My job became real to me last week.
As a student journalist, often times we get to chase down leads on the next big parking lot structure to be erected or to research the newest provost of a college.
This summer, however, I've been blessed with an opportunity to intern with the Knoxville News Sentinel.
I've officially earned my big boy pants (commence selfless pat on the back).
As an editorial intern I've gotten to see behind every nook and cranny in the newsroom, boasting a front-row seat as to how a daily paper that has a daily circulation of over 100,000 runs with ease.
My horizons have been expanded in the journalistic realm but the occasional press release that comes across my desk, awaiting to be re-written for publication the next day, still gives me a slight cringe.
But then an assignment rolled onto my desk that I won't soon forget.
Hank Rappe, a three-year-old boy who passed away in early April, was having a playground constructed as a memorial to his life and I was to construct his story for publication.
I've never been a crier or an emotional guy (aside from the occasional viewing of "The Green Mile") but it became hard to do my job as a journalist as I put this story together.
Hank's story is sad and mysterious and full of confusion.
Only a mere two days before his first tee ball game, the curly blonde haired boy simply didn't wake up the next morning.
His parents tucked him into bed the night before, earlier in the day the boy, who was characterized by his father as an
"All-American boy," loaded firewood, ate a steak and rode a four-wheeler.
He simply just didn't wake up the following morning.
Hank's story alone is enough to bring you to tears, and I faced the difficulty of researching this piece, talking to friends of the family and getting a feel for what Hank was like.
What do you say to a family who lost one of their four children to causes unbeknownst to themselves? How do you expect them to talk about that?
It was hard.
However, as I left their house after the completion of my interview, I received an e-mail from Hank's father, Matt Rappe.
Matt sent me a picture of Hank, told us to run it with the story if we needed it and said his wife, Brandy, told me to call and check-in on my brothers and sisters. ( I slipped in during the interview that I am the oldest of six brothers and sisters.)
That's when it hit me. They didn't sign up for this, they di.dn't anticipate this was going to take place with their family, and all they had were the moments they invested with each other before the tragedy happened that so drastically altered their lives.
Life holds mysteries that often times we won't understand and "tomorrow" is something we won't know what it holds until it takes place. We do not have the foresight to know what is around the corner and that mystery should drive us to
invest each day as wisely as we can.
Not that an all-day Netflix marathon on a lazy Saturday is a waste of a day (because I'm guilty of spending many a Saturdays this way) but when you can spend your time investing instead of merely spectating, the payoff is tenfold.
What is the point of this introspective look into my first two weeks as a legitimate journalist? To remind you of what's important.
"At the end of the day, it's not your paycheck, or your job," Matt Rappe said when I talked to him on Friday," but it's about your family and the times you spend with them."
As I sit and type this column, I'm enjoying a movie with my family in Chattanooga. If you recall one thing from this jumbled compilation of words, remember the importance of family, no matter how far away they may be or what may have happened in the past.
Give up a weekend and come home to see your siblings, have a family board night, or even set up a Skype call with your parents you haven't seen in weeks months, or maybe even years—Simply put, just be intentional.
You never know when those opportunities will no longer be available.