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The room was filled with some 500 years worth of friendships and maybe 600 more of family years.
Think about it: I was in a room with people I had known collectively for more than a thousand years.
Methuselah didn’t live that long, and I know he didn’t have friends that were as loyal or as wonderful as these.
We were in the living room at Dozen Acres Farm. The sun was shining, and spring seemed possible, if not eternal. We were loving and being loved.
More than one said what so many others were thinking: “This would be awfully tough to leave.”
Yes, it is tough to leave, to pack up our souls, our hearts and our treasures and to move to a new place, to put down our fragile roots and attempt to sprout in unfamiliar loam.
But that’s what we do, what our family is facing as we up and move to North Carolina.
So here is where I answer the most prevalent question about what I am doing leaving the cradle of my personal civilization for, oh, Mars:
No, I will not become a fan of Duke or North Carolina.
I have boundaries for my loyalties and a taste for the correct hue of blue.
Beyond that, this is a change that must happen, a gauntlet that must be picked up, a challenge that must be confronted.
There are mountains to climb (at least to get there) and oceans to swim (in the summer).
Yes, I am leaving The Sentinel-News for a gig running the newsroom at the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C., the state’s third-largest daily and in its third-largest city.
And yes I do so with tears and trepidation, with measures of fear and furrowed brow.
These are my fields, my dirt and my generation upon generation of friends and family. This is where I constructed a foundation of life, and even if it has cracked and shifted and been rocked by hard-blowing change, there never has been a question about the place I most valued in the universe.
But the Good Lord is a crafty hurler. Just when you think you have his fastball timed, he up and comes with a big old curve, maybe even a change of speeds, and what you thought was a sweet swing turns into a flailing failure.
And God, seeing that you had plans, laughs at your loss of balance.
At a time when friends talk of retirements and new careers and relaxation, I’m going off to run a daily newsroom in a city. It will be an adjustment, going back to the future, but I feel in my bones that this opportunity emerged and was extended because there were more chapters to write in the book of my life and because my experience could lend a hand in a changing environment.
When I left the big city and came home to Shelby County, I bragged that I would see fields and not concrete, that I would stop at only three or four lights between front door and office door, that I could duck out and do an errand and not require an hour, that my family was here and my friends were here and that I could get a chance to do things that I hadn’t done in years: such as write stories and design pages and contribute to the depth and breadth of newsgathering.
And that was all true. I was blessed. I was home. We found Dozen Acres, a beautiful spot on the rolling hills. We found a place for our kids to learn and to grow. We found places to shop and others to dine. We made new freinds, although we never quite got the chance to socialize and entertain like we might have thought. But there were few trips to the grocery when we didn’t see someone we knew, even if the face was a little different from the way it looked in our mind’s photo album.
And the question returns: How do you give this up?
You inhale deeply and look at the two young faces who rely on you. You smile at the woman who loves you because her parents live in Charlotte. You remember what it was like to publish a newspaper every day and challenge a staff to reach for stardom on the grandest stages. You know better now the feeling of affecting lives and the level of what you do means to those for whom you do it.
Those who gathered on Sunday to say hello, good-bye and ask those difficult questions care about the peace and happiness of your family. These were not platitudes uttered in the back of a funeral parlor. These were not blind comments delivered via a phone line or lunch table.
These were delivered with with love, with grace and embrace and caring and hope and wonder. These people, they are sad to see you go and happy to see you go. They know you, and they get you. They laugh and cry with you and write to you and call out to you and know you would be there if they needed you.
These are the blessings of life. These are the reasons leaving is so difficult.
There are homes and jobs and vistas to love anywhere you go. There are lots of options and opportunities.
Anything in life can be replaced other than family and friends.
So on this Sunday and in this room were the two oldest friends of my life and others not far removed from that status.
I introduced them to my 6-year-old, a first-grader. I said, “I’ve known her since I was in first grade.”
She looked at me with wide eyes that asked if this were another of my jokes.
I said, “Can you imagine being friends with people in your class for the rest of your life?”
No one could anymore, despite that the world is smaller, communication instant and connections more easily kept in the firmest of cement.
I thought back to the days of the Depression and WWII, of people who loved one another trying to stay in touch with letters that took days or weeks or even months for delivery, for telephone calls that popped and crackled and were broken and delayed for hours just to make.
Yet, those who loved one another endured those hardships, those separations, those pursuits of new and important challenges.
So be it here, too.
Kentucky is home. These are my people. This is my world.
Opportunity may shake up the road map, but it will never shake up the connection.