Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Of Close Calls... and Closing Time?

You could say I had a “close call” a couple days back…

In retrospect, that’s what it feels like. And as with any “close” call that isn’t a final one, it might just be better that it happened than if it didn’t.

Driving home from a (long-delayed) haircut, I took the usual curve off of one of the bridges that empties out into the River City, with its usual transition from the everyone-going-20-over-the-speed-limit rule of the highway to the usual, slower pace of the streets.

Within a minute or two, made the usual stop at one of the usual intersections. And then, having moved about 20 feet past the crossing, a rather unusual thing happened: the car stalled.

Hit the gas – nothing. Restarted the car and, well… nothing.

It's a good metaphor for where I find myself right now.

Unfortunately, the transmission went. Fortunately – and it only hit me about four days later, when there was actually a spare moment to think about it – it didn’t happen a minute or so earlier, on the decline of an eight-lane bridge with no shoulder in heavy-volume, 20-over-the-speed-limit traffic. Because if it did, you probably wouldn’t be hearing about it from me….

Deo gratias; 'nuff said.

Once it all began to resonate, though, I couldn’t help but take the (metaphorical) trip up the mountain (where, as some might’ve noticed, the wi-fi is sparse), bearing but two things: a lot of gratitude that the timing, while still unsettling, could’ve been a lot worse; and, along with that, my favorite question: “So... what’re you trying to tell me now?”

Admittedly, the exercise doesn’t answer everything, but it usually yields enough to work with. Never having been terribly predisposed to realism, though, the first answer was the especially dreaded one: “Your car’s in the shop and you don’t have the money to get it out.”

The second, however, was just as hard to mull over: “You can’t keep doing this to yourself.”

Being terribly predisposed to stubbornness (especially under provocation), that one mustered up a good, long, “Oh, really?” But, reluctantly, after a few days I realized I had no choice but to see the value in it.

Thing is, gang, in the form it’s taken on – whether bullets, texts, translations or original reporting – the joyful duty of this work has become such a blessing of a gig that, for longer than I’d like to admit, I’ve just been trying to simply stay atop the daily wave, simply as a “Why mess with a good thing?” kind of thing.

It’s been a good thing… a great thing... in practically everything… except, that is, the bottom line – i.e. that little part of life that entails making a living... or, in my case, trying to... and not really succeeding by any sane standard.

Having been raised to live by the axiom “love, and do what you will” and God would take care of the rest, I’ve just tried to do my part accordingly and let the rest follow. Yet while the tri-annual (or thereabout) fund drives have kept the ship temporarily afloat for small stretches, more often than not, they haven’t – and my folks’ hosting skills have taught me well not to get in the way of anyone’s good time… at least, not until some cousin’s toddlers start marking up light-colored rugs with screaming-red lipstick. (True story.)

Much as I’d like to deny it – chiefly because of the responsibility that comes along with it – I know how these pages are read, respected, looked to and appreciated by a good few. From nunciatures to network newsrooms, political offices to parishes, homes, hospitals, and seemingly everywhere in between, the kind words have come of the “service” Whispers provides, even for some of the folks you’d least expect would have any kind of affinity or appreciation or interest toward things Catholic but, deep down inside, do.

I’m loath to cop to this publicly – it’s humbling almost to the point of embarrassment to read or hear such things, but they tell me that humility also means accepting them. All the goodwill in its various forms has kept me encouraged, hopeful, and affirmed in faith, not only that this wild ride of three years hasn’t been a complete wash (or, for that matter, a just as complete career-killer), but that even in its daily doings, people from all walks of life still look to the church to be a messenger of the good and a witness to hope. From affirming the best aspirations of man, to speaking for and siding with the voiceless, to being a leaven in the world: people of other faiths, people of no faith, even people of this faith who’ve spent years or longer away from its life, want to know what we’re up to… and, far more often than not, even from across one or more great divides, they’re not looking to us for invective, but ideas and inspiration, the best of who we are and what we do.

I could never worthily express how I’ve loved playing a bit-part in passing the news, notes and messages along. If the circumstances allowed, I could do it forever without a moment’s regret. But without the resources necessary to do an ever-better job of it, I can’t get the story. And without the story, gang, it’s lights out and back to paper-pushing.

While nothing can ever equal the gift of having experienced all this, hopefully you can forgive me for thinking that if, day after day, I didn’t stop giving away the sourcing, the writing and the task of melding the two for free, nothing will ever change

…while a boatload of others would just keep making a living off of the leads and info they find here, and while this scribe would just keep going without.

(To give but one example, cobbling together last month’s exclusive first-look at plans for April's papal visit to the States -- a report promptly seized upon by not a few much, much better-funded outlets -- took the better part of two weeks of running up and down the coast on the usual less-than-a-shoestring. Hopefully no one’s surprised, but even with the deluxe accommodations of couch-crashing – one of which included wake-up calls courtesy of a crazed canine with an overactive tongue – it don’t come cheap. And with a consistory, bishops’ meeting and The Big Trip itself all on tap in the coming months, the expenses of the coverage you've come to expect here won't be on the wane anytime soon.)

I wish it could be different, but that’s life… and for the first time in a long time, I’m strangely at peace even with the thought of closing up shop, if that’s where the road leads.

Sure, I hope that’s not the case, but at least it wouldn’t be for lack of trying... at least, I hope not.

Out of love for this work and gratitude to all of you who’ve kept it running these almost three years, I’ve done my best to stave off the reality of things as long as possible (my folks would say "long beyond the possible"), but the reality is that I can’t afford to do so any longer, on multiple levels… and I don’t know what else I can pull out of a mitre to make the product any better, more credible, more ahead of the pack than so many of you already find it to be.

I said earlier that I carried a question with me over the last week. Over time, it spurred a second one: “So, what now?”

As always, but even more than it has before, that judgment lies in the hands of you, the readership.

Ergo, for the short-term hopes of getting the expenses paid off, the bills back to current and liberating the car from its captivity, another fund drive is on. (Per custom, what can now be termed “Radiohead rules” apply.) The donation button – or, as many of you know it, your narrator’s “guitar case” – remains where it’s always been, along the right sidebar. For the more paper-friendly seeking a postal address, that’s PO Box 63890, Philadelphia PA 19147-7890. (As corporations and faith haven’t mixed so well in my experience, there’s no such thing as Whispers, Inc... that's a bashful way of saying “checks payable to yours truly.”)

Candidly, though, the long-term is where the challenge lies. I’ll commit myself to this work ‘til the last dog dies, but that can only be done with a more stable footing, whatever form that might take. I’m not a businessman, nor a development guru, nor a well-steeped grant-seeker or anything else that entails proficiency with numerical figures that aren’t dates or blocs of cardinal-electors. Then again, some of you who've got that cred are among this readership… and I’m relying on at least one or two to emerge from the woodwork with a bit of insight.

As you (long-suffering) veteran readers know quite well, regardless of what happens from here and whether these pages survive for a matter of weeks or a good while longer, their readership is not for sale. Just as Sunday Masses aren’t brought to the People of God by anyone but the People of God, so it should be for anything else that nourishes communion, even if merely by means of information. Thus, the ‘no advertising’ policy will continue, come hell or (even) high(er) debt.

Same goes for subscriptions. Just as the only price of admission to the life of faith is one word (i.e. “Yes”), so then anything which springs from that source would betray its very purpose by imposing any additional barrier. (...and just in case that wasn’t enough of a compelling argument, it’s worth noting that to fix a value on one’s own work is the summit of arrogance.)

It might not seem better to starve on principle than get ahead at the cost of your soul but, believe me, it is; for what sleep I’m able to get, I do rest better because of it.

As for everything else, I leave it to its best possible place – the hand of Providence, as expressed through all of you yet again. I never wanted, nor could’ve asked for, all this, just as it’s been with everything else that’s come my way through the years. Yet for reasons I’ve tried, but will never be able to understand, it all just keeps being an experience of the blessings of surprise – and, even in the close calls, good surprises at that.

On a final note, there's one thing this experience has taught me better than anything else, it's this: never underestimate the power of “yes.” It’ll get you very far… farther than you might’ve wished, wanted, expected or thought yourself worthy of. And no matter how weak, inadequate or powerless you might think yourself to be, when you get one of those blessed chances to say it, just go for it, and the rest will just fall into place. That’s the only way to explain in a nutshell how all this, how every gift of my life, has come to pass.

I love that word. I’ve said it too many times to count (and have failed to live up to each one hundreds of times more). Whatever this one might bring, forgive me for mustering it again for this work, maybe for the last time… but with no less than the usual dose of feeling, of hope and, as ever, world of thanks.

As always, I can never thank all of you enough for keeping me company along the way and, in the process, making these pages your own.

Pray for me. All of you have been in mine everyday from the start, and know that each of you, your loved ones and intentions will remain always at the top of my morning list, whatever lies ahead.

Again, I can never thank you all enough... God love you all today and forever.