This is the time of the year when news organizations start reviewing the top stories of the year. Most of them are predictable, and many don’t impact us personally. This is the nature of news, often a steady diet of calamity and buffoonery.
You’ve probably noticed that while I recognize the value of the big story, I’m more impressed by the little ones: yours.
Like any community, NewsCut has its share of cranks and boors who get up in the morning with a goal of disrupting a sincere discussion. That’s OK. The world needs its cranks and boors. But the people who comment here — you — show a remarkable ability to trust the rest of us with your most personal stories.
A wife has cancer and now mom has Alzheimer’s. A woman in North Minneapolis looks around at the holidays and feels she’s let her kids down. An oil patch worker loses his job but finds one in Chicago.
None of these will make the news, although they reveal the nature of us. We put one foot forward, then the other, and exhibit a quiet dignity and strength whether we succeed or whether we fail. That alone is uplifting and worthy of our attention and gratitude.
So at this time of the year — and since I’m taking the rest of the year off — I want to encourage you to write your story of the year below, the moment (s) that defined it for you.
Don’t worry, I’ll protect you from the cranks and boors.
I was impressed yesterday with the show we did on immunotherapy ( you can find the podcast version here). It was sparked by President Carter’s recovery from cancer, thanks — it would seem — to a drug called Keytruda, which appears to be a “magic bullet” that allows the immune system to attack cancer, and then turns it off before it attacks something it shouldn’t be attacking.
Is it a cure? Who knows? It’s early, though it seems like we’ve been trying to cure cancer forever.
Here’s the thing: My guests were cancer researchers Dr. Roxana Dronca of Mayo Clinic and Dr. Christopher Pennell of the University of Minnesota, who, like all cancer researchers, get up every day and go to work, hoping for success, but more often find failure. That’s the nature of success.
“I’m not the most patient person in the real life, but I learned that I can be patient in research and in the clinic,” Dr. Dronca said.
“My father was amazed I went into the field because I was not a patient child,” Dr. Pennell told me. “But the payoff is worth it. Ninety-five percent of the time it doesn’t work, but that 5 percent when it does is just phenomenally exciting. It’s worth it.”
If you merely look at today, you’re not going to see much coming out of the research lab. But if you look over time, you’ll see people who are alive today because of the failures leading to the successes of yesterday.
One foot. Then the other.
This is the image I got when I thought about my guests’ comments.
This is the moment, somewhere near Sleepy Eye, Minn., when I said to my then-86-year-old mother that she needed to fly the airplane. I said it right after she told me she always wanted to be like Amelia Earhart.
She didn’t become Amelia Earhart. She was a Depression kid and they didn’t make many Amelia Earharts back then. She married my father at the beginning of the war, became a hairdresser, then raised a family when he returned. I don’t know whether she wishes she’d been born at a different time for women; I never asked, though she scolded me once when I mentioned in a newspaper interview that she was a “housewife.”
Long before I was old and stupid, I was young and stupid.
We landed in Fairmont, Minn., and sat on a bench by the runway, listening to the quiet by the cornfields, and talking about her life growing up on the Plains.
Fast forward to May, when I was “home” (the Berkshires of Massachusetts) for a wedding and had a chance to give a ride to friends and relatives.
This is my niece, Julie Thurston, and she is the woman raising the children (along with my nephew, Tom, I must point out) I talked about in this post, the one who let her daughters go fly in a plane built by a guy who flunked shop in high school.
“I want them to experience all that they want to experience. I don’t want them to ever be afraid to try new things,” she said.
Her daughters have more opportunities for those experiences now thanks to parents who allow them, and old-timers who always wanted to be Amelia Earhart, who took baby steps while pulling a society where it didn’t want to go. Forward.
That’s one of the reasons Captain Chipo M. Matimba and Captain Elizabeth Simbi Petro became one of the big stories in 2015 — the first all-female crew for Air Zimbabwe.
Women don’t get the same respect, opportunities, or value they deserve. Not yet, anyway.
But those flights in May with two little girls reinforced my desire to honor those who pull us forward, which I’ve done to the consternation of people who think women cannot get opportunities unless they’re taken from men.
In the micro, it appears we’re getting nowhere, just as it appears we’re getting nowhere in finding a cure for cancer when the obituary pages are full of people who’ve just lost a “brave battle” with the disease.
But the world is full of impatient people patiently willing to fail for the payoff of one day’s victory, even if it comes in someone else’s time.
They’re the people who take one step. Then another. And they’re my story of the year. It’s you.