Editorial: ‘Will It Have Been Worth It...?

Becky O'Malley
Tuesday September 05, 2006

Herewith follows today’s lesson: 


Dear Editor: 

In this era of continuing disharmony over wars, elections, free speech, and local development, I find myself longing for the type of letter that once graced the pages of the London Times. 

In that spirit, I submit the following: As summer draws to a close, my stately backyard plum tree has yielded exactly 7,363 small, sloppy, inedible plums. My grateful thanks to Diane Davenport, Eli Joyce, and Jean Haseltine for both maintaining meticulous statistics and for their season-long efforts at ground clearance. 

Your obedient servant  

(another Times memory), 

Sayre Van Young 


This letter, while seeming to memorialize a trivial phenomenon of everyday life, is actually a profound reflection on the meaning of existence. Today, the Tuesday after Labor Day, is the traditional first day of fall, as Labor Day is the traditional last day of summer. It used to be the day before children went back to school, though in today’s accelerated calendar they seem to be going back before Labor Day. From the children’s point of view, this is a shame, though all parents might not agree. In any event, after Labor Day we all know that summer is over.  

By this time, we know for sure that the plum blossoms on trees like Ms. Van Young’s, which seem so pinkly promising in the spring, will never bear tasty fruit. We have a fig tree that’s even more disappointing, since the figs do ripen about one year in five, though the other four years they stay hard and bitter. Disappointment is closely linked to expectation.  

For us older folks, the fall encourages us to take stock of what fruit our efforts have produced. In the words of a poet well-read by my generation of English majors, “Will it have been worth it after all?” Those of us who are lucky enough to have led a variety of lives have more than one tree in our orchard to shake looking for achievements. I’ve been a political activist, a parent, an editor, a campaign manager, a lawyer, an investigative reporter, a high-tech entrepreneur and a grandparent, not necessarily in serial order. Which of these was worth it after all?  

For deep-down satisfaction—and this won’t necessarily please all of my feminist friends—I’d have to say that family has been the most important to me, though I’ve had some success and some fun with other endeavors. A close second would be working on the Planet, trying to bring what goes on in this world out into the sunshine, even though this sometimes requires poking around in dark corners. And sometimes it isn’t much fun. Will it have been worth it after all? 

Another lesson which can be gleaned from Ms. Van Young’s letter: We get by with a little help from our friends (a quote from another favorite poet, of the generation behind mine). She’s lucky to have the aid of the three she names—otherwise she’d be knee-deep in bad plums by now, possibly not even able to get out of her back door.  

In that spirit, we’d like to thank the many old and new friends who have called and written with messages of support for us and our little paper, especially the advertising customers who have told us about the organized pressure they’ve been receiving to cancel their ads. Most advertisers—seemingly almost all of them—are offended by the campaign against the Planet, it turns out, and have no intention of canceling. One even went to the trouble of sending us a copy of the letter he received from someone in the same profession, telling him he had to pull his ad. We’re glad he had the courage to say no. 

We also appreciate the advertiser who thought our editorial decision to publish a controversial letter was dead wrong, but had the courtesy to discuss it with me in a phone call and has followed up with a letter to the editor. His letter will be published a bit later, since we’ve decided we need to have another moratorium on Middle East topics so everyone can cool off. Meanwhile, we’re still waiting to hear from the leaders and the politicians who signed complaining letters. Our offer to meet with them is still open.