Writers agonize over beginnings.
We fret and sweat at the top of a blank page, searching for the perfect words.
This column was a struggle from the start because it was unlike any other I have ever had to write ... to find a beginning about the end.
My final day at The Telegraph will be Friday, May 15. I am leaving the only full-time job I have ever known to start a new chapter in my life. I have accepted a position to teach journalism and creative writing at a private school in Macon.
By my mathematically challenged calculations, I will have worked at this newspaper for 36 years, 10 months and five days. That’s a lot of rings on this old tree. (And a lot of trees have had to die in order for me to tell my stories.)
I’ve always said if you find a job you love, you will never work a day in your life. The newspaper business hasn’t all been peaches and ice cream, but I have never dreaded going to work. Every day is different. It has been pure joy.
I am parting on my own terms. The Grim Reaper did not show up at my office door, pointing the way to the exit and changing the locks behind me. I have accepted an offer made available to some employees. I was not targeted. Quite the contrary.
It is the most difficult and emotional decision of my professional life and one that was made with prayerful consideration. I have cried a million tears. I have a large and loyal readership. It breaks my heart to think I might be letting them down.
In the end, I had to do what was best for me and my family. Once I reached that decision, I was at peace.
I celebrated another birthday last month, and that hastened my timetable. It won’t be long before they will have to start putting some of those candles on the side of my birthday cake. I already qualify for the senior discount at the grocery store.
Plenty of folks my age already have retired, and I am lumbering in those “in-between” years of still having market value and missing that small window of opportunity to turn the page.
I am reminded of the wise, old coach I once asked if he was contemplating retirement.
“It makes me wonder when even the janitor starts asking me about it,” he said. “I don’t want to be like the boxer who tries to go one round too many.”
The most comforting part of this announcement is that I won’t be saying goodbye forever. This is not an obituary disguised as a column. They won’t be carrying me out with my toes pointed up. R.I.P. (Rest In Prose).
In time, I will return to writing a weekly column on Sundays. I will still have a presence on these pages. And I might throw in an occasional Monday Morning Trivia, for old time’s sake.
If I had my druthers, I would have stuck around until the last circulation truck left the dock. At least that is the way I would have written the script.
Had I followed the aspirations of the 22-year-old version of myself who showed to write sports at 120 Broadway, I might never have sweated through more than a couple of Macon summers.
There were dreams of brighter lights and bigger cities. I was just passing through. I was here to lease, not buy.
Then I married the love of my life, a Macon girl who has made many sacrifices for the sake of my career. I chose to stay here and raise a family. The Telegraph has been very good to me, providing me with the opportunity to earn a living and build a life. This was my calling, and I answered it.
Serendipitous is one of my favorite words, even though I have to look up how to spell it every time. It was quite by accident that I ended up in Macon. I had interned at the Columbus Enquirer following my junior year at the University of Georgia. I was offered a position on the state desk, and I enjoyed my senior year at UGA with the assurance I had a job was waiting for me when I graduated.
Only there wasn’t. After the winter thaw, there was a hiring freeze in Columbus. I reached out to Macon, a sister newspaper. I knew Billy Watson, the executive editor, and he opened his arms to embrace me.
It was home, even though I didn’t know it at the time.
Billy gave me the best advice I ever got in this business, the charge to write about everyday folks who might otherwise never have their names in the newspaper. They wake up every morning and go out and make a difference in the world. They are ordinary people with extraordinary stories.
They have shared those stories with me across kitchen tables, front porches and dusty ball fields. They have granted me guided tours of their lives. I have attended their graduations and weddings. I have given eulogies at their funerals.
Along the way, I began to view my writing as a ministry, to use my platform as a means to serve others. I have tried to make people laugh, cry, think and bring them together. I have been committed to spreading sunshine somewhere besides the weather page.
I stand on a lot of shoulders -- family, friends, colleagues, guardian angels and, of course, readers. They have supported and nurtured me.
I have never had the opportunity to personally thank many of them, but they still call me “Gris.” I will continue to be an ambassador for this newspaper, the oldest business and most sacred news institution in this community.
On a recent afternoon, I sat with my mother, the woman who brought me into this world and fostered my love of reading and writing. She celebrated her 87th birthday on Friday.
In the soft sunlight, she talked about some of the people she had known, places she had been with them and the good times they had shared.
“Those are sweet memories,” she said.
And I smiled, because I have them, too.
Contact Gris at 744-4275 or email@example.com. After May 15, his new email will be firstname.lastname@example.org.