When I graduated from college, I knew two things:
- I had a degree!
- I had no idea what to do with it…
I’d spent the last three years devoting myself to reading and writing, and I’d earned my bachelor’s degree in English a year early and with honors. In college, I was “the wunderkind.” My professors respected my work and encouraged my curiosity. Out of college, I was a twenty-year-old kid with a lot of debt and no real job experience.
I wasn’t scared for my future. I had an abundance of confidence, but not cash. So I did what any slightly lost, mostly broke kid would do: I applied to every job for which I was even marginally qualified. Thankfully, a couple of employers took a chance on me. One of those employers was the local newspaper – a freelance gig, sure, but a chance to get my name out there and make money doing something I loved.
Growing up in the theater had cured me of shyness, and college had taught me to write well and concisely (and quickly, if I had to). Writing for a newspaper – interviews, deadlines, etc. – was a natural fit and I loved it immediately. Talking to people and writing about it didn’t feel like work. Having the opportunity to meet people in my community and share their accomplishments was a privilege.
My first article was about a sweet elderly lady who made prayer bears and prayer flowers for grieving families and families whose loved ones were in the hospital. In the fall of 2007, I sat with her for a couple of hours in her living room. I’d prepared questions, but the conversation was so easy and so honest, I didn’t need them. As I was packing to leave, she made me a set of my own prayer flowers, and prayed for my health and success.
From there, I met with a 97-year-old ham radio operator and we talked about the days when radio was new and exciting. To her, it still was. I interviewed two little boys who decided to grow out their hair and donate it. They wanted to honor their grandmother, and they didn’t care at all that people said they looked like girls. I walked around a hospital and spoke to volunteers who often came home utterly exhausted and still wondered if they could do more. I spent an afternoon with a church youth group as they were preparing for a mission trip. For many of them, it would be their first airplane ride, and not one of them was afraid. They were just excited and eager to help.
I handled quick deadlines. I worked late. I wrote on my lunch break. I skipped dinner. I learned to take decent photographs for the first time in my life (much more difficult than I thought it would be…). More than anything, I realized that people have good things to say, and it’s important to hear them.
In 2009, Graham and I moved from Abingdon for what we thought would be a temporary stay in Northern Virginia. The prayer flowers from my very first story came with us. All these years later, they still sit on a shelf in my study.
I look at them often, and they remind me that the people we meet are never just a means to an end, and that kindness and compassion are real, tangible, and enduring.