“I have a little something I’d like to send you,” read the Facebook message. “What’s your address?”
The note was from Emily, a woman I hadn’t seen since I’d left the job we’d both worked together at The Monroe Evening News, a daily newspaper that serves that pocket between Detroit and Toledo. (If you were here with me I’d pick up my hand and show you exactly where Monroe is — close to the wrist, at the base of the thumb bone. Using your hand as a map is an old, and quite useful, habit picked up from 10 years of being a Michigander.)
In the first days and weeks after this Sandy upheaval, many people asked me what I needed and wanted to send me things. But I didn’t know where we would be living and was sure my mail delivery at home was unreliable (I was right). So I put them off. Also, there’s that part of me that has trouble accepting others’ graciousness. But I’m trying to get over that and so I said “thank you” and sent her my address.
Yesterday I opened what was not “a little something” but rather a hefty box. At the top was an introduction: “Hello! Please enjoy this package of love!”
I started tearing up immediately. This is a new pattern with me — I don’t cry over the house or what I’ve lost. I cry over the amazing generosity and kindness of others. Want to send me for the Kleenex? Ask me, “What can I do to help you?” or send me a “How are you holding up today?” text.
Next came the card. As soon as I opened it, my eyes blurred again. It was the kind of card you only get from “the job” — a normal-sized Hallmark filled with small notes of encouragement and a few smart-ass jokes (my favorite kind) signed in 20 different handwritings.
I had to walk away for a few minutes. Most of these people I have not seen in over eight years, when I said good-bye to the newspaper world and hello to the mom world. Working at home and alone, I miss out on this camaraderie. And yet there were those familiar names, sending encouragement and prayers and pointing out that, “This wouldn’t have happened if you had stayed in Michigan.” (Yes, Ray, you got me there.)
Inside the box the thoughtfulness continued. Kitchen towels and potholders (yes, all of mine got soaked through by Sandy sewage so they will come in quite handy). Snacks for when the stress hits and a very generous gift card and a scented candle that made me yearn, again, for home. And because somebody rightly remembered that the lunchroom was my second office, a bag of coffee.
But beyond all of the stuff was the simple idea that people I once knew took the time to circulate that manila envelope (that probably kept getting lost on reporters’ desks) and then thought about what might make me smile.
And then there’s this: Knowing you are not forgotten is a tremendous feeling.
So thank you to my Evening News family. Thanks for this and for all the things I never had the chance to thank you for. Thanks for being the training ground that took in a once-fired yet still, somehow, cocky young hack and teaching me all the skills I needed to became a badass freelance journalist (yes, still a bit cocky). Thanks for sending me to 3 a.m. car vs. train P.I.s and forcing me to follow bat-crazy photographers with my car as they zipped through the back roads to try to get to the scene before the police tape went up. Thank you for giving me the freedom to pursue my kind of writing and find my voice. Thank you for giving me confidence that supersedes cockiness because it’s based in not thinking you can do something, but actually doing it. Thank you for the education that comes simply from listening to other reporters put the screws to a source or fight for their lede with an editor. Thank you for sending this city girl to the 4-H county fair, to interview deaf 100-year-olds and write yet another “My Birthday is Leap Day!” story. (Okay, maybe strike the last one.)
Thanks too for reminding me, again, that it’s not stuff that matters: It’s relationships. The ties that bind are stronger than I’d ever before realized.