An e-mail arrived one day from a dear, old friend who was once my boss, when he was managing editor of a daily newspaper where I worked during college, and which was later my first full-time job.
To him and to many, I owe much. The only great debts I have, and the only ones I will never, even through the grace of God, be able to repay. It was an e-mail that he had sent to many to notify us that the executive editor of the paper all those years ago had been moved to a nursing home. Perhaps, he suggested, if the spirit moves you, you might send him a card.
I was happy to oblige and set about the task. It is not only important, it is a responsibility to give back to those who gave to us first, to say, "Thank you," when the opportunity arises.
Writing that note, I thought back to that newsroom where -- in the days before Internet connections -- there was a teletype machine from the AP and UPI wire services that would set off a bell when an urgent story was coming in. We'd hear the bell and rush over to see what had happened. If the story was big enough and the presses were already printing the paper, someone would rush to the basement, strong with the smell of heavy ink, and yell, "Stop the presses!" It was an adrenaline rush and one reason that once newspaper ink mixes with your blood, you can never cleanse yourself purely of it.
Fortunate was I as a young girl to be blessed in that newsroom with mentors who touched my life for a moment, but whose lessons carried forth through the following seasons of my life. There were a couple of gentle, gracious gentlemen, one woman whose eyes sparkled constantly and whose smile was contagious, and one cantankerous, crusty, cynical sports editor, my immediate boss, who, I quite simply adored. I've always loved a good mixture of salt and sugar.
They were all great storytellers. They could see stories where no one else saw them, tell them in spell-binding language then pen them to paper in equally strong ways. That was back in the days when newspaper writing was an art and they all, in turn, were great artists. The crusty one was my favorite. His stories captivated me. He'd jitter around quickly always, fueled no doubt by the endless cups of coffee he drank. I can see him now -- standing at the old, gray metal desk, hand on one hip, taking a deep drag on a cigarette, and as he blew the smoke through his lips, something would remind him of a story and he would release it from his thoughts in a mesmerizing way.
On paper, his words and images were equally as strong. If I could write like him, I'd win a Pulitzer.
You never forget people like those. At least I don't. No one, I have come to learn, is self-made. We are all made through the efforts of others. The ones who raise us, the teachers who teach us, the preachers who pray for us, the ones who believe in us and the enemies who scorn us.
For I am as grateful to the evil ones who have battled with dark forces against me as I am for the good ones who cast abundant light on my paths. The good ones have been my encouragement and the evil ones have been my inspiration. Both have driven me with great passion and purpose toward reaching success. A way of paying them all back, you know. The mean ones have been just as important to me as the nice ones.
To all of you, I owe my deepest gratitude. Whatever I am, you have made possible.
Ronda Rich is a best-selling Southern author. Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com.