It has been a tough year in so many ways, but when I look back, I think I'll most remember death after death of people who seemed not quite my generation, but not that much older than me. I was saddened to hear about the death of Gwen Ifill yesterday. I kept on ploughing ahead through my afternoon, working on assessment documents. I got home, and we watched the News Hour; I was struck by how many people commented on her graciousness, on her support of so many people, including younger women and other journalists and just about everyone who crossed her path.
I loved her stories about turning on the television and never seeing people who looked like her--except during political conventions, when she saw women like Shirley Chisholm. And then she went on to become one of the women who would inspire those of us who turned on the TV and never saw people who looked like us. I'm speaking as a white female, and yes, I do realize that I had one or two women, like Barbara Walters, who might have inspired me, whereas a black female growing up in the 70's would have had no one.
I was also struck by her colleagues who remembered that she agonized a bit about shifting from print journalism to television. I had forgotten that she had her start in The New York Times. But she was quick to admit that she had much more access to movers and shakers once she was on TV.
I was also struck by how many of her colleagues knew about her faith. She grew up as a preacher's kid, and she was part of a church community during her adult life too. And her colleagues acted like this was perfectly normal. It made me realize how many people I know who are not part of a faith community and who see involvement with the church as an oddity that could be tolerated, but not discussed--that was at my old job. I have no idea how people are at my new job.
I loved seeing the clips from her life, from all the stories she covered, from all the crowds whom she always seemed to greet warmly. As I listened to people talk about her joy in life and her joy in work, I thought, I hope people say the same about me, when I'm no longer there.
I hope I model the same grace under pressure. I hope to always have that curiosity that Gwen Ifill had. But what I most take away from her life is the importance of reaching out to people of all persuasions, of making a way for others to come to the table, of looking out for the generations coming up behind us.
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