My dad loved pecans. I think he liked the feel of them in his hands, weighty and smooth, a free snack that was also his favorite.
When I was seven or so, I remember sitting with him at the dinner table in our new home, just us and a bowl of the little treasures, watching as he paid careful attention to extract the pecan in one piece. He helped open them for me, because I usually ended up hurting myself or making a mess. The time it took to get one open always made the reward sweeter.
He would have been jealous to hear how, in my first attempts at professional journalism beyond campus, the beat I was covering was littered with the chewy luxuries.
He passed away a year ago this December. After discovering he had stage-4 pancreatic cancer, we had two months together, and then I helped him from mess and hurt, in hometown San Antonio. The pecans we ate were bitter-sweet. They didn’t require his strength to break them, because they were already shelled, ready to eat – the backyard variety replaced by a shiny plastic bag.
Those pecans weren’t as good.
In all the time I spent in the PECAN neighborhood, I didn’t eat a single nut. I could have – they are my favorite, too – but I decided to wait. I had a different nut to crack, and I wanted the time and effort of my work in the neighborhood to be like the thoughtful chipping away of the shells, these homes and streets and schools that contain a precious treasure of people. The best stories are right in your backyard.
Now I can savor the reward.
These stories are for dad.
What I believe, and this I’ve discovered to be true, is that God is a friend to the hungry and needy, and provides for us in unexpected ways. I think Jesus was right when he said that your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Since I started reading newspapers (whenever that was, I’m not sure), there were two kinds of stories I wanted to tell the most.
I wanted to tell a story about a house, because my name (Tyler) means builder, and the architecture section in the New York Times has the most pictures; and I wanted to tell a story about a school, because I looked up to one of the world’s greatest visual journalists at the San Antonio Express-News, and she did a really beautiful piece on a school that helped me understand why photography mattered. I felt the history and passions of my community come alive and present.
I got to taste both varieties this semester.
In writing about Tim and Morgan Gieringer’s home becoming a historic landmark, I also reported on a former occupant and forerunner to my craft of journalism. William Davis, who rented the house in the 1920’s, was a pastor at a Church of Christ in town, and the longtime editor of their newspaper, “The Firm Foundation.” I felt a weight of responsibility, that by telling the story of the neighborhood, I could preserve the present, protect its past, and provide for the neighborhood’s future.
In a story on Calhoun Middle School, I witnessed students and teachers united in courage, a unique strength found in the struggle. The only girl on the boys football team, Maleyciah Tillman-David, gained new confidence at her school and in the midst of challenges at home. Her family, once torn apart by drug addiction and fatherlessness, reunited last year.
This was the most rewarding thing for me, to document answered prayer. Topics of justice and restoration of broken families were a focus of song and choruses in the Well House of Prayer, where I spent most of the past year and a half away from school. I wondered how I would ever tell others about, and let alone find, such dramatic answers of hope.
I think hope has substance and makes evident the things which are not attained, or attainable by our own will. Hope extends its hands to us in invitation to join it, that we could trust a hope that is certain. For my dad, hope is the end of the story.
Even pain is proof that life is meaningful.
One thing I’ve held in my heart since coming to Denton in 2012, is that I would see and document God’s Kingdom on earth. I’ve been called to tell stories that don’t shy away from the spiritual or the miraculous, and so testimonies of people could bring healing to others. Light could remove the darkness. Voices could speak of a greater one that unites us, and cause the world to believe. That’s what Jesus prayed for, before going to the cross.
I think God wants to help us live better stories.
Since Dad has been gone, I’ve resolved to let the Author be perfecter in me, though it’s hard to trust the Writer sometimes.
There’s pressure, and yielding. Discipline, and obeying. Risk, and dependence. Time. Incentive. More pressure. What shapes characters in stories we remember most are often those things which can cost them their very lives. They are caught up in the drama possessing them, Life asks and empowers us to fulfill our roles.
This semester has been a significant chapter in my development as a storyteller, and a son.
I felt like I did at the dining room table, depending on the strength of Dad to help me open pecans, so I wouldn’t make a mess or get hurt trying to do it on my own.
The reward is sweet.