Hola, ye who readeth my words (have I said thank you lately? Thank you.) It’s deadline week at the magazine (this is my day job, in case you’re new here). When you’re in a place that puts out things in words, if you throw around the term deadline, people start to turn the shade of zucchinis and grab wads of their printer paper to sop up the sweat on their necks. Even if you’ve got every single duck named, washed, and in a row singing, it’s a stomach-wrenching idea, throwing all your effort into producing a series of documents on one day in the somewhat distant near future. But if you’re not in this business, it seems less of a big deal, which is OK. I don’t really get it when astronauts are wringing their hands about moon missions either, so what can I say?
All that to say coffee.
Anyway, the week of the deadline looms before us, and this leads to quite a bit of hand wringing in the form of inbox- and telephone-staring in our office. At any given moment, I am waiting for interviews to stream in somehow; I’ve often said the nerves are wracked in this gig because I lose control after I ask someone to talk to me: “So, just get back to me as soon as possible. . .” I write, when what I mean is, “MY ENTIRE CAREER COULD BE SWIRLED DOWN A TOILET IF YOU DON’T CALL ME AND THUS I MISS A DEADLINE, PLEASE, DO YOU HAVE A HEART?” (Melodrama runs high in this field. OK, in me.)
Now, I can be found ragging on journalism like it’s my job. The thing is that I adore the writing (I mean, here I am, writing to you after five straight hours of word processing elsewhere); the thing I don’t adore is running out and finding the next Watergate, which works out pretty well since there aren’t enough Watergates to go around for all the thrill-seeking journalists. (Also, my voice is pretty high and the last word anyone would ever use to describe me is “undercover.”) “I just want to sit around and write love stories all the time,” I whine to Haley, who sits a computer away pounding out feature stories like it’s her job because it is her job and she’s an excellent journalist. She nods sympathetically. “Mmhm. Read me some more Pablo Neruda.” (OK, she doesn’t request Pablo Neruda, but she does get it for free, along with Hemingway quotes and unsolicited advice.)
Today, I spent a lot of time staring at my inbox and willing the infilling of messages. I played Walk Around the Building Because Emails Know When You Leave Your Desk to no avail. I gChatted Norm about emails so much that he finally started sending me emails (which did take the edge off, but did not provide me with any more interviews.) I sighed and watched the trees shimmy in the rain. I decided to try one more time to call an 85-year-old woman who makes quilts (for a story, not for other purposes, many of which I’m sure you can come up with.) I wasn’t expecting her to answer because nobody was answering, and she’s 85, and what 85-year-old sits next to her phone all day? (Ones who make quilts, that’s who. Duh.) She answered. “Hi, Carolyn, I am calling from Alabama Alumni Magazine. . . so, do you have a few minutes to talk to me?” There’s always a moment of silence while the person on the other end unfolds my spiel in his or her head; Carolyn took several moments.
“Oh, darlin’. . . you—you want to write about me?” And I know it’s all about the words for me; but in that moment, I realized these words were hers, too.
“Yes ma’m, I want to write about your quilts.”
“I never thought I would be in a story.”
We all want to be in a story, right? Isn’t that romantic? (Trust me, it is.) And as I listened to Carolyn tell me about her quilts (for quite awhile), it occurred to me that I was giving her a story. Suddenly she was Alice or Hermione or Lizzie Bennett, and actually she was Carolyn, and that’s exactly who she needed to be because the story was hers, and yet—it was still mine, too.
And in that moment, I realized that this wasn’t Watergate or Pride and Prejudice, but it was somebody’s story; it wasn’t Africa or Haiti, but it was my mission field. The Lord asks us to love, and He lets me do that by giving them their stories, by handing them pages that belong to them. In Carolyn’s voice as she handed over her life, trusting me to give her a story, I heard it: this is where the wildflowers grow. I was so sure of it I gChatted it right away: “My heart, it melts!”
And though my heart for journalism grew two sizes, I still know newspapers aren’t me; I still know I’d like to keep a safe distance from reporting, if at all possible (though if you want to hire me, YES, I WILL WRITE ANYTHING); I still know that it’s the writing that gets me. I’m also still aware that it’s deadline week, that I’ve got 37 unanswered emails bumping into one another in cyberspace, that I’ll probably spend the weekend pouring out words to make the Monday due date. That will be stressful, and everyone around me will know what’s happening, and, and, and–it will happen or it won’t, and I’ll go right on writing. There will be more stories, another deadline, another chance to write for them, for me, for Him, because yes. This is where the wildflowers grow.