Last week marked my one-year anniversary as editor of the Vincennes Sun-Commercial.
To celebrate, I decided to clean out my voicemail. I know, I know, not very celebratory, but I’d received a handful of complaints that my inbox was full.
Some people were downright angry about it.
So I set to work, deleting this one and that one, saving others for later, always jogging my mind to be sure I’d responded to each and every inquiry along the way. I quickly decided it had probably been a year, crazy and irresponsible as it sounds, since I’d done this rather simple — yet tedious — task.
Toward the end of my endeavor, I came upon a voicemail dated July 28, 2020 — just a few short weeks after being named as editor.
It was a message from a woman named Dee Montgomery; her wonderfully-warm and cheery voice declaring that while I probably didn’t know her, she certainly knew me. She’d been a subscriber for 40 years, she said, and had just read my first-ever column, “A Father’s Boots,” one in which I’d likened my first days around here to stumbling around in too-big shoes, just as I once did as a child.
“All I want is to say to you that in (Saturday’s) paper, your editorial was really beautiful,” she said. “And I want to congratulate you on your new job.
“I think you’re going to do a splendid job. You just keep on, keepin’ on,” she said as she ended the call.
I remember sitting down in my chair that day and bursting into tears. In a world fraught with fear and turmoil and uncertainty, as the pandemic bore down on us all, she took time out of her day to completely make mine.
I only wished I’d had, at the time, the same confidence in myself that a complete stranger seemed to have in me.
But hearing that message again on Friday afternoon — more than a year later — I’m holding my head a bit higher, finding myself a bit more confident and a lot more determined.
This desk doesn’t feel quite so big, the shoes to fill not quite so huge, the tasks at hand not quite so terrifying.
I’ve made changes along the way, most of them adhering to the only two real rules I set for myself: Say ‘Yes’ more than ‘No,’ and when in doubt, repeat the phrase, “I can do anything I want.”
For the most part, I’ve ditched the notion of trying to get around in shoes that aren’t mine, shoes I thought would be far too big. These days, I’m strutting around just fine in my strappy sandals — and isn’t that so often the case? For when we try to fill someone else’s shoes, the fit will never be just right — they will always be too big or too small or to narrow — until you make the decision to slide into a comfortable pair of your very own.
And along the way, I’ve learned three rather important lessons.
The first, I’m way stronger than I ever gave myself credit for. I’ve always leaned on others for help, certain I’d never be able to steer the ship myself. Turns out, I can.
Sure, I feel like I’m constantly dodging icebergs, but the ship has remained on course, for the most part anyway.
Second, being at the helm has reminded me that there is so much value in newspapers. I’ve watched as new reporters’ eyes light up when they realize the kind of impact we can have on the lives of those around us, whether that’s in pushing elected officials to do what we believe is right or in offering a small hand to a family in need by sharing — as only a good writer can — their story with the masses.
And third, I still have a lot — and I mean A LOT — to learn. I went from being an excellent writer and reporter to a mediocre editor at best. I’m getting better all the time, sure, but I’ve been reminded that there is always so much more to learn and to grasp and to gain by never-ever assuming that you have it all figured out.
No matter how old or experienced, we all can continue to grow and improve simply by keeping an open mind and being willing to listen to the ideas of those around us.
As it turns out, the gift for those celebrating a first anniversary is paper — how fitting, right?
When I realized that, I found it unexpectedly comforting. Paper is such a humble, simple gift. It lacks the dazzle and cost of precious metals, such as diamonds or gold, but paper can hold — perhaps even more so — a tremendous amount of value, just of a different kind.
On paper, I escape to worlds and times unknown as I bury my nose, as I so often do, in a book for an entire weekend.
On paper, we can look back at photographs and relish in memories and people who have left deep marks on our hearts.
On paper, we can send cards of encouragement, celebration, thanks and love.
And on paper, we here at the Sun-Commercial offer every day to customers the news of an entire community — stories of its people and of its places and, even, of its perils.
Welsh lyricist and musician Nicky Wire once said, “A blank page of paper and a pen is the greatest invention. It’s so exciting to be confronted by possibility.”
I realize now, that’s what happened to me a year ago. I was confronted with a challenge — but also with opportunity.
So here’s to another year of possibility.