Rites of Renewal

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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