As I get older, I become more aware of—and fascinated by—the way people arrive in our lives without warning and often change us, and the course of our life journey, without us realizing it until much later. It was 35 years ago this month that the job I’d been promised upon my graduation from Pace University fell through and I was left with no prospects and a lot of anxiety. I called a mentor, Nancy, who had worked as an adviser when I was a journalism student and asked if she knew of any openings. Next thing I knew, I was on a bus bound for Manhattan where I had an interview with Anne Buckley, then-managing editor of Catholic New York.
After a conversation and copy editing test, I was given a position as an intern but, more than that, I was given an opportunity—to write professionally, to work with other writers in the field, to fall in love with New York City and to learn to navigate the subway system, something that took this suburban girl a few weeks of trekking across and up town in summer heat before a fellow reporter put a subway token in my hand and pointed me in the direction of the E train.
I later returned to Catholic New York as a reporter, where I spent two amazing years covering Cardinal John O’Connor and rubbed elbows (literally) with Mother Teresa, shook hands with Jesse Jackson, stood in Officer Steven McDonald’s hospital room soon after he was shot, covered Andy Warhol’s memorial Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and met countless “regular” people whose kindness and deep faith made them the Catholic New Yorkers who graced the back page of each weekly issue. Later again, I was brought back from Austin, Texas, to serve as managing editor of Catholic New York, where I would eventually meet and work alongside the man who would become my husband.
At the heart of those memories was a woman who saw something in me and took a chance. Anne nurtured and molded my talent—and, by extension, me—through her own gifts as an editor and, to be perfectly honest, her demand (and quite a demand it was) that her writers be nothing less than the best journalists, not the best Catholic journalists but the best journalists, period. She turned out a lot of people who went on to do fabulous things with the skills she imparted, some of us with more than a few battle scars but gratitude nonetheless.
When I opened an email from a friend telling me Anne had died, I first felt a wave of expected sadness. Then, suddenly, I was crying at my desk, unable to stop, leaving me stunned even as I sobbed. Why the powerful emotional response? Given the fact that we hadn’t been in touch for many years and weren’t close, it seemed odd, almost unreal. As I wiped my tears, I tried to reconcile my reaction with my reality. I think the tears were because I recognized deep down that Anne had shaped my life in major ways, from my career as a writer, to my move back to New York from Texas, to the fact that I met Dennis, to my decision to leave Catholic New York to become a freelance writer. I was mourning more than the passing of a person; I was mourning the passing of moments and events from my own life that may never have happened had Anne’s path not crossed mine.
Anne was, of course, one of many people who altered the course of my life through their invitations, their actions, their decisions, their demands. All of us can look back and see places where things could have gone one way but went another because someone stepped into our lives and reshuffled the deck. We are who we are today because of the people who meet us along the way. Who changed your course? Say a prayer for them today.