Many years ago, in a time and a place that seems so far away to me now, I courted a young lady and fancied I was in love. We were really just kids playing at being grown-ups, but we believed we were destined to spend eternity together.
Complicated. Ignorant. Entrenched. It’s easy to come up with words to describe the state of race relations in this country and especially in the South, but some come to mind more easily than others after what happened in Charleston last week. Dylann Storm Roof attended Bible study with black congregants of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston and then summarily gunned down nine of those in the group.
And once again we in this country are forced to confront the ugly reality of racism, compelled to search for ways to turn tragedy into change.
I remember someone once telling me that all the seemingly trivial, decidedly unimportant choices you make every day prepare you for when the big thing comes along and the right decision might have life-changing consequences. Do right everyday for the right reasons and you’ll most likely do right when that moment arrives. At least we all should hope that’s the way it will turn out.
I think that admonition has more to do with morals and ethics than actual actions, but it still popped into my head when I was editing one of the stories in last week’s paper. I’m referring to the school bus driver in Macon County who may have saved the lives of children and staff at South Macon Elementary School with a singular act of courage.
By the time I was in the fifth grade, I knew I wanted to grow up to be a lawyer. While other kids my age grew up with dreams of becoming race car drivers or ballet dancers or senators (surely you remember those student government types), I dreamed of fierce cross-examinations, roasting the accused on the witness stand until they blurted out desperate confessions, anything to escape my searing questions and the inferno of their own guilt, as I composed it like Dante for a jury of their peers.
“Who IS that man?” one attractive juror would whisper to another. “So brilliant, so dashing, so well-groomed and articulate.”
What’s your dream job? Recent college graduates are perhaps honing in on the difficult task of searching for a satisfying career, but I’m standing at my desk today thinking “what next?” I’m 55, and for the last 16 years I’ve had my dream job. I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather have done during that time than own and edit a weekly newspaper in the mountains of Western North Carolina.
Not that I’m moving onto something different soon (much to the chagrin, I’m sure, of many readers and some of our staff). It’s just that time of year when my concentration begins to wander off track, thinking about where this newspaper is headed and what the future may hold, both journalistically and from a business perspective.
It is just a beautiful day, this Memorial Day. I am able to get a little work done in the morning, and then sneak off to the fitness center for a quick workout and a run around Lake Junaluska while Tammy makes a project of the pantry, which has over the past couple of years become “overstuffed” and is about as organized as a cat parade. The kids are now old enough to help us put away the groceries, and they have embraced this new stage of responsibility by developing a truly impressive talent to put things in completely random places. Why shouldn’t a can of beans be flanked on the shelf by a jar of Maraschino cherries and a dozen eggs?
I don’t know if it reaches the magnitude of a moral dilemma, but I feel for the Frog Level merchants who appeared before the Waynesville town board recently. They came seeking help in dealing with the patrons of The Open Door soup kitchen that’s located in the historic business district.
The soup kitchen clientele, needless to say, are the most needy among us — some are poverty-stricken, others suffer from mental health issues, others have drug and alcohol problems — and so it is bound to come off as callous if you say you want to be rid of them.
The rioting in Baltimore has settled down and we haven’t heard much out of Ferguson, Missouri, recently. The uproar and incessant debate over what is happening in our inner cities — racism, poverty, violence, drugs, police brutality — has, for the moment, quieted down. But problems don’t go away just because they are left unspoken.
The festering wounds in those towns were on my mind as we settled down Sunday night to watch the award-winning movie “Selma.” The film is about a few weeks in Martin Luther King’s life as he organized and marched in Selma, Alabama. The marchers were specifically calling for an end to laws that kept blacks from voting, and despite the mortal dangers they faced — there were deaths in those few weeks among whites and blacks who supported the marchers — it worked. Congress passed the Voting Rights Act that same month.
Even though she’s an Indiana girl who had only seen the ocean once before we met, there is something about the beach that feels like home to Tammy. She especially likes Edisto Beach, where we go every summer. But we also have fond memories of Sunset Beach, where we went for a few years before discovering Edisto. When I was a kid, on the rare occasions my family took a vacation, we went to Myrtle Beach, about a half hour south of Sunset Beach, but another world entirely in character.
He was tall, maybe 6 feet 8 inches or taller, and was standing at an intersection studying a map. My wife, Lori, and I had just dumped out from a favorite trail at Bent Creek in Asheville onto the well-used Forest Service Road 491, jogging along as we enjoyed the warm early spring afternoon.
We gave him some directions, and he asked if he could just follow along for a while so as not to get lost. His strong French accent made it obvious he wasn’t a local.