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Life in a Jar? American Story with Bob Dotson

(From Bob Dotson, NBC News National Correspondent)My mom always worried about my life's work. The first time she got a chance to see one of my stories on the TODAY Show, I called to see what she thought."Did you watch my piece this morning?"There was a long pause at the other end of the line.  Then she said, "Bobby, I think you ought to learn a trade.""A trade!""Yes, they are not going to keep p

(From Bob Dotson, NBC News National Correspondent)

My mom always worried about my life's work. The first time she got a chance to see one of my stories on the TODAY Show, I called to see what she thought.

"Did you watch my piece this morning?"

There was a long pause at the other end of the line.  Then she said, "Bobby, I think you ought to learn a trade."

"A trade!"

"Yes, they are not going to keep paying you for 4-minutes work a day."

Well, they have.

For more than 30 years I've traveled this country on NBC's nickel.  Stayed in more motel rooms than the Gideon Bible. No matter how busy, I always try to find stories that add meaning to the daily chaos we cover.

Eventually, folks who sign paychecks made that into a full-time job. Now I search for people who don't send out press releases. Who may not run for mayor or go to Mars. Who won't ever transplant a heart, but may touch one.

The American Story airing this morning, "Life in a Jar," is about just such a person. Ninety-seven-year-old Irena Sendler, just four foot eleven, saved twenty-five hundred children from Nazi death camps. Few knew. Mrs. Sendler seldom spoke of what she did.  Considering all the remarkable stories from the Holocaust that have surfaced over the years, it's hard to believe this one lay mostly unnoticed for sixty years, until four high school girls from Uniontown, Kansas, uncovered it. Thanks to those teenagers, Mrs. Sendler has just been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.    

Time to tell stories on television is often sliced too thin for thought.  Much has to be left out.  Here's something you won't find -- even on the website the students created for Mrs. Sendler. That tiny Catholic nurse not only saved all those children, she managed to sneak a Jewish man out of the Warsaw Ghetto. Right past the Nazi guards. She later married him and had two children of her own.

Television is at its best when it shows the incredible things of which we are capable. We journalists often must focus on life's flat tires. If I were riding in a car with four other reporters and the right front tire went flat, they'd have to hop out, glance at the tire, then beat each other to the phone to tell the world.  The TODAY show gives me the luxury to stick around, kick the other tires and see why they're still up. In other words, I get to look for something more. What makes us who we are.

People who see things that need to be done and do them without regrets or apologies; without sending out a press release. I figure I'm on the right track if there's no other reporter when I show up and the person who answers the door says, "Why are you here?  I'm no one special."  That's when I grin.

There was a fellow up in New Hampshire I would have loved to have met. He was a terrible farmer. He used to milk his cows at midnight so he could sleep late.  He moved near a little town called Franconia. And folks figured he'd be on the welfare rolls by Easter.  He was forever swinging on birch trees or staring at clouds. He would even get lost in the forest coming into town. One day they heard something he had written:  

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep.  And miles to go before I sleep.  And miles to go before I sleep..."  

The reporters -- who had passed him in the woods -- and chuckled with the others now scurried out to see him.  One finally asked the farmer his name:

He said it was ... Robert Frost.

I like to reflect on such unassuming people like Robert Frost and Irena Sendler. Perhaps they are put in a reporter's path to remind us never to get so caught up in the "Big Stories" that we overlook everyday people working in the woods.  Their lives mattered and did make a difference.

You've met such people, too.  Let me hear from you.