Rites of Renewal

The most important moments aren't necessarily the

| July / August 2004

Years ago I had a favorite Saturday morning ritual: breakfast with friends followed by a trip to the public library. There I'd fill my arms with stacks of magazines -- both familiar and unfamiliar -- and spend hours immersed in their pages. I never failed to come across at least one article, photograph, or idea that gave me the same delight I felt as a kid when I opened National Geographic. That magazine -- along with novels, the Olympics, and ABC's Wide World of Sports -- introduced me to lives beyond my own on this beautiful and crazy planet.

So it felt like coming home when nearly five years ago I landed here at Utne, where the magazine library is the center of our work. To put together each issue, we comb through our collection of 1,600 publications. Once every two months we gather around a big table to discuss, debate, and rave about the best articles we've found and then decide which to reprint and which have inspired us to cover a new angle on a story. That all-day idea fest has become an important part of the rhythm in my life, like my morning cup of tea and stopping to notice the light near the end of the day when the world turns golden.

Traditional rites of passage are generally associated with biology -- birth, coming of age, finding a mate, having a child, and death. In today's world we increasingly focus on passages related to school and work -- exams, graduation, first job, promotions, new careers. Taking the time to mark all of these significant events is deeply important. It brings celebration to our lives. But when I try to identify my most important rites of passage, they aren't the traditional ones. Instead I recall moments outside, often in wilderness. Away from my to-do lists, worries and plans, I experience a certain expansive quality of time that allows me to focus on the big picture of my life. Such moments come, I find, when I need a clear picture of who I am -- and the person I am becoming.

As I write these words I am in my Minneapolis office listening to the sound of a didgeridoo wafting up from the alley below. Yesterday someone was playing guitar. How lucky, I think, to spend my time in this place full of creativity and beauty while in other parts of the world people are sitting in their offices and homes with bombs falling around them, with their entire families dying of AIDS, with no means to feed their children. Conflict, suffering, and injustice offer up their own tragic rites of passage, and they change people for life, for generations. It's clear that what the world needs is a stronger discipline of empathy. We need to try to imagine how others experience their lives and who they will become.

In my new role as editor of Utne, I'll be working with my wonderful colleagues to bring you stories that offer insight into how people live, that have not had much mainstream media attention, and that shine light on what's going right in the world in addition to what needs to change. I hope that Utne will become part of the rhythm of your life, and that it will help bring some of the world to you.

P.S. Utne is celebrating its own rite of passage this year. The magazine formerly known as Utne Reader turns 20 years old. Join us in our September/ October issue as we look back on those first 20 years and look forward to the next 20.

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