Another day, another court hearing with horrific autopsy pics. This time, I actually hugged the court reporter after the hearing. I couldn’t help myself and she’s been in just about all the hearings with me lately. So much for emotional distance.
I make mistakes. And when I make mistakes in my job, thousands of people see them. Some of them take to the email or the phone and leave me messages about what an idiot I obviously am, or question whether I have a soul or something. They do not give a thick skin when you graduate from j-school. It’s developed over time, or you quit.
My mom always taught me when you make a mistake, you own it. If you bump into somebody, you say excuse me. You say you’re sorry. In my line of work, though, the wrong apology can confirm all the lawyers need for a lawsuit. So I have to be careful, judicious even.
One of the things I learned about three years into my career at the paper where I work now is that the stories that I write matter to people sometimes. You forget when you cover a city council meeting and you talk to people who talk to people like you as part of their job. But when you have to talk to John or Jane Q. Public –the victim’s parents or the subject of your profile –what you are doing is almost sacred. They are trusting you with something important, a part of them. Maybe they didn’t even ask to give it to you, you just swooped in and said, “oh, that’s interesting/tragic/odd. Tell me more.” I learned this lesson when I attended a viewing for a county councilman who had just passed away. A profile I had done of him a few months before was matted in a massive and gorgeous frame, sitting on an easel right next to the foot of the casket. I hoped it had been typo-free, accurate and fair.
Just about 30 days ago, I misspelled the name of a dead guy, an actual honest-to-goodness victim. I got the obligatory emails and phone calls and took them like a kind of penance, I guess. Seriously, who is that careless? I am apparently. Yesterday, the young man’s family was in court for an emotional hearing – the sentencing for the man who shot their beloved son, brother, boyfriend.
I met the mother outside the courtroom, notebook closed and metaphorical hat in hand. “I am sorry,” I told her. “I pride myself in being careful and I was not careful with something very important to you.”
I waited. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she’d belted me in the face. That’s what I would have done, I know me. She cried. She said thank you. Then she wanted me to quote her for the next day’s story. I came into the newsroom today to a phone message from her husband, also saying thank you. I cried at my desk. (I know, I know, there’s no crying in baseball.)
Grace is an odd thing. I see it a lot in what I do, in weird places and strange situations, from people who would be the least likely to show it. It’s always weird, too, when you’re on the receiving end of it. There was no reason for that woman to be nice to me, no reason for her to give me the time of day.
In Orthodoxy, we view grace a bit different than how it is viewed in Western Christianity. For us, it is not merely being treated in a way different from how we deserve, but it is actually the presence of God. It is the Divine Energy of God. It is how we/I know Him.
That woman showed God to me and so did her husband. I didn’t deserve that, but God in His great love doesn’t remove Himself from us ever. Even in the cavernous hallways of the courthouse. Even when I make a mistake.