This year my college newspaper advisor, Mary Jennings, died from complications from a series of strokes, a friend buried her 35-year-old husband after he fell down a flight of stairs and a colleague lost her young mother.
It’s “died” for MJ because she worked as a newspaper copy editor before joining the staff at the University of North Alabama. The last time I visited her, she fixed her sharp eyes on me and quickly corrected me when I mentioned someone had “passed away.”
I’ve had many influential teachers — my college soccer coach, my parents and Mrs. Elizabeth Palmer, just to name a few. But MJ spurred me to become a better writer and a curious journalist. I learned enough from her and my time with this newspaper to realize I’m nowhere near the end of that journey.
We had a very up-and-down relationship, as did many of her students, but deep down we loved her. We benefited from her tough-love methods, even if it wasn’t immediately apparent. She was one of those personalities in which you believed you knew everything about her until you read her obituary and realized she had squeezed several lifetimes into 74 years.
I didn’t attend her funeral because she eschewed fanfare, and her family honored her wishes. It wouldn’t surprise me if she had written her own obituary. It’s becoming a trend now to write your own obit. That’s a tad morbid, even for me. But, sometimes I think about whether I’m maximizing my life because I know we are all living with a running shot clock.
I grew up in Limestone County on a cattle farm, went to an elementary school that may be repurposed and graduated from a rural high school with classmates who are making their mark as doctors, engineers, military leaders and educators.
As a baby, I was lucky enough to be plucked out of a South Korean orphanage. I have experienced enough joys and tribulations to relate to people from different backgrounds. I have sat in enough medical offices to appreciate being able to see a sunset or run a 5K.
The past two years have been extremely fulfilling, professionally and personally. It has been a privilege and a learning experience to work for my hometown newspaper. I realize there are not many mediums that would allow me to go from covering high school championships at Bryant-Denny and Jordan-Hare stadiums to darting across six lanes of interstate traffic to take photos at an accident scene.
But after July 4, I have decided to leave my full-time position with The News Courier. I’m venturing back into the wilderness and seeking new opportunities, perhaps living out the carpe diem poetry taught by my high school English teacher, Mrs. Charlotte Blankenship. At 32, I should be willing to go beyond my comfort zone, embracing new challenges and seeing as much new landscape as possible.
I recently came across a speech given by none other than comedian Jim Carrey, who was moonlighting as a modern-day Mark Twain at a commencement ceremony in Iowa.
In between cracking jokes, explaining the meaning behind a gigantic painting he created and dispensing advice about chasing your dreams, he said, “As far as I can tell, it’s just about letting the universe know what you want and working toward it while letting go how it comes to pass. Your job is not to figure out it’s going to happen for you, but to open the door in your head. And when the door opens in real life, walk through it.”
One of the local leaders I’ve covered is fond of saying, ‘A vision without a plan is a hallucination,’ and I do have contingency plans. Sometimes you have to walk through that door to discover what’s on the other side.
Kim West is a staff writer for The News Courier. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.