Readers of the editorial pages of the Richmond Times-Dispatch over the past few decades have enjoyed a haven of correctly-spelled words and appropriately-placed apostrophes in an era of texts and tweets. They may also have discovered a favorite columnist or two, and without a doubt, they have had the opportunity to read a variety of perspectives on all kinds of subject matter. They have my mother to thank.
My mother spent forty years of her life working for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Having spent most of those years in the editorial department, she read and grammar-checked a plethora of opinions on many topics and issues. Accordingly, she understands better than most how particular subjects can spark widely-diverging interpretations. Thus, while she may hold strong opinions of her own, her job both necessitated and honed her ability to see the value in those that differ.
In a polarized world, where most of can easily retreat into our own ideological bubbles, my mother’s profession denied her the respite of a comfort zone, except for the comfort that comes from seeing our common human needs and desires even through differences, misunderstandings, and downright animosities. For all the confidence it takes to put an opinion out into the world, to write an opinion column is to become vulnerable and to manifest a desire for acknowledgement and belonging. My mother, therefore, navigated a world of vulnerability as it was displayed by people of widely different backgrounds and perspectives. She had to become adept at responding with sensitivity and diplomacy. A compassionate and discerning listener, she nevertheless had to develop a thick skin in order expose herself continually to opinions that widely differed from her own.
Readers of the Richmond Times-Dispatch may remember columns that made their blood boil with rage. What they may not realize is that the same person who put together the opinion pages could empathize with their disagreement with some of their content. Over the course of her career, my mother had to read, edit, and publish much with which she disagrees. Through that process, she came to a more well-rounded understanding of the world and human nature.
On the printed page, readers could easily discern some of the stellar language arts skills that helped my mother earn the honor of valedictorian at her high school. But the printed page could not show the long, tireless hours she worked both in and out of the office. Every night was a late night, but some nights – like election nights or nights on which major national addresses were given – were later than others. The world keeps turning, life keeps happening, and people keep writing their opinions about it. My mother would stay late to make sure those thoughts and ideas reached kitchen tables all across the city and surrounding counties of Richmond in a timely manner. It was exhausting, never-ending work.And after a long day of that work, she would come home to a house of laundry, dirty dishes, and often fighting or moody kids. Despite her long office hours, she managed the energy to listen as we shared our days, cook a yummy dinner, and give us the advice, support, hugs and presence that we needed. My brother (and father!) and I didn’t always make it easy for her. And now that I am trying to walk the work-life balance that she has managed with grace, if not always ease, I often look back in amazement at how much she managed – and still manages – to give.
I have followed in my mother’s footsteps to become the editor in chief of the Raven ReView. At Raven, we strive to show how all of humanity is interconnected, how we are not so much individuals as interdividuals. We affirm that we are all formed in relationship with one another, and we need each other in order to grow into our fullest, sweetest selves. We interpret religion and theology, as well as politics and pop culture, through the lens of our interconnected humanity. Recognizing that rivalries arise from similarities and shared desires as we compete for what we refuse to share, we strive to transform enmity into empathy and conflict into cooperation.
As I reflect on my own life’s journey, I know that I would not be a writer and editor if it were not for my mother. She planted a love of language deep within me, and while I will never be the gifted speller that she is, I find beauty in artfully-crafted sentences in which grammatical structure complements vocabulary and enhances voice. Plus, I can spot a misplaced apostrophe from a mile away. I get that from my mama.
But as someone who writes about interconnection and peacemaking in particular, I know I get much more from my mother than grammar skills. If I am ever successful at finding the common ground between different points of view, if my writing ever reaches its goal of bringing people together, then I know I have my mother to thank. Balancing many different perspectives both within and beyond her job and mediating between them, my mother is a natural peacemaker. She is my role model, and beyond the fact that I obviously would not exist without her, I could not possibly be the person I am today without the perspective she has given me. Through actions more than words, through demonstration more than direction, she has shown me how to listen to and honor the dignity in every person, whatever our differences may be.
Now that she has retired from Richmond Times-Dispatch, I just want my mother to know that I am stumbling along in her formidable footsteps. Mom, I strive every day to be the editor, peacemaker, and mother that you continue to model for me. Blessings on your well-earned retirement. I love you!