The Last Column

In 1968 Dad decided to try something besides newspapering, so he left The Charlotte Observer for a job in the North Carolina mountains.  He was back after a couple of years, but his leaving was a big move that he agonized over for quite some time.  The following column was his “last” column–of course not the last, since he returned to the paper, but at the time he wrote it, he thought it would be his last.

It is Saturday afternoon and while people are watching and winning and losing football games I am tranquilized to the teeth because  the moment is here from which there is no escape.

It is the last column.

I have not allowed myself to think about it because there is too much to say and no time to say it even if I sat here and pounded the typewriter, uninterrupted, for another decade.  After almost 23 years as a newspaper reporter, six with The Shelby Daily Star and 16 years, nine months and five days with The Charlotte Observer, I am moving into another world and how does one explain that?

The explanation, barren because it really is a small part, is that at age 47 the bells of opportunity are not scheduled to ring many more times.

A man has but one life to spend and it is not enough and there is the terrible urge to save it and to see if he can match some other challenge.

I am taking leave of The Charlotte Observer which is doing great things for the Carolina-Caribbean Corporation which is doing great things. I am leaving the city I love most for the mountains I love most in the state I love most.

There Are Promises to Keep

There have been tears, of course, my own tears and there were many nights of them and I am not ashamed of this. Pour your passion into anything for 23 years and one cannot simply flip a coin of decision and lie down to sweet slumber.

I yet have promises to keep.

I have been too small to meet all my obligations to my brothers, too big to settle for less than the attempt, and the sum is a sense of drowning in my own ego and a sea of need and inadequacy.  Better anything, then, than posturing in exhaustion.  Better anything than blindly following instinct and accolade.  The choice is to take a deep breath and another look at that one life and the precious lives of one’s family.

As one unsigned reader reminded me today, “The Charlotte Observer made you what you are and you are leaving. I suspect, anyway, that all your victories have been for purposes of giving yourself some kind of an image as a Messiah…”

The first part of that statement is true.  The Observer gave me my chance and my forum unfettered.  The second part chills me with a feeling of death if, somehow, it should contain the tiniest grain of truth.  I think it is ridiculous but I do not know.  I have been too busy to find out.

Another columnist recently ridiculed the young people who, in increasing numbers, are wasting their own time and everybody else’s by running around crying, “Who am I?”  The columnist’s conclusion: “That’s an easy one to answer.  They’re bums!”

No Answers…Only Questions

Yet I can understand, ridiculous as they might appear, why they ask the question of themselves.  It is an important thing to know.

But there are no answers, really.  There are only questions.  All of us must keep asking the questions.  When we stop asking and stop seeking we are in trouble.

This leads me to comment on the value of criticizing those things we love, including this city.  It is necessary.  It is the synthesis of growth—not only of cities and dollars but of man. To me criticism and question is an essential of the Law of Love.

Come to think of it, the Law of Love has not been overly mentioned lately.  Precedence has been given to Law and Order.  There is, if you’re willing to agonize over it a little, considerable difference between the two.

And as for the tears…

They seem to have dried and in their place have come jeers and sneers.

A tear and a jeer. There’s a difference.

Examine, if you’re willing to hurt more than somewhat, the dichotomy of that one.

I would like to escape morbidity in this last column, which is inevitable in commenting on the fears which rack this most bountiful of all lands of all time.  I cannot escape it.

Many of us make a God of the painful reality of a historical moment and cry for a retreat from man’s highest and noblest challenges.

Visionaries Are Scoffed At

Visionaries are scoffed at for their dreams.

There is good reason for this.  Reality is all that is left when the dreams are all burned out for lack of the fuel of faith and courage…and when the dreams are burned out the remainder is ashes.

So there. I’ve rambled and I haven’t said much but the column is almost finished.

I am not taking leave of Holy Angels Nursery which, anyway, will be built because it must and by men and women and children for whom I have merely been the mouthpiece while they labored and sacrificed. Anyway, Carolina-Caribbean is giving Holy Angels a day each year of the take at “Tweetsie” and Beech Mountain. I am not taking leave of Boys Town.

Now.  Purposely I have not allowed myself to think about nor to mention, a single name of colleagues here at The Observer or thousands of you in the Carolinas to whom I am in deep and unpayable debt.

You are…You have made my life and this column by giving me yours in one way or another and, because I cannot block out memories of most of you individually—the times, the places, the circumstances—the tears are beginning to roll.

So that’s enough.

Never say Goodbye.

P.S. To the lady who wrote asking that I return her copy of “Household Hints,” some kind of book that she sent to me three years ago…

May I buy you another?