About the end of an era

I have recently learned something new.
It is a peculiar thing to quit a job.
Since my last day at the newspaper, a few things have happened.
One has been a little more difficult to figure out how to respond to than others.
I finished my last story for The Southeast Sun June 30, at 2:36 p.m.
It was an Enterprise High School football story about a recent organized team activity.
I knew when I hung up the phone after a short conversation with EHS football coach David Faulkner I’d done my last interview.
I gave the story a headline at 2:38 p.m., and filed it on the newsroom server a minute later.
I know all of these times down to the minute because I sent my sister text messages to mark each of them.
I’m not usually a sentimental man.
I told myself I sent the messages because I’d worked there for several years of my life, and I let the sentimentality slide.
I cleaned my desk for the rest of the day, and eventually made my way toward the door.
I walked past the time sheet on the counter at the front of the office. I hardly ever marked the time my day ended, but at 5:26 p.m. June 30, I filled in the blank.
I was done.
When I got home, someone asked me how I felt. I told them it felt like the end of an era, and it does.
For the first time in a long time, I went out to eat without an audio recorder in my pocket.
There are no interviews. There are no games, and there are no late nights writing stories. There are no deadlines.
There’s just a lot of time to think about the opportunities my job at the newspaper gave me I would have never gotten otherwise.
I’ve had a lot of time to think about the lessons I learned from it.
I gained a new sense of what a deadline means, and I learned how much work it takes to meet it.
Through the years, I learned I could meet it.
I learned people are more important than deadlines, work and just about anything else.
I learned I could start a conversation with no expectation other than to write a story to fill a page, and be inspired forever by the time it ended.
There is plenty of inspiration out there.
I found inspiration when I talked to Walter Nichols. His wife and most other people called him Speed, but I called him Mr. Nichols. It was the only way I knew how to show enough respect to a man who’d volunteered for a mission with nothing more than a toothbrush and a razor, and without the slightest clue of what it entailed.
He went to England. For weeks he walked between guards to a secret room. When they came to the door the guards left him and he went inside to memorize the plans for the top-secret mission, which is now known as D-Day.
When the time was right, he jumped from a plane in the pitch-black darkness and landed on a place the United States Army called Utah Beach.
He went back to France on the 60th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy and found the sign he used to figure out where he was after the jump 60 years before. He said he was so overcome he wouldn’t let his family take a picture there.
I found inspiration when I talked to Bill Snead, who was better known as Papa to his three children, eight grandchildren and 27 great-grandchildren.
He was in his 90s when we talked.
When he was younger, he pushed a plow behind a mule on his family’s farm. He flew a P-47 above Iwo Jima. He flew above the U.S.S. Missouri while the Japanese surrendered to bring World War II to an end. Then he plowed behind a mule again.
A civil service job brought him to Fort Rucker, and he eventually started a camp for children.
I found inspiration on a bench outside of a school, when I sat and talked with a teenager.
We talked about how he loved cars and video games.
We talked about the names he’d been called at school.
He had a medical condition which caused his hair to fall out and leave bald patches on his head.
The taunts took their toll, but he was relentlessly positive.
“I know this sounds kind of cheesy, but I’d sing a little tune,” he said. “Empathy, empathy, put yourself in the place of me.”
Songs like his stick with you.
The faith of a 12-year-old boy with tumors on his lungs and liver who said he wasn’t afraid of cancer because he had God sticks with you.
I’ll remember the meetings I had with the parents of a 6-year-old Denver Broncos fan who missed his first Broncos game because of a brain tumor.
I’ll remember the way he inspired a high school baseball team, and the look on his face when he learned he’d fly to see his favorite team’s facilities.
I’ll remember how his father talked about the time the family got to spend together playing football during much-needed time away from the doctor’s office.
I’ll remember how the entire family inspired people through its story and its resolve to keep fighting.
These people and many more provided inspiration to me while I wrote for the paper.
Since I left, I have been inspired and deeply humbled by every comment and message about my decision.
I haven’t quite figured out how to properly respond to the outpouring of compliments and kindness I have received,.
Nothing I think of seems good enough.
I don’t know how to express how thankful I am for all of you who trusted me to tell your stories, who worked with me, who helped me and who have taken the time to wish me well.
Your kind words mean more to me than you will ever know.
Thank you for everything.
Thank you for your inspiration.
Thank you for making the end of an era in my life something I will look back on with fondness.

4 thoughts on “About the end of an era”

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