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Reality as not seen on TV

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By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

I am seriously behind schedule on a slow journey home to Florida. My goal was to be well into the Intracoastal Waterway in a southern state by my birthday, which was last Monday.  Instead, thanks largely to weather and mechanical delays, I crossed the Chesapeake on the date of my birth. I am a very long way from home and my stress level is extraordinarily high. Just as my stress-level went into the stratosphere, I received an email from my boss. It started out with the words to the Happy Birthday song and it concluded by saying that I need to go easy on myself, and that I should make it a short day to relax. What boss does that sort of thing? A great boss – and a great friend.

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Sailing down the country at six miles-per-hour has given me a unique perspective on life. It has also introduced me to the beauty of this nation.
MITCH TRAPHAGEN photo
Brenda Knowles is the editor and publisher of The Observer News. She runs this newspaper with the same heart and passion as she revealed to me in that email.  She truly cares about the community and she always wants to do the right thing.  Sometimes doing the right thing costs her, but she is OK with that because her soul and her heart remain intact.

The Observer has won literally hundreds of awards since I joined the paper in 2001.  Everyone working here has been recognized for excellence.  Penny Fletcher, Melody Jameson and I have all won awards for editorial work.  The phenomenal graphics artist Chere Simmons has won dozens of awards, as have others.  That recognition by our peers, from an association of newspapers representing six million readers, would not have happened without Brenda.  She not only inspires excellence, she paves the way for it.

A sailboat means more to me than just a hobby or a pastime. My wife and I lived aboard for eight years and bringing Shadow Marie home to Florida will mean that someday we can resume the lifestyle we loved so much. Brenda sees value that extends well beyond simply sailing a boat home to Florida. She is allowing this to happen because she wants a better writer on her staff. She wants and deserves more awards for excellence.  But she is also doing it because she has a good heart and she knows that this is important to me.  She cares about me and about everyone who works for her and she cares about you and this community.  She has already made one of my dreams come true in giving me this job.  

The basic premise of reality TV shows is that one person comes out on top. Everyone else will lose. Despite the fact that teams are created, winning means stabbing everyone else in the back.  That is reality TV. But it is not reality. People like Brenda and Captain David Briggs (the man I wrote about in this week’s installment on the trip) are real.

Moving down the length of the country at six miles-per-hour changed my perspective on so many things. I am going slow enough to appreciate the incredible beauty that exists everywhere in this very blessed nation.  I have met countless people who would give the shirt off their backs if you needed it.  As a journalist, there are benefits in this that are invaluable. Not only does such a journey open my eyes to the beauty of this nation, it also allows me to give a voice to the good and decent people in this world.  

On a personal level, this is giving me the opportunity to see if I can still pull something like this off. I entered my 48th year last week and I don’t care what the conventional wisdom says, that is well past middle age.  More often than not, I’m tired, cold, bloodied and lonely. But I’m also having a blast.  It may all end tomorrow due to many different circumstances but for today, I’ve reached my goals.  I am going to be a better person and hopefully a better writer because of this.

The true reality series of life does not involve people plopped onto an island somewhere scheming and plotting against each other.  Reality is people like Brenda, who work behind the scenes to make things better for everyone.  While to me she is unique in her gifts, I know full well there are people like her all around us.  They may not always make the headlines, in fact they may avoid the headlines, but they are reality, as it is not seen on TV.
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