THIS I BELIEVE
I believe that each of us, through small kindnesses, can have an enormous effect on others. And the intriguing thing is, like the pebble thrown in a pond, we never know about the positive effect we can have on those people, and how in turn those people will treat other people. I was reflecting on this at the turn of the new year, because in 2008, a man passed away whom I had met briefly many years ago. He gave me a hand when I needed it. I guarantee he never remembered me. But the kindness he showed me was something I never forgot.
When I was fresh out of college, my first job in journalism was as a part-time reporter for a small weekly newspaper in Upstate New York. A few weeks into the job I learned Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan was coming to the area to take a boat ride on the Erie Canal. The news peg was that there was government interest in developing the canal for tourism – and there would be grant money to the little towns and cities along this section of the canal, one of which I called home.
A number of us boarded the canal boat — a few seasoned reporters, Senator Moynihan, his aide — and me. Once we were underway, Senator Moynihan started talking.
I listened. My stomach turned. I felt lost. How could I have just graduated from a very good college and not be able to understand my own senator? Imagine, if you will, William F. Buckley reading the dictionary while eating a Twinkie. That’s what he sounded like to me. His vocabulary, his inflection, and my undeveloped shorthand skills made for a very bad combination. I looked around. The other reporters were writing. I scratched something on my notebook to show I was doing something. The reporter from the big daily newspaper in the nearby city, looking more glamorous by the second, seemed relaxed and confident and after taking notes sat back to enjoy the scenery. She had even remembered to bring sunglasses. After the senator has finished talking, I made my way to the back of the boat where the aide was sitting and I mustered the courage to tell him, “I didn’t understand much of that.”
The aide sat and talked to me for 15 minutes or so. He paraphrased what Moynihan had said, he was patient and nice without being condescending. I asked him the same question a few times, I know, and he waited as I wrote down every word. With renewed confidence, I asked the senator some questions of my own later on in the trip. I cobbled together a story, and I pray it doesn’t live online somewhere. I kept reporting and writing. A few years later, I even got a job at the big daily newspaper.
The aide that helped me so many years ago was Tim Russert. He of course became a famous journalist, known for his tenacious interviews on Meet the Press, his astute political analysis, for spelling out the big picture in the 2000 presidential election with the white board on which he’d scrawled Florida, Florida, Florida.
For most, Russert’s legacy is that he became a widely respected journalist. But I imagine there are many other people out there like me whom he helped out with his goodwill. And if I, and all those other people he gave a hand to, pay that forward with being little more patient with someone – a co-worker, a student, a child, that I believe is a legacy that truly lives on and on and on.