There is a saying in the journalism business that news is what happens to an editor. On the opinion side of the business, one might add a twist: A column is what happens to a columnist.

There is no shortage of daily events locally, nationally, and internationally to aggravate and inspire those of us who write columns. But sometimes it’s what happens in our own lives that provides context or even the subject matter for a piece.

Such was the case for Randi F. Marshall, whose family’s experience with adopting a dog during the pandemic gave her perspective on a new and unfortunate trend of such families “rehoming” their pandemic pets – in other words, returning them to a shelter. Marshall lamented the ease with which people dispose of things, writing, “In a society more committed to what’s important, we might just refuse to let go when times get tough.” 

My own columns frequently feature personal experiences, most recently one that referenced my observation that holiday lights were being put up more often and earlier this season. Perhaps, I wondered, “some of us are lighting our lights earlier because we need it, because they bring us comfort and joy. Or because they reflect some nascent optimism. It’s been a long year. But we’re emerging …” 

For Mark Chiusano, his daughter’s first birthday was grist for reflecting on the milestones parents experience with their children and the bittersweet realization that time’s march is relentless. “Soon The Baby will be able to thrillingly tell us why she likes the dinosaur book and also go to college. There are so many exciting firsts to come in between, along with all the perfect regularity.”

Lane Filler’s support of a federal agency’s recommendation that all new vehicles in the U.S. be equipped with blood-alcohol monitoring systems to prevent drunken driving was strengthened by his acknowledgment of his own problems as a young man with drinking and driving. “Drunks are natural-born fools,” he wrote, “and the only thing that will stop them from driving when they’re bombed is a car that won’t start. I promise.”

And William F. B. O’Reilly recalled a ninth-grade classmate’s scam – selling a powdered laxative as cocaine to unsuspecting classmates and pocketing big profits – to warn of the modern-day equivalent: a dealer selling drugs laced with deadly fentanyl to unsuspecting buyers. “Fentanyl can take a life faster than a bullet,” O’Reilly wrote. “Ask any parent who has lost a son or daughter, and nearly everyone knows of one who has. A few specks of fentanyl, smaller than sugar grains, can end a life.”

Life in general helps shape the prism through which all of us view the world and what happens in it. But sometimes, if we dig deep, we find the greatest truths very close to home.

- Michael Dobie