— Charles Dickens
English Novelist (1812-1870)
“A Tale of Two Cities”
When somebody the other day reminded me Monday is Memorial Day, I gulped in disbelief.
While I cannot verify my facial expressions upon receiving the pending holiday news, I can acknowledge this strong suspicion. My eyes likely grew to a size comparable to that of a mid- to large-capacity saucer.
“Huh?” I quizzed.
“Monday ... Memorial Day,” my informant repeated. “It’s a holiday. Flags are unfurled. People get off work and spend quality time with family. Many mow the yard. Hamburgers and hotdogs get grilled. Some often call it the unofficial start of summer. Campers pull out their tents. Sleeping bags get unrolled and —”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I interrupted. “I get the picture.”
In spite of Deep Throat’s disclosure about the holiday, my thoughts were hundreds of miles from the nearest campground, tent or marshmallow. In truth, I was in shock.
“Memorial Day?” I whispered in a soft tone intended for no one else’s ears. “No way.”
So I checked the lighthouse calendar hanging on my office wall. I flipped its pages backward counting the months ... and accounted for them all.
My source was correct.
Not only was it May ... 2011, it was looming conspicuously near the 30th.
I slowly shook my head in quiet disbelief.
“Unbelievable,” I sighed. “Where has the time gone? And who stole it?”
One whole year had passed.
On May 30 ... 2010, I had returned to the newspaper world after a 21-year hiatus in public relations and corporate communications. Memorial Day ... last year ... was the first day in my second tour of duty at this newspaper. I remember it like yesterday. I shook several hands, talked with some old friends, met some new friends, watched over the transferring editor’s shoulder as he taught me his trade, asked lots of questions, cast astonished looks at all that had changed since March 1989, breathed in the familiar ink and newsprint aromas of a newspaper office, and smiled at the hustle and bustle of a newsroom on deadline.
But mostly I just stayed out of the way.
Because it was morning deadline.
And I was the new kid on the block ... albeit a new kid with wrinkles, hair loss, stooped shoulders and fading memories of the old days. Self-doubt probably surfaced and resurfaced with each passing minute that morning as the newsroom crew scurried about to meet not only another deadline, but an early deadline because it was a holiday. Like clockwork, the newspaper would publish but the staff would lock the doors by at least early afternoon in order to salvage most of the Memorial Day afternoon with their families.
Some would miss even that privilege because of community activities warranting news coverage — most importantly the Memorial Day ceremonies on the Bradley County Courthouse Plaza, and probably others.
It was nothing new in the newspaper industry.
It was a part of this crazy life.
Holidays and weekends fall in line with ordinary weekdays.
Easter. Independence Day. Labor Day. Thanksgiving. Sometimes even Christmas Day. News people worked. It was a fact of life, not one that everyone can easily embrace.
But holidays, as well as early morning and late-night hours, aren’t relevant. News doesn’t stop. It happens any time, night or day and regardless of the day of week. It’s just a newsman’s life. Like it or not.
None of that was the point on Monday, May 30, 2010.
The point was it was my first day on the job back in the newspaper world. And it happened ... one ... full ... year ... ago.
“Unbelievable,” I repeated, gazing upon the May entry of that wall calendar while marveling at the photograph of the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse. Resisting temptation to flip the page to June to steal a peak several days in advance at the next lighthouse, I decided to wait until May 31.
It seemed only right.
Besides, June remained several days away.
It was the future.
And it would bring a whole new string of deadlines and stories to tell.
It was then I pondered fate while reflecting on that adage, “Life is short.”
So I flipped the page. It was the Yaquena Head Lighthouse in Newport, Ore.
“A whole year ... unbelievable,” I told myself yet again.
With a deep breath, I let the calendar page fall back in place and refocused on the Chicago Harbor.
I turned, walked toward the office door, flipped the light switch and headed home.
Life is a deadline. And I don’t want to miss it.