making real suggestions to save the world. And then (laughter) one day, my mother and I were watching TV, and there was an advertisement for a new TV show that was going to star Samantha Smith and Robert Wagner.

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LIPPA: I could feel the muscles of my face clench. Not only was Samantha Smith this beautiful little girl saving the world. Now she was taking my dream of being a famous actress.

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LIPPA: I truly did not believe that there could be more than one little girl from Maine to have this kind of success. And I closed my eyes. I was sitting in the living room, and I focused my mind, and I breathed in and out and in and out. The sounds of the room and the TV just seemed to drift away. And one thought formed with great clarity. I wish Samantha Smith would die.

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LIPPA: And then it was summer - August 26, 1985. It had rained the night before, and I started doing my morning prayers of praying for the strengthening of my psychic and magical powers. And it was kind of eerily quiet in the house. And I turned on the television and there was a news report on that was accompanied by a live shot of a plane crash site. And then - and then an image of Samantha Smith came on the screen. And the reporter said...

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Last night, 13-year-old Samantha, America's youngest goodwill ambassador, was killed in a plane crash.

LIPPA: I wished her dead, and now she's gone. I wished her dead, and now she's gone. I knew I'd killed her.

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LIPPA: And the shame of that - or what I believed I had done to the world and to her mother, Jane, was immense. For about three years after that, I attributed every moment of pain or trauma as all part of my punishment for what I had done. Everything told me that I would eventually suffer a painful death at a young age because I deserved it. And so I waited.

The world didn't forget Samantha. The newly-elected governor of Maine signed a bill proclaiming the first Monday in June Samantha Smith Day. And the bronze statue of Samantha was unveiled in front of the mainstay cultural building. It was right before my birthday. So every year when my birthday came around, I was reminded that I was getting a year older and Samantha Smith was not.

If I told my dad that I killed that girl, he would've believed it. I have no doubt in my mind that he would've believed it. It probably would've amped up my training again, but it wasn't worth it for the shame that I felt in what I had done. I believed I killed this girl. And I was visiting my father in North Carolina. I was on the porch, and I saw cars with lights come up, and the lights were flashing. It was a dirt road, and they did a slow roll up to the house and parked right in front of the porch, and they got out. And I'm thinking, they're coming for me.

Three deputies were there. One of them kind of looks down at the ground, kicks the dirt, spits a little. It turned out that they had come to prosecute him for unpaid child support. And I listened to my father weave a very believable tale - a very believable and untrue tale that he had been paying child support all along. I knew it was untrue because I knew we were on welfare. I knew checks hadn't arrived. And he had expressed to me that his support came in other ways, and one of those ways was my magical training. Soon after that, I came across some flyers for a class that he was teaching. I'm standing there looking at these flyers, and my dad, who's just lied about paying child support a few days before, is also calling himself God The All-Knowing Greatness.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LIPPA: And I couldn't even look at him because I realized that my father was either very unwell or lying or a combination of both. It kind of planted a seed. It was a few years later, and I really went through a very confusing time of kind of letting go of my father's beliefs, but being incapable of letting go of my own belief that I had magical powers. I think yes, I was definitely older than someone might expect before I realized the truth. Suddenly, I just stopped and I started to cry, and I said aloud, I don't want to live like this anymore. And in that moment when I thought that, I knew the truth. I knew I had not killed Samantha Smith. And I knew I hadn't killed her because I had never had that much power.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LIPPA: Knowing that I hadn't killed this child was an enormous relief for me. But even after this experience, I would say probably for 30 years of my life, I've had to remember that I'm not magic. I just don't believe that I can levitate. Well, I'm not saying no - I don't think I can. I'm pretty sure I can't. No, I can't - damn it.

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WASHINGTON: Truth be told Kate, I practiced my magical powers this morning. Find out more about the magical, mysterious Katie Lippa on our website, snapjudgment.org. That piece was produced by Anna Sussman with original scoring by Leon Morimoto.

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WASHINGTON: It's about that time, time you knew that you are indeed a godsend to us, Snappers. Because of that, we made you something special - a full-on library of SNAP episodes in podcasts form waiting - waiting for you to subscribe. Free of charge to put some SNAP in your pocket. But how do I do it, Glynn? How? Just go to snapjudgment.org. It's all there on iTunes, Stitcher, your local public radio station, wherever you get your SNAP fix.

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WASHINGTON: Now, did you ever try to move things with your mind only to have the alarms go off at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting? So sorry about that. These powers that cannot be controlled. Much love to the CPB. PRX, the Public Radio Exchange also has a foreign radio exchange called XRP in Cincinnati - prx.org. And this is not the news. No way is this the news. In fact, we could test the universe by walking in a thunderstorm with an antenna strapped to your forehead only to have the universe provide exactly what you deserve, you would still not be as far away from the news as this is. But this is NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.