Monday, December 19, 2005

It's a Wonderful Life -- And the People Who Made it That Way

It’s a December ritual to watch Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed in "It’s a Wonderful Life."

My pastor this week told us how he can’t keep from being emotional when the angel saves George Bailey from jumping in the river and shows him what Bedford Falls would be like had he never been born.

I get emotional because I think there are indeed angels.

Maybe not like Clarence in the movie, looking to earn his wings. But I think there are people who come into your life for a short time and change it forever.

And looking back, you can’t imagine what your life would have been like had that person not been there at that time.

Let me tell you about one person in my life, Robert Block, a history professor at Nassau Community College.

In 1983, I was the editor of the college paper. I practically lived at the college, which was strange considering it doesn’t have dorms.

Nearly all college newspaper editors are rebels. I was different because instead of rebelling against the administration, I rebelled against our faculty adviser (who was incredulous that I wouldn’t attack the college president).

So when it came time to pick a school to transfer to for my junior year, the adviser was not going to be any help. And, in fairness to him, I would have rejected anything he suggested.

So I was tentatively planning to transfer to a university on Long Island. It’s an excellent school, but it doesn’t have a national reputation for journalism.

Block’s European History class was one that I really enjoyed, and one day he asked me to follow him back to his office a couple doors down the hall.

"What are your plans for next year?" he asked. I told him the university I was thinking about.

"No," he firmly said. "If you’re serious about journalism, there is only one place you want to be looking at. University of Missouri."

I thought he might be kidding, but he wasn’t a joking around kind of guy.

New Yorkers will back me up on this. We have kind of a Big Apple-centric look at the world. There are many states — probably about 47 of them — that are just not on our radar. Heck, we don’t always acknowledge that New Jersey exists, even though we can actually see it sitting there across the Hudson River. In my world, other states were there so the Mets had places to play road games.

New York, and some of the states we kind of acknowledge existing.

I told him that I didn’t think my parents would go for the idea. Heck, I thought it was crazy. New York is full of excellent colleges. I’m not sure anyone in the extended family had left the state for college, much less gone a half-continent away.

But he told me to research the school, and offered — all but insisted — to talk to my parents.

Flash forward 20 years, and I can see Professor Block knew what he was talking about.

I attended the University of Missouri School of Journalism, got my bachelor’s degree and it opened doors for an internship at a good-sized paper that hired me full-time after I graduated. Met my future wife at Mizzou, too. And I’m still close to my roommate, a role model and friend after all these years.

Being a reporter has allowed me to meet people from presidents and billionaires to the homeless and to experience things that I will carry with me forever. Through stories I like to think that we’ve been able to shape some decisions that have helped some small parts of the world or even just brought a smile to a reader’s face.

At the end of one hectic and eventful day last year, I was chatting with an editor and said, "Sometimes I just have to pause and say we get to do some really cool things. For all the griping we do, this really is a fun job."

"It’s a life lived," he responded. "We see things and do things that other people just don’t get to see and do." And, of course, our job is to be their eyes and ears and share those experiences with them.

I’ll never know how things would have turned out had I attended the other school. Perhaps things would have been better.

But I do know that I am plenty happy with the way things have played out. I’ve been blessed. And I can trace it back to a professor who, for reasons I can’t explain, one day took an interest in me.

I tracked him down this year to let him know how things turned out and to say "Thank you."

And I even learned that other states do in fact exist, and some of them are kind of nice.

In other words...

Greg Prince's "Faith and Fear in Flushing" is always a great read. But he's topped himself with his latest post, a reimagining of the song "These are a Few of My Favorite Things" from a Mets perspective. Give yourself a holiday treat and read it here.


Tony Hartsfield said...

Yours is indeed a life lived. And I'm grateful to have been a part of it. Happy Christmas.

Mets Guy in Michigan said...

Right back at you, brother!

(For those who might not know, Tony is the long-suffering college roommate mentioned. I'm certain that he wakes up in the middle of the night with post traumatic stress syndrome because of the Twisted Sister posters I subjected him to.)

Tony Hartsfield said...

That, and the Beast song that you got to play at Hell Half Hour during finals weeks.

Oh, and the Mary Lou poster...

Bob said...

Great story, Dave. That map, however, does a huge disservice: you show NE but shun South Jersey.

Tsk tsk . . .

G-Fafif said...

Thanks for making your adventures ours, at least vicariously.

While you were transferring to Columbia, I had a journalism prof who taught at U of M before and after he was where I was. I'd love to square the circle and tell you of the profound impact he had on my life or career, but he was a bit on the pompous, self-absorbed side.

But he knew Connie Chung.

Mets Guy in Michigan said...

Bob, if we acknowledge that South Jersey exists, then we'd have to conceed that North jersey was there, too. And we only do that on football Sundays, and even then only if the Jets are playing well.

Tony, I thought you moved in BECAUSE of the Mary Lou Retton poster!

Greg, There were many self-absorbed profs at Mizzou. One, in fact, is being observed from afar by my friend Steve who is waiting for the prof to pass on. Then Steve plans to come back to Columbia and dance on his grave. Yikes! And the sad part? He'll probably have to take a number and wait his turn!

John said...

Its A Wonderful Life indeed, Dave. I can't help but reflect on my life while I watch that movie. And I, embarrassingly, cry my eyeballs out. I know, I am a wuss. But then again, who is'nt one.