When asked what I do for a living, I’m tempted to say, “I’m an entertainer. I stand half naked in public, baring my soul and juggling live chickens.”
It isn’t far from the truth. But instead, I say, “I’m a columnist. I write about life and whatever comes along.”
It’s an odd way to earn a living, but I’ve done it for so long it seems almost normal. And it’s full of surprises.
1. I’m surprised I never run out of things to write about.
I remember my first column, almost 30 years ago. I didn’t want to do it, but my editor insisted. So I wrote about how my grandmother and my blind baby brother taught me to see the world. I promised readers that in future columns, I’d take a look at whatever came along and write about what I saw.
It didn’t seem very interesting, even to me. But people called the paper to say they liked it. So I thought, “OK, I can do this.”
Then I realized I’d have to do it again. And again. What on Earth would I write about?
“Make a list,” said my editor, “of every column idea you can think of. Then, if you’re ever stumped, you can write about something on the list.”
So I listed 100 ideas for columns and put the list in a drawer. And I have never needed to take it out.
Why? I try to stay alive and pay attention. If you do that, things will keep coming along.
Some of those things might break your heart. But in writing, as in life, you don’t get to choose what comes along. You just take it as comes and give it your best.
2. I’m surprised to see how much we’re alike. There is surely no shortage of things we disagree on: Politics, religion, social injustice, what to teach, what to eat, what to wear. But to understand our differences, and to agree to disagree, I believe we first need to understand all that we share in common.
So I write about the things I care most about; my hopes and dreams for my children and grandchildren and for you and yours; things that make me thankful and glad to be alive.
The surprise is hearing day after day from readers around the country who say they care about those things, too.
When I visit places that carry my column, I meet hundreds of strangers who treat me as if I’m long lost kin. It’s like a family reunion without the fist fights.
Our differences make us interesting. But the things we care most about make us one.
3. Maybe the best surprise in my work and my life is seeing, time and again, the amazing human capacity for kindness.
Soon after I began doing the column, my first husband was diagnosed with colon cancer and told he had six months to live.
With the strength of his will, the grace of God and an awful lot of treatment, he turned six months into four good years.
I never planned to write about cancer. Or death. Or being a widow. Or watching my kids lose their dad. But I wrote about those things and more. Then I heard from countless readers who said they were sorry for our sorrows; that they had faced sorrows, too; they were praying for us; and their children were praying for our children.
The kindness of strangers — along with that of family and friends — kept me afloat. It changed me profoundly. I’m sure it changed them, too.
That’s what kindness does. It’s a gift to the giver, as well as to the receiver. It heals us and makes us strong. It persuades a broken heart to go on beating.
Life is a small boat and the world can be a troubled sea. But we keep each other afloat with loving kindness. And tender mercies. And a lot of laughter.
Be kind. Stay alive. Pay attention. Juggle chickens. You’ll be surprised at the things that will keep coming along.
(Sharon Randall can be reached at P.O. Box 416, Pacific Grove, Calif. 93950 or on her website: www.sharonrandall.com.)