A Moment Made

Some of life’s great truths have the staying power of Keith Richards and Bob Dylan combined. Which is to say, they’re not pretty, but there’s no getting rid of them.

One of these truths is that the new guy will always get the “fun” stuff.

A second is that the news always happens, regardless of any calendar dates or holidays.

Put these together, and you’ll understand why, about 20 years ago, I was heading into the newsroom of The Garden City Telegram on Christmas Day.

Mind you, the world wasn’t burning down – well, no more than it usually is, anyway. No apartment buildings had exploded, no planes had crashed on Main Street, no eccentric billionaires had decreed that every resident of southwest Kansas was getting a lifetime cash award. (Darn it.) But there would still be a newspaper on Dec. 26, and so the rookie got to come in and keep an ear on the police scanner in case anything happened … and to work on a short feature in case nothing did.

Appropriately enough, I spent the time talking to my colleagues of the moment – namely, the others who by choice or circumstance found themselves working on the holiday. Truckers. Ambulance workers. Police officers. All the folks who quietly keep the gears moving, even when life seems to come to a halt.

For most, it wasn’t a day lost, but a day postponed. There would be time to celebrate, to observe, to enjoy … once the job was done. A time claimed rather than found, a moment to be made rather than simply reached.

I still appreciate that.

After all, it’s a lesson Heather and I came to know very well.

***

Christmas Eve in Garden City. Our first as a married couple. A friend had invited us to a candlelight service, one of Heather’s favorite things in the world – only for one of her chronic illnesses to have a brief flare-up that evening. We didn’t have to go to an emergency room, but we clearly weren’t going anywhere else, either.

Young husbands do many things out of desperation. Which is how I happened to sit at our piano that night by candlelight, playing carols from the hymnal and reading appropriate sections of the Christmas story.  Since Heather couldn’t go to the candlelight service, I brought the service to her.

We weren’t where we meant to be. We weren’t where we wanted to be. But together, we made the moment.

And a memory that still endures for both of us.

***

We imbue dates with a lot of power. That can create a sort of magic where it feels like everyone around you is acting in a common purpose, to a common goal. But if for some reason you’re disconnected from the revelry, that approaching holiday can become awkward instead of wonderful, something that everyone else gets to enjoy while you stand to one side.

And like that, “Christmas is coming” starts to sound less like a carol and more like a threat.

But it doesn’t have to be.

Christmas isn’t about Dec. 25. It never was. It’s about setting a time aside to recognize unexpected joy and quiet love, to treasure those who are closest to your heart and focus on what’s truly important. To see those around us as people deserving of kindness (even if they do have horrible taste in sweaters).

That’s a moment that can be claimed at any time.

Or even at every time.

May that moment always be with you, whenever you choose to make it. May it comfort you with a warmth that will last and endure.

If we’re truly fortunate, it might even outlast Keith Richards.

How the Worst was Won

Thank you, Forbes. It’s always fun to start the day by being told your job stinks.

For those who missed it, Forbes just put out its annual list of the worst jobs in America. You know the sort I mean: the jobs with either low pay, or high stress, or no future, or a work environment that goes beyond the challenging.

Jobs like the infantry, where people, you know, shoot at you from time to time.

Or working on an oil rig, where the hours are long and family often distant.

But the job that rated the worst of all – below the chancy life of an actor, the injury risk of a lumberjack or a roofer, or the downsizings of the post office – was newspaper reporter.

Really?

Seriously?

There must be some mistake. I mean, sure, the pay is nothing to write home about. Sure, there’s enough long hours and deadline pressure to make coffee a viable tax write-off. And yeah, a lot of papers have been closing down, laying off, or thinning out. But still, that’s no reason to ….

Hmmm.

I hate to admit it, but they may have a point.

From a coldly clinical point of view, this is not the line of work that every parent dreams their child will someday pursue. Doctor? Sure. Lawyer? Why not? Teacher? Of course. Ink-stained wretch? Keep the room furnished, they may be moving back into it soon.

It’s folly. It’s absurd. It’s crazy. It’s ridiculous.

And I wouldn’t do anything else in the world.

I’ve wanted to be a reporter since the eighth grade, ever since the day in Ms. Shopland’s Spanish class where I couldn’t find the word “author” in my glossary for an exercise, but could find “journalist.” And despite every pothole I’ve mentioned above – and quite a few I haven’t! — I’ve never seriously regretted the choice.

To be a reporter is to be a storyteller, with the chance to meet intriguing people and relate interesting situations.

To be a reporter is to be a translator, making the complexities of a government, or a process, or a problem understandable to the average person.

To be a reporter is to be part of a heritage, measured out in crinkled headlines. It means being part of a profession so necessary, it’s cited in the Constitution; or being the first one to hear what’s happened; or seeing people at their best and worst, and remembering that they too are humans with a story worth telling.

It means diving into the pool of words, immersing yourself in the beauties of English. Even if it means arguing endlessly with an editor over using“cement” or “concrete” in a sentence.

And for me, it means doing what I love.

And really, that’s the important part, isn’t it?

We’ve all taken jobs because we had to. Life goes on, and it demands food on the table and a roof over the head. But to do what you love, to do a job you know you can do well and delight in the doing of – that is heaven and earth with a fistful of rainbow sprinkles on top.

It may even keep you alive and alert, as well as happy. There’s been more than one study out there showing that high job satisfaction is good for your body and good for your mind. And really, it’s just more fun to be around someone who enjoys what they do. Even if it’s not the glamorous or “practical” choice.

The science fiction author Spider Robinson once wrote about coming to a crossroads in his life: should he take the plunge and try to write full-time, or chuck it in and concentrate on his less enjoyable but more secure day job? His editor at the time, Ben Bova, gave it a week of thought before finally telling him “Spider, no one can pay you enough money to do what you don’t want to do.”

Words of wisdom.

Oh, the job that Spider walked away from?

Newspaper reporter.