It’s March 12, 2012, Judah’s first week home after getting back from Afghanistan. We’re at H-Mart, because how better to re-acclimate yourself to the U.S. than wandering around the market where whole aisles of things are marked in languages other than English?
My cell phone rings. It’s Tim, wanting to check in about my return to work in a few weeks. And then he mentions: “Mary had an idea. She really enjoyed your photos of Judah meeting Aaron and reuniting with Isaac and was wondering if you’d consider writing a story about it.”
I said, “Oh, really? Um, sure. I’d been thinking about pitching something for the magazine maybe. Is that what you guys were thinking?”
“I’m pretty sure she’s thinking for the front page.”
Whoa. Really? I felt like I had something to say about my experiences having a baby while Judah was far away but still connected via technology, but I wasn’t sure how to make it play in the news section.
But Mary was sure. Before my official return to work, I stopped by the newsroom to introduce Aaron around and say hi and I stopped in Mary’s office. I talked to her for a while about how I should approach it. “Just tell your story,” she told me. “The rest will work itself out.”
So I left. And I wrote. And wrote. And wrote some more. And a little more after that. And ended up dropping a hefty 60+-inch draft onto my editors’ metaphorical desks upon my return to the office.
With some tweaks, some restructuring, a rewrite, a melding of the two versions, and a subtraction of about 25 inches of copy, thanks to the work of several editors … lo and behold, my story really did land on the front page of The Sun the Sunday before the Fourth of July.
I’ve been thinking about how this all came to pass today, since I found out the essay garnered an award from the MDDC Press Association -- my first and, since I’m now outside the Maryland, Delaware, D.C. purview with our move to Oregon, my last.
Mary believed in me, and she made me believe that I could tell my family’s story and that people would care and relate and, hopefully, not find it too self-indulgent. (I do joke and call myself a professional oversharer sometimes, though.)
Thanks to her, I have this record of a period of my life that would otherwise start to fall victim to murky memory (the newborn stage has that tendency), and I got to share that with our readers. And my children will also have the longer, detailed story of that unique time in their lives, in the form of that bulky first draft.
That’s only the beginning. Working with Mary -- first as a slot to her section editor, then as a section editor to her department head, then as a content editor to her editor-in-chief -- informed every bit of my career at The Sun. Everything she worked on was better because she set high expectations for herself -- and we, in turn, for ourselves. She was creative, brilliant, hilarious, kind, generous.
I’m so grateful for my time with her, so angry that her time was cut so short. I just wish I could tell her thank you. For everything.