I've gained a much greater appreciation for what I do in the last week. I left my previous newspaper for a smaller town and a smaller newspaper, less than thrilled, of course. I was at a point in my too-short career where I loathed what I did for a living - reporting.
Awesome. I'm 25 and hate what I do. What I spent four years and a lot of money learning to do. I was on a roll.
I was at a dead end in my current job, in a decent-sized community with a respectable newspaper. What the hell was I going to do at a smaller paper?
But I've learned a few things already by working for a smaller newspaper. Your work is more appreciated. And recognizable. The community is more receptive to the handful of reporters who weave their way through town, coming up with stories to fill up the pages.
My desk is smaller, not to mention my wages, but more than once this week I've been pulled aside by the newspaper's editor to congratulate me on a job well-done. He was proud to have me on the staff, he said.
That's new. And it feels good.
Just before Christmas, one of the biggest stories of the year broke in our small town. A local entrepreneur, a billionaire, no less, was killed in an accidental fall at a construction site.
Many people generally don't associate billionaires with decency, but this man was different. Everyone knew him, and most people loved him. His unexpected death made national headlines, but it was a personal blow to our small community.
I've spent the past week writing story after story about a man I'd never met, but a man who turned my hometown into something greater than it'd ever been. Which speaks volumes, if you happen to be familiar with my hometown.
I spoke with his friends, those close to him, the people deeply affected by his absence. I spent Thursday night and Friday morning at his memorial service and funeral, watching thousands of people weep. Thousands of people pay their final respects and offer condolences to his family.
I couldn't help but be sad for this family, for this man I'd never known. His funeral is only the second funeral I've attended in my life. At the end of the memorial service, I paid my own respects to him, and found myself the slightest bit pained that here I was, looking at the body of a man who'd changed the direction of a community, and I never got to see him live.
I did my best to portray the community's loss in the stories I wrote about him, and found a note on my desk this afternoon from the newspaper's former publisher, thanking me for a job well-done.
"I'm sure your stories were appreciated by the family and associates of our, and the community's, friend," he wrote.
I'm keeping the note on my desk, next to the memorial card I received at the funeral.
Being a reporter sucks, for lack of a better word, a large percentage of the time. And sometimes I wish I could give it up to blog for a living. Or raise cats. You know, whatever.
But I'm grateful in times like these, when the stories I write have a lasting impression. I just hope that in the future it doesn't take a tragedy to produce such impressions.