I am a little amazed and always, always grateful
And so, once again, I find myself between words, trying to find a way to say goodbye.
But I am a little tongue-tied. You see, in this past two years, I’ve said goodbye to my newspaper career, learned to cope with some lost vision, kissed my husband goodbye for the last time, moved out of the home we made together earlier than either he or I anticipated — and now this: the final issue of Northshore Women’s Lifestyle where I’ve been privileged to share my thoughts on life and other stuff for the past five years and two months.
Obviously, I’ve had a lot of practice; you’d think I’d know how to do this: Say goodbye, I mean. But I am at a loss over what to say. Now that I am at home writing, no longer in a newsroom with deadlines set in stone and editors on the premises, I am an expert at diversion. I pour another cup of coffee. I adjust the bird feeder that hangs just outside the window. I check for mail. I look outside that window – just look – a lot. I stand up, go into another room and come back again, unsure where I was headed or why.
For inspiration, I’ve re-lived a career of conversations and summoned up images of people known and lessons learned, something that says more than my words ever could. I remember talking with a woman whose first marriage ended in tragedy. When we met up unexpectedly one day, standing in line to be seated in a restaurant, she told me she had re-married and when she and her husband were at an impasse – when they couldn’t agree on something or were at odds with one another – he would say: Don’t talk. Let’s dance.
And they would dance in their living room, the kitchen, even the garage until their differences disappeared or were resolved – and when they were done, they were in one another’s arms.
That’s what I told myself when I sat down to write today: Don’t talk. Wait for the dance to reveal itself. But my only partner is the keyboard.
All I’ve ever wanted to do in life is to write, to tell people’s stories as a reporter – and as a columnist, to share experiences and ideas and emotions that remind us just how much we have in common. I guess you could say: In the midst of so much discourse and division, past and present, I’ve loved to expose the ties that bind.
When I retired from The Muskegon Chronicle in January 2016, people asked me what my favorite stories were, and I told them about the ones that changed me as a person, as a writer. I told them about the voices of people I still hear, moments shared in history, holy times found in the ordinary, courage in the face of unspeakable horror and prejudice, joy in unimagined places, dignity and grace instead of sorrow, welcome instead of rebuke when interrupting the most private of times – all these are stuck in my heart. They are who I am, who I became, who I will be.
My time here, on the pages of Northshore Women’s Lifestyle, have added more than I can say. I have known Jennie Marie Naffie – the editor and publisher of this wonderful magazine – for a very long time and have been privileged to tell parts of her story through the years. She didn’t say it in so many words, but she told me to tell my story here – a return to the early years of writing newspaper columns. It has been a gift, an unexpected opportunity at this time of so much change, so much transition.
I have worried that what I have written while my husband was so ill and after his death was too personal. In the newspaper world, the story is never about the reporter. The camera, the spotlight, the focus – they are pointed away from the writer. But here, as a columnist for the magazine, I soon realized that the details might be completely different, but our stories are shared stories – and in a sense, I tried to speak for us all, one way or another.
Truth is, there is so much more to say, but space – and time – are limited. My thanks to Jennie Marie for inviting me to join her staff. It’s been an honor; it’s been a joy. But listen to me, you deserve a rest. You deserve time away from deadlines and the responsibilities of a magazine published every month – more demanding than people can imagine. Most of all, Jennie, you deserve time – time to dance, to look out the window, to wait for the next words.
And there is this, something I have to say: Thank you to people who have been willing to read what I write. I am a little amazed and always, always grateful.
Susan Harrison Wolffis is an award winning writer known for her engaging writing style.