Grief is a sneaker wave

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Outside the Box, by Cheryl Hatch, copyright 2016

Grief is a sneaker wave.

As a college student, a sign greeted me at the Oregon coast: Beware of sneaker waves. It had a design of stick person being knocked over by a curling blue wave. I immediately had an image in my mind of a wave running to shore in Converse sneakers.

Turns out, sneaker waves are no joke. I was photographing at the coast—it’s called the coast, not the shore or the beach, for a good reason. It’s still a wild and untamed juncture where the ocean crashes into the land. I had scoffed at the warning and walked out to get closer to the surf. One minute I’m photographing on dry land, the next I’m up to my rib cage in cold Pacific water, dangling my cameras held high above my head. I turned and chugged toward land as quickly as I could. I was lucky another wave didn’t take me down. Or a random log didn’t knock me unconscious. Or the rush of water didn’t sweep me off my feet and under.

Grief has been sneaking up on me recently.

My Humpty-Dumpty heart has been shattered and cobbled together over the years. Wounded and healed again and again. Grief washes over and through me at unsuspected moments.

In my own life, I feel the loss of the children I wanted and never had. I have an abiding sorrow for the loss of the man I believed I’d spend the rest of my life with until he abandoned me. I still feel the loss of the people I’ve witnessed suffer and die in my long career as a journalist.

There’s been so much loss in my life in recent years. My friends felled by bullets and shrapnel in foreign lands. My friend who regularly questions why she should get out of bed in the morning after police assassinated her husband outside their home. I think of my friend whose mother beat back cancer several times and then decided enough was enough and crossed over surrounded by family in her daughter’s home. My friend mentioned how the deep pain of missing her mom show ups in all the “firsts” without her—Thanksgiving, Christmas, anniversaries, birthdays.

In February, I received a message from Brian Castner. We worked together covering the Ebola outbreak in Liberia in December 2014 and January 2015.

Prince Collins died.

Prince was a radio journalist. He’d been our fixer during our reporting and travels in Liberia. He’d arranged our press credentials and driver, Carton. He’d made introductions and connections for our sources and stories. He talked us through a checkpoint and dicey moment on New Year’s Eve returning to Monrovia. He always introduced us as his colleagues. He became our friend.

I sent Brian a text. “How are you feeling?”

“Surprisingly bad,” he responded. I felt the same.

Brian contacted the pastor at Prince’s church. He doesn’t know how Prince died. A sudden illness.

I hadn’t known Prince long; yet after a month covering the Ebola outbreak, we had shared meals and car rides, visited Ebola Treatment Units and attended funerals, watched rows of grave diggers carve deep rectangular holes in the red earth with pickaxes. Now I was viewing images of his casket and funeral on Facebook and reading the posted laments and remembrances of his friends, radio listeners and colleagues.

He left a young wife and family, who had welcomed us into their home at Firestone in Harbel. I liked Prince. I fully expected to see him and work with him again in Liberia.

On one of our last days in Liberia, Prince accompanied me as I shopped for gifts that Brian and I could bring home to our family and friends. We walked through tailor shops as I sought traditional handmade shirts. Prince offered advice on styles, patterns and colors. I wanted a saa saa, a hollow gourd with beads wrapped on its exterior with cotton thread, for my percussionist brother. We walked for a couple hours through the narrow, meandering alleys of the local markets. Prince made repeated inquiries until we found a vendor.

We shared our last meal at The Cape Hotel, looking out at the Atlantic. We celebrated the good work we’d done together and raised a glass to better days for Liberia.

And now Prince is gone.

Sneaker wave.

During spring break, I was in Rhode Island. My mom sent me a text. It’s seven years ago today that Sis died, Mom wrote. I miss her.

Ruth was my mom’s twin sister and my godmother. My aunt once told me the story of how she’d been sunbathing on the roof of her dormitory at nursing school when she felt a sharp pain in her stomach. She said she knew immediately that my mother was giving birth to me.

My mom and aunt spoke of the powerful bond between twins and the deep knowing and communication that passes between them and transcends spoken words. And now my mom is the lone living twin these past seven years.

Whenever I’m in Rhode Island, I visit the graves of my ancestors. Sometimes I stop to say hello. Sometimes I stop to say thank you. I stop to honor and remember them.

When I visited the graves over spring break, winter had taken its toll. The fabric of the American flags staked in the earth was shredded. Only brittle twigs remained where plants had once blossomed.

The next day I went to the local nursery to purchase spring flowers. A pink hyacinth and violas for one grandmother. A blue hyacinth and pansies for another.

I fixed the wind chimes on Ruth’s grave and placed one half of a charcoal blue scallop shell on her headstone. I planted violas and a pink hyacinth on her grave. Ruth loved to garden. Her back and front porches were lined with chimes that tinkled and clinked when the wind blew through.

That day broke open bright, blue-sky sunny. I could feel the warmth of the sun and breath of the wind on my face.

Joy is a sneaker wave, too.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

http://www.meadvilletribune.com/opinion/columns/column-grief-has-been-a-sneaker-wave-for-me-recently/article_1e70eb3f-7505-501f-b192-e51b356b5526.html

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Let’s keep our eyes, ears and hearts open

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Outside the Box

a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch/copyright 2015

Before the Thanksgiving break, I asked students in our journalism class what they had planned for the holiday. Most were heading home to be with family.

A student visiting from Germany said she had no plans.

What? No one has invited you to share Thanksgiving? That can’t be right.

She shook her head. She said the dining hall would have a special meal. She and her fellow German exchange student would dine in the dorm instead of sharing the most American of holidays with a family.

I couldn’t believe it. I wouldn’t accept it. I called my landlord, John.

John, would you and Ellena be willing to have two German students join you for Thanksgiving? I explained the situation, that they had not received an invitation and had nowhere to go, that I would have hosted them, but I was traveling.

Gosh, Cheryl, I’d love to, but Lena’s not cooking this year. We’re having dinner with my sister’s family.

Less than 30 minutes later, I got a text from Ellena. Cheryl, I would love to invite the young women to join us for Thanksgiving. Change of plan and venue. Ellena went shopping.

On Thanksgiving afternoon, Ellena welcomed the students to her home with a monster turkey and all the trimmings. The students brought mulled wine they’d made as their Thanksgiving offering. Ellena, John and his son, Nick, and the guests from Germany ate, laughed and talked until 11 p.m.

My first semester at Allegheny, I went blind in my left eye. I was alone, new in town, fresh from recovery from a life-threatening illness. I needed help and I turned to people at work. I made a couple requests for assistance at the college—to no avail.

Far from friends and family, I was bereft. As a last resort, I asked my landlord, John, if he could give me a ride to my appointment with the specialist. John wasn’t available, but his girlfriend, Ellena, who I had not yet met, would take me. She switched her appointments with business clients that day and drove me to Erie. She was waiting for me when I returned, sad and scared, after learning that I would need surgery on my eye.

I am not good at asking for help. It doesn’t run in my family. I come from stoic New England stock, cross-pollinated with a stern military upbringing. We don’t whine. We don’t cry. And we sure as heck don’t ask for help. We don’t trouble people with our troubles. When we fall, we get back on our feet. We grit our teeth and persevere. We find a way or make one.

This semester, I noticed I was having trouble seeing. I bought drugstore eyeglasses so I could read the tiny vowel markings on my Arabic homework. Students would wave at me from a distance and I couldn’t recognize them. I had difficulty some days reading the board from the back of the classroom. In yoga class and the weight room, I found it hard at times to hold my balance.

I went back to the eye doctor. I was blind in my right eye.

I asked the students in our classes and on The Campus newspaper staff for their help and understanding. I explained that I have limited vision, that if they approach from the right, I might not see them. If they wave, I’ll probably ask them to identify themselves. I told them that I might feel awkward sometimes in front of the classroom, unbalanced. I told them that I would do my best.

These past few weeks, I’ve been finding myself in moments of joyful sadness when I reflect on the bumps in the road and the blessings in my life. As a photographer, I’ve been knocked off balance twice by the loss of my eyesight. And yet, I am so thankful that I have access to medical care and can afford the surgery that will restore my sight. Without either, I would now be blind.

I am thankful for my friends, John and Ellena, who have always responded with kindness and empathy when I’ve asked for their help. Through their generosity of heart and hearth, they made two strangers feel welcome in our country on the day when we celebrate our bounty and blessings.

My entire life I have been blessed by the kindness of strangers in trying times. Working in Africa and the Middle East, I’ve had people offer me food, shelter and safety when they barely had any for themselves.

A few weeks ago in church, the gospel reading was from Mark 12:38-44. It’s one of my favorite stories. Jesus is watching people put money into the treasury. Many rich people put down large sums and a poor widow walks by and offers two small coins. Jesus said the widow had given the most. The others contributed a small amount from their abundance. Out of her poverty, she gave everything she had, all she had to live on.

I read a story in The Washington Post recently about Guilford College in North Carolina. Headline: “What if every U.S. college campus offered a house to a Syrian refugee family?” What if Allegheny College did? What if Meadville did?

I’m a journalist. I read the headlines. I hear the stories. Of the politics of bullying and shaming. Of bombs that shatter legs, lives and dreams. Of suffering that drives families apart and far from home. Of a blatant disregard for the gifts of this planet.

There are other stories to tell.

We all need help at times in our lives. We all have the capacity to offer that help. A Thanksgiving meal. A few coins. A home and sanctuary.

Let’s keep our eyes, ears and hearts open. A chance to help will present itself.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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In troubled times, language can divide or bind us

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Outside the Box, a  column by Cheryl Hatch

copyright 2015

When I was in teenager, my father announced at dinner one night that we’d be moving to Saudi Arabia. I didn’t know where Saudi Arabia was, but I wanted to go. After the meal, I went downstairs and pulled out an atlas and found the large desert country on the other side of the world.

I couldn’t wait to go. I wanted a change and an adventure. I parted with my beloved Ford Mustang, which I had purchased with my hard-earned fast-food and waitressing wages. We landed in Riyadh and I discovered we had moved to a country where women were banned from driving.

The dictates of the culture and laws of the land clipped my teenage wings and quashed the independence I’d enjoyed in America. I couldn’t leave the house on my own. I had to be with a male companion—my father or one of my younger brothers.

I was both frustrated and enchanted with my new home. I loved the vast desert landscape with its hidden wadis and rolling dunes, the Bedouin traditions of hospitality, the history, the bustling ancient suqs. And the language.

I left Saudi Arabia to attend college in rain-soaked Oregon. I had decided to become a foreign correspondent, so I majored in journalism and French. I studied Russian as my second language. It was a different time; Arabic wasn’t offered.

When I graduated, I went to Cairo to begin my journalism career. I have a knack for languages and I picked up the Egyptian dialect by ear—in the streets, the markets, taxis. I worked with a tutor to improve my understanding. My Arabic served me well in Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and Egypt; but, it was conversational at best and I dreamed of being fluent.

My second year at Allegheny, the college began its Arabic program and hired a professor of Arabic and invited a Fulbright foreign language teaching assistant, both named Reem. I asked Reem Hilal, the professor, if I could sit in on classes.

Ahlan wa sahlan. You are welcome.

Both women assured me I belonged in intermediate Arabic. I wasn’t so sure. I spoke colloquial Arabic, but I could barely read or write it. Plus, we’d be studying classical Arabic, al-fusha.

My vocabulary carried me for a while. I soon learned being a student and being a student as a professor are two different things. When I was a student, I spent hours on my studies of French and Russian. I attended my language labs and conversation tables. As a professor, students come first; my own class comes last. I told Professor Hilal I needed to start over in beginning Arabic.

I love being a student. It reconnects me to what it feels like to be facing the front of the classroom rather than facing the class. As a student, I still get nervous when the professor calls on me to write on the board. I feel badly when I don’t do my homework.

I get to witness the stress of the students. After one exam, I walked into a gathering of classmates outside Ruter Hall. They were talking rapid-fire, a few smoking cigarettes. They were giddy with relief that they’d made it through the midterm. It made me remember the remarkable pressure to perform that students impose on themselves. I was once that student, minus the cigarette. Now I walk out smiling if I’m able to finish the exam.

In learning a language, I’ve found I learn about the people who speak it and their culture. I also learn about my culture and myself.

When I was a student in France, I quickly realized that I could translate my English into French and still miscommunicate by missing the nuances of the words, body language and culture. Americans are generally an exuberant, happy-ending-loving, bordering-on-hyberbolic people. We love words like amazing, awesome, fantastic. If it’s cold outside, I might say it’s freezing. Il ne fait pas chaud, it’s not hot, is the likely French rendering of the same weather.

As I was finishing this column, I ran into Salah Algabli, a Yemeni who is the current Fulbright foreign language teaching assistant at Allegheny. I asked him if he had a few minutes to talk about learning a language.

Sure, when you hear a language, you will get to know the people, the culture and, sometimes, the faith, Salah said. Learning a language helps you understand the deeper meaning of the words. You learn how to understand and express happiness, sadness, gratitude, friendship.

In Yemen, there’s an expression, taht al rasa, or al rasa, Salah said. It literally means “under the head,” however, if a stranger came to a village and said al rasa to the chief, it truly means “I am under your protection,” a cry for sanctuary that the villagers are bound to honor.

Salah noted that when he first came to America he would start his conversations with questions, as he would in his homeland. How are you? How’s your family? How are your children? He realized people would look at him strangely.

They felt like I’m a creepy person, Salah said. What might be creepy in America would be considered rude if he didn’t do it in his country. In Arab cultures, it’s expected to make such extended inquiries into the health of friends and loved ones.

Salah said he’s learned the American equivalent. “What’s up?” He now asks that one simple question.

The other day I heard a piece on National Public Radio by Michel Martin, entitled “Grief Knows No Native Tongue—but We Must Listen, Whenever It Speaks.” She wrote it in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. She noted that on the same Friday that members of the Islamic State group launched the attacks in Paris, a bomb killed people at midday prayers in Yemen and a suicide attack at a Baghdad funeral killed at least 18 people. There were two attacks in Beirut that killed more than 40 people last Thursday.

These attacks killed people indiscriminately, regardless of language, faith, nationality, gender or age.

In troubled times, language can divide or bind us.

When I think of the victims of violence, including the refugees, I remember the expression Salah taught me.

Taht al rasa. I am under your protection.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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I had to be here, Coach

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Outside the Box, a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch, copyright 2015

Staff Sgt. Robert Taylor learned the news on Facebook on Tuesday, Oct. 27. His former teammate, Brian O’Malley, posted a link to the story of the sudden impending retirement after 14 years at Allegheny College of Head Football Coach Mark Matlak.

A 2005 graduate in economics, Rob had played football for Coach Matlak for three years, including on the 2003 championship team. The soldier, veteran, husband and father of two made up his mind. He wanted to make it to coach’s last home game on Saturday, Oct. 31.

When Rob was a sophomore, his father and mother flew up to see his first two home games in September 2002. It was Coach Matlak’s first season at Allegheny. Rob knew his father was ill. His dad was waiting outside the locker room to see him after the game. Rob turned back before his father saw him, walked into the locker room and broke into tears. Coach was there.

Rob’s father died in Florida a month later on Oct. 12, 2002. Coach was there again to comfort Rob in his deep grief and in the days and years that followed. He filled a void, Rob said.

I met then Sgt. Robert Taylor in Afghanistan in December 2011, when he served with the 1/25 Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 1st Battalion 5th Infantry Regiment, stationed at Fort Wainwright, Alaska. On patrol, Rob was the infantryman at the front with a Vallon, a hand-held metal detector used to sweep for mines and improvised explosive devices. It was his job to clear the path, his responsibility to bring the men and women in his unit back safely. When he wasn’t out front with the Vallon, he was often the soldier assigned to walk in front of me, the journalist joining the patrol, in my two months in Afghanistan.

On Halloween morning, Rob left Fort Carson, Colorado, before dawn at 4:30 a.m. At noon my time, I received a text. My connection in Houston was canceled. My new flight has me landing at kickoff. I should make it by the third quarter at best.

I immediately got on the phone with a Holly, an agent in Nashville, with United Premier Service—a perk of frequent flying. I asked about the flights from Houston, which had been delayed by big storms. What about Cleveland? She asked for Rob’s confirmation number. I didn’t have it. There was a flight 6066 to Cleveland, but it was delayed, too.

Rob texted again. The Pittsburgh flight had been delayed once more. He’d be lucky to make it before the end of the game. I called Rob, explained the possibility of the Cleveland flight, which might arrive at 6 p.m.

Watching the game would be nice, but as long as I can be there to shake his hand on the field, all will be worth it, Rob texted.

Later he sent another message. The Pittsburgh flight was delayed until 3 p.m.

It’s all falling apart, he wrote. The customer service line for United is 100 people deep. There is no way I could change to Cleveland now.

I got his confirmation number and dialed Premier Service again. Kelly in Detroit answered. I explained the situation. Active military. Veteran. Trying to make it to his beloved college coach’s last home game. She said she had room on the flight, leaving at 2 p.m. The agents might have closed the doors. I borrowed my roommate’s cell phone and dialed Rob.

Where are you? What terminal? Bravo, he responded. I had Kelly at United on my left ear and Rob on my right. Get to B20, Bravo20 now. Go. Run. You’re on the flight.

Kelly put me on hold and tried to call ahead to make sure the agents hadn’t closed the doors. Several tense minutes followed. Rob said he had a boarding pass. Kelly confirmed he’d made the flight. I was standing in my kitchen, hands in the air, smiling, surprised by the tears wetting my face.

Kickoff at 5 p.m. I monitored my phone as I watched the game from the sidelines. Rob landed at 5:33 p.m. and we began our play-by-play message exchange.

End of first quarter. Later Rob wrote: On 90.

I replied: Where on 90? We’re 10 minutes into the third quarter.

Rob: I’m trying. I might make the end.

Me: There’s a timeout for an injury. Bought some time.

Then: Start of the fourth quarter. Later: 10 minutes on the clock.

30 miles. Maybe I can catch him in the locker room.

Bypass downtown. It’s blocked for the Halloween parade.

8 miles.

Game over. He’s doing interviews.

Coach is in the room by the concession stand now.

I saw Rob’s face appear in the window. He opened the door and coach turned. As Rob would later remark, he could tell by Coach’s face that it took a minute for it to register.

Robbie T., Coach said. He clutched him in tight hug.

I had to be here, Coach.

Coach pulled away, held Rob at arm’s length, looked at his tear-stained face and then hugged him again in a long, long embrace. When they let go, both men wiped away tears.

Allegheny alumnus Staff Sgt. Robert Taylor hugs head football coach Mark Matlak after Matlak's last home game of his 14-year career at Allegheny College on Saturday night, Oct. 31, 2015. Taylor played three years for Matlak, including on the 2003 championship team. A veteran and active military, Taylor traveled from Fort Carson, Colorado to surprise his beloved coach. Copyright 2015 Cheryl Hatch ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Allegheny College alumnus Staff Sgt. Robert Taylor hugs head football coach Mark Matlak after Matlak’s last home game of his 14-year career at Allegheny on Saturday night, Oct. 31, 2015. Taylor played three years for Matlak, including on the 2003 championship team. A veteran and soldier, Taylor traveled from Fort Carson, Colorado to surprise his beloved coach. He wears a Killed in Action bracelet on his wrist for his buddy who died in Afghanistan and his 2003 championship ring on his finger.Copyright 2015 Cheryl Hatch ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

They went to the locker room and talked.

“This is the last place my dad was alive,” Rob said. “The same area. The same place.”

Rob found his name in his locker and took a few photos. They spent barely an hour together before Rob got in his rental car and drove to Pittsburgh. The next day he flew back to Colorado.

Rob said the last three seasons don’t reflect the kind of coach Matlak is.

“The last three seasons have been horrible for Allegheny,” Rob said. “I didn’t want him going out feeling negative. I wanted him to know he had an impact.”

He spent 15 hours traveling to reach the game. Nearly 11 more hours to get home. Twenty-six hours of travel for one hour with his college coach.

So he could shake Coach Matlak’s hand after his last home game.

“It was absolutely worth it,” Rob said. “He gave a lot to me and it felt good to go back and give back.”

Matlak remembered his 36 seasons as a football coach, including the last 14 with Allegheny.

“It was absolutely worth it,” he said to Rob. “You coming here, it reminds me of just how worth it it was.”

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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Vocational: I’ll wear that badge with honor.

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Outside the Box, a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch, copyright 2015

On more than one occasion since I arrived at Allegheny, a person has labeled my work, what I do, what I offer to the students and the community, vocational. Each time I hear that comment, I wince and bristle inside. It feels dismissive, disrespectful.

I am a journalist. After the most recent comment, I decided to do what journalists do. I decided to investigate. I interviewed professors at Allegheny and other academic institutions. I spoke with colleagues in journalism. If someone described your work as vocational, what would that mean to you? How would it make you feel?

It’s definitely a charged word, one professor said. It implies a vo-tech education. In high school, if you took vocational-technical classes, it meant you weren’t going to college. If someone calls your work vocational, it implies you’re not an intellectual.

Another professor voiced a similar opinion with one distinction. Particularly in a liberal arts college/tradition, if a professor refers to your work as vocational, it means that you and your work are not valued or respected. It implies that you are not a scholar, that you don’t do scholarly work. It doesn’t necessarily address your intellect.

These opinions reflected what I was feeling. Devalued, dismissed and disrespected. It implies I work with my hands not my head. I’m not a peer. I’m more like a plumber. I don’t belong.

I remember vocational classes in high school: auto repair, woodworking/shop class, typing, home economics. I would have loved to take a woodworking or auto repair class; at that time, girls weren’t allowed in those classes. I took typing and that skill has served me every day since I graduated high school.

On fall break, I was walking along the ocean with a dear friend, a graduate of Wellesley College. I told her about my experience at Allegheny and the vocational label some at the college attach to journalism.

Remember the origin of the word vocation, she said. It means a calling.

I beamed.

Exactly, I said. I often tell the students that I consider journalism a noble calling.

I went home and looked up the word. Vocation derives from Latin vocātiō, meaning a call, a summons. It first meant a call by God, particularly to a religious life in the Christian tradition. In the 20th century, it came to be associated with training, talents and a job. I’m not sure when the negative connotation attached to it.

I asked a journalist friend about the label of vocational and its blue-collar implications for our profession.

Of course it’s vocational, he said. We don’t think about journalism. We do journalism. When you teach journalism, you teach students to work for a story. If they fail, they learn to dust themselves off and get back to it. If that’s blue collar, I’ll wear that badge with honor. And yes, it is a noble calling. We sure don’t do it for the money. We serve our communities, our democracy and our world.

I come from a long line of blue-collar workers, of people who serve. Among our men, we have farmers, fishermen, an electrician, a tinsmith, a janitor, a state representative, soldiers and sailors. Among our women, we have farmers, a home economist, a nurse, teachers and a suffragist. And yes, there’s a woman reporter who preceded me by three generations, long before the vocation called me.

Journalists do important work. Teaching the next generation of journalists is important work.

Journalists are members of the Fourth Estate. They are watchdogs tasked with the duty of holding our governments and businesses accountable. Journalists risk their lives covering conflict abroad and corruption at home. They document history and tell the stories of a community, from the county fair and school board meetings to far-flung wars and areas of conflict and suffering. Journalists provide information that serves the public interest. A free press is a pillar of our democracy.

It takes smarts and guts to be a journalist—and to serve.

I followed in my great grandmother’s footsteps in becoming a journalist. I followed in my mother’s footsteps in becoming a teacher. I followed all my ancestors in a life of hard work and service.

Both my jobs are vocational. I’ll wear that badge with honor.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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http://www.meadvilletribune.com/opinion/columns/outside-the-box-vocational-a-term-i-wear-like-a/article_602b069a-7ced-11e5-a8a6-9b43114d875a.html

 

You gotta rock the nap

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Outside the Box, a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch, copyright 2015

At the start of each semester, I give an empty schedule to the students in our classes. I ask them to fill in their commitments during the week. Classes. Work. Athletic practices and games. Clubs. Service organizations. Allegheny students embrace the college’s mantra of unusual combinations and that can lead to packed schedules. As a professor, I like to have an idea of what the students are balancing as they take on a deadline-driven journalism class.

When I arrived at Allegheny, I plunged into my new job. It wasn’t long before I decided to track my time to determine where it was going. I took the same empty schedule that I give the students and I filled in one each day. I devised a color-coded system to discover how I spent my time.

I chose red for work and colored all the blocks of time I dedicated to work activities, including lectures, meetings, grading, class preparation and advising the student journalists at The Campus.

Green marked activities such as cleaning, shopping, swimming and yoga: things that I consider necessary to healthy living. I chose blue for moments of true relaxation: reading a book, going for a walk, getting a pedicure. I tracked my time for a semester.

Warning, warning. Danger Will Robinson. My daily colored charts felt like a fire alarm, screaming red. My cousin would call me. “Are you having a blue day?” Translation: Are you taking time for yourself? No. Blue was missing in action.

As an Associated Press photographer, I covered major league sports, murders, Microsoft, forest fires and trials. I would sometimes have competing deadlines in different time zones around the globe.

When I covered a New York Yankees v. Mariners home game, for example, I’d sit in a well on the third base line, by the visiting team’s dugout. I’d need a photo of the Yankees’ pitcher from the top of the first for clients in New York. I’d shoot it, pull the card, download the photos and edit, all while keeping an eye on the game, talking to editors in New York and watching for foul balls. I’d caption the photo and transmit. Then I’d photograph Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle’s leadoff batter and rookie sensation from Japan. The media in Japan were hungry for images of Ichiro. I enjoyed the challenge and I rocked the coverage.

As a journalist, I learned to maximize time. If I had a spare minute, I found a way to use it. I carried this skill with me from Afghanistan to Allegheny, hence the hemorrhaging schedule.

The students keep busy schedules, too; however, I discovered they also mark time in their schedules to eat, work out and sleep. No matter how much work they have, the students make time for themselves. They take care of themselves.

When I’m on a story or a deadline, I can forgo food and sleep to finish. On a major story, I can work round-the-clock for days. In the past, I considered my ability to power through, tough it out it, a point of pride. Over time, this deprivation becomes a habit, a destructive one.

Athletes understand the power of rest. After a tough workout, the body needs time to repair and recover. If an athlete doesn’t allow for down time, the mind and body eventually pay for it. Concentration suffers. Injuries occur. An illness invades. The same applies to journalists.

In The Campus newsroom, the students take breaks. They extoll the virtues of a nap.

A nap? Sleeping in the middle of the day? Ridiculous.

Students have told me if they have a spare 15 to 20 minutes or an hour, they’ll take a nap. If I have any spare time, I’ll find something to fill it. I’ll grade papers, write a letter, answer emails.

This semester I’m following the students’ lead. I make sure I make time for lunch. When I have a bit of down time, I take a short nap. It’s not ridiculous. It’s remarkable. The short break and rest are restorative.

Last Thursday night, I met with The Campus student editors. They didn’t have a paper to publish before fall break, so we had scheduled time for an extensive critique of the latest issue. A number of students on staff are athletes who are usually coming from or going to a practice or workout on publication night. Meaghan Wilby, science/international editor, plays basketball. Chloe Kedziora, junior features editor, plays lacrosse. Joe Tingley, news editor, is a distance swimmer on the swimming and diving team.

After the meeting, I chatted with Joe, who also plays violin in the orchestra and writes regular blog posts for Allegheny Gator Blogs. I told him I had enjoyed reading his recent posts, which are thoughtful and personal. I mentioned that I’d started taking the occasional nap, something I’d learned from the students.

Even with his packed schedule, Joe finds time for nap each day—20 minutes is ideal.

“You gotta rock the nap,” he said.

Indeed. You gotta rock the nap.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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I am strong

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Outside the Box, a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch, copyright 2015

Allegheny has a new peak performance coach, Randy Moore. As soon as I heard the news, I wrote him an email.

Coach Moore. Welcome to Allegheny. I feel like your new position and presence at Allegheny is an answer to a prayer—or at least to a fervent hope. I want to return to conditioning to improve my strength and endurance and I’m thrilled to learn you have classes available.

A bit about me by way of introduction: I am a career journalist and I teach journalism classes at Allegheny College. I’m also the adviser to the award-winning student newspaper, The Campus.

I came to Allegheny by way of Afghanistan and a life-threatening illness that had me hospitalized in Kuwait. The doctors advised me to do nothing but walk for a year to allow my lungs to recover. That was 2012-2013.

I am now carrying 40 pounds I don’t need and I’ve lost strength and endurance. I was a college athlete. I rowed crew at Oregon State and I’m a Pac-10 champion rower. I’ve run marathons. I haven’t been running with the extra weight.

I know my body remembers how to be fit and strong. My concern is that I don’t want to push too hard too soon. May I meet with you to discuss my options?

We exchanged emails and decided the intermediate conditioning class would be a good place for me to start. If it proved too much too soon, I could bump down to the beginning class. Coach advised me to start with light weights.

I rowed in a lightweight eight in college. That meant I was wicked lean and strong. Nine percent body fat. I could walk out my front door and run 12 miles for the fun of it. I could bench press well past my body weight. I remember my friend, an offensive lineman, standing behind me in the weight room and willing me to my record 13 pull ups.

That’s the Cheryl of Fitness Past.

Cheryl of Fitness Present can’t even do a push up, let alone a pull up. I learned this the hard way. I took a class at the local Y. The instructor told us to drop and do push ups. Modified, if we needed it. I could barely do one modified push up.

I knew I was out of shape. I had no idea I’d lost my strength.

It takes a whole different kind of strength to walk into the weight room at the Wise Center. I’m surrounded by wall-to-wall mirrors and young, fit athletes. When I look in the mirror, I don’t recognize myself. I expect to see the lean me that once frequented weight rooms.

Instead, I see me: out of shape and overweight. And I have a relentless voice in my head, reminding me of how far I’ve let myself go. Who are you kidding? You’re never going to get fit. You’ll never lose the weight. You look ridiculous.

While I do sets of repetitions with the weights, the unkind voice keeps repeating its debilitating messages.

The trainers are excellent. Several young women are on the lacrosse team. Another ran track. They offer me encouragement. High-fives. Compliments on my form. Their positive voices and support make me smile.

My competitiveness is still intact. Once I got over my initial internal laments about my shape, I got into the routine and my competitiveness kicked in. Three weeks into the workouts, I took a week off. My knee and once-shattered wrist were not happy. Too much too soon.

I ran into my trainer, Maria, the one who’d run track, on campus. I told her I would skip a few workouts. She smiled and told me that I was wise to rest. She complimented me on my commitment, offered a high-five with a smile and headed to the Wise Center. When I returned the following week, she watched me carefully and inquired about my knee.

The trainers and coach are teaching me more than just form. They’ve offered me an alternative to the nasty voice in my head. I’ve decided I need to balance my competitiveness with compassion.

My body has served me well for many years, even when I have sorely neglected her. She has weathered brutal diseases—typhoid, amoebic dysentery, diseases that don’t have names. She’s endured extended periods of sleep deprivation, bad food or no food, and relentless bursts of adrenaline. It’s a miracle and an act of sustained grace that I am still alive, let alone spiritually, emotionally and physically intact.

I am an athlete. I am strong.

Meet the Cheryl of Fitness Future.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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