According to my calculations, this is the 1,314th time I’ve situated myself in front of a computer keyboard to write ValueSpeak, a weekly column that attempts to look at contemporary issues from the perspective of traditional values. It is also the last time.
In about 700 words — give or take a syllable — ValueSpeak will be part of my history. After 25 years of weekly agony (Red Smith, one of the all-time great sports writers, said writing a column is easy: “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed”), the time has come to move on. But I do so reluctantly.
ValueSpeak is more than just something I did during the past two-and-a-half decades. It is part of who I am. It represents my thoughts and my feelings, my memories and my experiences. More than anything, it was my way of coping with life as it happened from 1990 until today — its joys and sorrows, its ups and downs, with moments of prodigious tragedy and moments of transcendent elation. And you, dear reader, have been with me every step of the way.
We’ve shared some remarkable times together. For example, I was just sitting down to write a column on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, with NBC’s “Today” show on the TV over my desk, when I first heard the news that an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center. It seemed unreal. How could such a thing happen, with all the engineering technology at our disposal to avert such a terrible accident? Seventeen minutes later, when a second airplane crashed into the second World Trade Center tower, the unreal became surreal, and an apparent accident became a deliberate attack by … well, we weren’t immediately sure who. But one thing was certain, and I wrote it as my column lede that sobering Tuesday: “The world changed today.”
Through the years, there have been other events and circumstances that we have shared, from the geopolitically historic (Operation Desert Storm) to the profoundly personal (the Christmas Eve birth of my first grandchild). You have been there to help me work my way verbally and emotionally through six presidential elections, the respective marriages of four of my five children, the respective deaths of three of my seven siblings, my father’s heartbreaking descent into the depths of Alzheimer’s, and reality TV.
And together, we’ve learned. At least, I have. I’ve learned that people — all people, regardless of race, religion or fast food preference — are basically good. I’ve learned that most of the differences that divide us are pretty shallow, and the important things — the things that really matter — are shared, common values: faith, family, patriotism, honesty, loyalty, integrity. And I’ve learned that truth is more important than correctness, honor is more important than acclaim and love is more important than anything.
But now it’s time to make a change. After 25 years of doing this, I sort of feel like I’ve said everything I have to say — several times. I suppose I could just start with column No. 1 and rerun all my old columns. I mean, who’s going to remember stuff that I wrote in 1990? But then, I’m afraid some of you might find my early references to AM radio, Bill Cosby, “Twin Peaks” and Slobodan Milosovic confusing, if not unsettling.
And so ValueSpeak ends here. I know I’ll miss it. It has become part of my life. I will miss having a platform to share my thoughts and stories. I will miss the therapeutic effect of working my way through issues and feelings. And I will miss kind words from readers who have understood what I was trying to say, even when I wasn’t sure I understood it myself.
As I leave, I extend thanks to patient editors for putting up with my sometimes whimsical way with a deadline. Thank you also to my wife and children, who learned to look the other way when I was writing about them. But mostly, thank you to you, gentle reader. Without you, there could be no ValueSpeak. Somehow, saying “goodbye” to you isn’t enough. So I’ll borrow a few extra words from the 256th and final episode of “M.A.S.H.”: “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.”
Oh, and two more words: God bless!
To read more by Joseph B. Walker, visit josephbwalker.com. Twitter: JoeWalkerSr