It was a recent Saturday morning, and Facebook cheerfully informed me that it was Suzanne Bardwell’s birthday.
So I messaged best birthday wishes to my fellow alumna from East Texas State University (now Texas A&M-Commerce) and co-owner of the Gladewater Mirror.
“Thanks Pat . . . my party is a scrimmage, a community prayer meeting and a museum event!” she responded.
All of which got me to thinking about college football coaching legend Paul “Bear” Bryant and a little slip of paper found in his billfold when he died in 1982.
The piece of paper contained a prayer titled “A New Day,” written by Heartsill Watson. Bryant often pulled the prayer from his wallet to read it to others – especially members of the teams he coached. The prayer is featured at the Paul W. Bryant Museum on the campus of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, where free copies are handed out to visitors.
It’s a simple prayer, yet so profound:
“This is the beginning of a new day. God has given me this day to use as I will. I can waste it or use it for good. What I do today is very important because I am exchanging a day of my life for it. When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever, leaving something in its place I have traded for. I want it to be a gain, not a loss . . . good, not evil . . . success, not failure in order that I shall not forget the price I paid for it.”
Time – it is such an interesting thing. We worry about having too much of it, or not enough. We spend it, waste it, bide it. I love the perspective offered in this little prayer: the idea that our days can never be recovered and that we can choose to trade the hours of those days for something that perhaps is more lasting and profound.
For me, that notion gives added meaning to what we do each day at our newspapers.
In our business, time is always top-of-mind. To a great extent, we have structured what we do and how we do it in order to complete a massive amount of work in a short amount of time. We need to hustle each day to make our deadlines and produce a newspaper or update a website.
We should make it a point to ask ourselves, “What did we trade our collective day for? Can we make a better trade tomorrow?”
In my career, I’ve seen examples of colleagues who traded their time for better and for worse. I remember a cop reporter who would periodically announce that it was time for him to do yet another “full-moon crime spree story,” as if he were just stuffing sausage or going through some mindless routine. And I remember a colleague, who when assigned to write an obit, treated it with the care and devotion due a front-page exclusive.
And now I have seen Suzanne Bardwell spend her birthday – her Saturday, for that matter – covering events that are important to the community her newspaper serves. I’m pretty sure she and husband Jim found time that evening to celebrate another year on this earth. But she also traded a good part of her birthday to give her readers a real gift, as well.
Well traded, Suzanne.
Every morning I get out of bed and retrieve the morning paper to peruse it before heading into work. It was something drilled into me when I started in the business years ago by a crusty old assistant city editor named Ben Segal. Ben would always insist that reporters should read that day’s paper before starting work so they would know what’s going on in their world. It was an important part of being prepared to start your shift at the paper that day.
I think, perhaps, I will add Bryant’s little prayer to that morning routine. And try to work a little harder to trade up each day I am lucky enough to have left.