What the written word can do

I wish I had a nickle for every time I have been asked, “how do you find something to write about every single week?”

The only answer I know to give is that writing has never seemed like a chore to me. I don’t feel the enormity of it that others seem to see. I was born wanting to hear stories and tell stories — and it comes as easy as breathing. I have always figured if a person can think and talk, writing should spill out just as easily. Friends laugh and shake their heads, determined that one does not necessarily follow the other.

First publication. I was 7 years old and in second grade when my teacher gave us a writing assignment. We were to write a poem to welcome Spring. I thought that assignment was more fun than recess. She told us that our writings would be “published” which, at that time, meant a little booklet made up of that unforgettable scent of mimeographed paper. The little book had a purple construction paper cover, and I felt like each of us in Mrs. Holmes’ class had made the big time. A star is born, times 20 students.

My poem, still in my memory bank all these years later, read, “Easter is fun, Easter is gay; I love hunting Easter eggs all through the day.”

I wanted to keep that little booklet forever, filled with not only my humble poem, but those of classmates who became life-long friends. My mother, never the sentimental saver, opposed to keeping the unnecessary, promptly tossed it in the trash.

Maybe it was that little act that prompted me to keep on writing. One thing could be replaced with another, then another. And there were so many stories worth telling!

Stories worth telling. I realized that the oldest people we knew were the ones with the biggest vault of stories. I was often told to go play when what I wanted to do was ask questions of our visiting company. One of my dad’s most colorful uncles had incredible stories. Uncle Sam had once hopped a train at 16, running away to join the military, lying about his age to sign up. What a different world it was then!

While in the military, he had seen some picturesque places because he served as a photographer and scout reporter, a plum assignment given to him by the grace of God. At some point, Sam had become a boxer, winning in semi-professional circles and making quite a name for himself. He once hinted of having briefly traveled with a circus. I wanted so badly to know more, and to write it all down. I was told to leave him alone, and all those stories went out the door forever.

Asking questions. To this day, I have to remind myself to be still, be polite, don’t ask questions that people may not want to face. But, there are times when asking is the right thing to do. I learned this while covering a murder trial as a young reporter.

No one approached the grieving family, it was just not done. At the end of the sentencing, three young people found guilty of beating an elderly man to death, I approached the murdered man’s son, extending my sympathy. I asked if there were anything I could do that would help him in any way.

“Could I say something? Something you could put in the newspaper?”

I jotted down his comments of gratitude to a caring community with an incredible feeling coming over me. This is what the written word can do, if done properly. It can empower people, help them heal, help them tell their side of a sometimes dreadful, other times wonderful story. It can cleanse a bitter wound, it can unite, it can paint a picture that would otherwise never be shared.

About the Author

Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college. More Stories by Judith Sutherland

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