Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mary Otto

On the day back in June, as I walked here to Street Sense for my job interview, I was feeling pretty homeless myself.

The downsizing at the Washington Post, where I had worked as a reporter for seven years, had been a shattering experience.

The knowledge that mine was one of thousands of journalism jobs being cut throughout the country was little consolation. The daily newspaper is dying, everyone says. Yet newspapers have been my life for more than 20 years. The first time I held a reporter’s notebook in my hand, I knew, with a bolt of sudden certainty, who I was, and why I was born. I was put here to write people’s words and to tell their stories.

I heard them everywhere, amid blizzards and crime scenes, in hospitals and shelters, in town halls and in the halls of Congress.

I looked, I listened and I wrote. And in those years of reporting, in spite of shyness, insecurity and a host of personal faults and quirks, I managed to create a life for myself, and to find a voice for myself and a place in the world.

With the loss of my job, all that seemed like it was being torn away. I’m sure my feelings are not unique. I ache for the other workers across the country whose jobs are vanishing, whose hearts are breaking, as I sit and write this.

And I only hope that they manage to find new workplaces where they can be reborn, as I did.

For me, my sense of grief and loss started to make a little sense when I read the online advertisement for the editor’s position at Street Sense.

I’ll never forget arriving at the Church of the Epiphany and climbing the stairs to the Street Sense office, peering into the tiny, threadbare newsroom.

A homeless newspaper! Could I do this?
“Everything I have ever done has helped prepare me for this,” I assured Ted and Laura. I got the job.

But there have been many times since that I have been reminded of the obvious, that nothing could have really prepared me for this work.

Homelessness is terrible, dehumanizing, chaotic, exhausting. Yet the people who come here and write these stories, help lay out these pages and sell these papers manage to triumph over hardship every day. Their talent, courage and fierce persistence is utterly humbling.

I hope my life is long enough to gain the combination of patience, wisdom, compassion and imagination to truly do my job as their editor.

In the meantime, I do my imperfect best. And every day here at the Church of the Epiphany offers another epiphany or two.

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