By Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter, and in edited form for the Boston City Paper, July 2019
“The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life? That you are here—that life exists and identity, That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” — Walt Whitman
After 23 years, I have certainly contributed a verse. Quite a few actually. And I feel at this point, it’s time to pass the torch. After a great deal of thought these past six months, I have decided to wrap up writing op-ed’s for the paper. No one asked, it’s my decision, but I think it’s time. As much as I loathe change, I think on a personal growth level it’s time for different challenges.
Writing has been a passion since I was a young man, starting with my own short stories and then writing far longer stories with my friends that took us on science-fiction adventures to the far corners of the universe. I also found in high school and college that I enjoyed writing very much, especially when I could let my imagination take control, or really speak my mind.
So back in 1996, I approached then editor Jeff Peterson with a proposition. I had written a lot of letters to the editor, and would love to do a biweekly column in the reporter. Jeff suggested I start with three such columns. A month later he said to keep going.
For the next nine years or so, I wrote one column every two weeks. Looking back at them, I think that many of them were very good, some were absolutely excellent, and unfortunately, far too many were filler – that is, I had to get something into the paper and often the result was a boring piece about conserving water in summer being a good thing, or the novelty of the new trash sticker program. Not exactly Pulitzer Prize winning stuff.
But many made me very proud, then and now. 12 days after the September 11 attacks, Susan and I visited Ground Zero and I started that column on scraps of hotel stationary in New Jersey to get every word and impression out of my head and onto paper. When I got home to Foxboro I stayed up all night typing it, and emailed it and faxed it and delivered it by hand. Jeff told me it was the best thing I’ve ever written and it was going on the front page. I’m very proud of that piece. It may well be the best thing I have ever written, due to its sheer emotion and first-person account of the unimaginable.
I also wrote other columns that I am equally proud of, stories of Susan reconnecting with her mother after 20 years, my own observations after the marathon bombings, the sheer joy of being part of the Foxboro Jaycees and trying to convey to the public what an awesome organization they are, and the sheer joy in being part of ANY community organization where you volunteer your time to make the community better.
I wrote about family and friends and shared many of my own stories – the personal ones were the most meaningful for me; I wrote my joy in the birth of my nephew Colin, now 22 years old and still the son I never had. I wrote of the happiness at family gatherings and many “Erma Bombeck-style” recounting of vacation misadventures and my own humorous interpretations of the absurdity of life. My favorites were the human-interest stories, when I connected with a stranger, or really felt the presence of God in my life and the need to share that feeling and power with you.
I wrote a lot. I’m glad I did. I HAD to write it. It was burning inside of me and HAD to be written and shared.
Then it started to drift off a bit. I was working on my Nana book, I was working on my photography and learning how to be a better photographer (it’s as difficult as writing but more so!), all the while holding down my full-time job as a computer guy at various high-tech companies, not to mention just living my life.
While no one is asked me to leave the stage, I produce maybe six columns a year these days. And to be honest, sometimes coming up with even six new ideas is hard – I haven’t lost my muse, but this guy who never shuts up just feels like he’s told you all his stories and how he feels about different subjects.
By my count, I have submitted roughly 200 columns since 1996, give or take. Some have made me very proud, some elicited responses from the community which was always good because feedback is important. And there are some pieces I wish I could go back in time and say, don’t write that!
ALL of it was a learning, a life experience, it was ALL good. Sometimes great.
Younger readers won’t remember this, but when the legendary Carol Burnett ended her hugely successful TV show after 11 years on her own terms, she noted that ratings had been lower and higher, but she felt it was classier to leave the stage before being asked to leave, and that it was time for new things – change means growth.
Anyone who knows me knows I don’t like change – which is one of the reasons why I made this decision.
Last January, after 12 years at the same high-tech company, working for the BEST manager and mentor I’ve ever had (Hi Estelle!), and MUCH soul searching, I made the very hard decision to leave for a better opportunity at another high-tech company. The change was exactly what I needed. While I miss the people at the old company, the new job offers unprecedented learning and growth and challenge for me, the chance to “play” with the latest cool technology (geek stuff, I love it) and is mixed with a healthy dose of great people, humor, and happiness. I love it.
It was an overdue change and a good one for me.
Change, as much as I dislike it, is part of life and sometimes it is yourself that recognizes complacency and “this is good enough” and says, “I need something new, something different, or I won’t grow.”
And truthfully, always writing has a downside — I have found that I have programmed myself to be TOO observational, too much of the “record every detail to report back later” guy, rather than just LIVING in life’s precious moments. I’ve done that at concerts, fireworks display, walking on the beach. Times when I should be just LIVING in that moment, I am recording, analyzing, and that’s not a good balance given all the information that floods my brain all day every day.
I want to change that. I’m trying to LIVE and EXPERIENCE and be PRESENT rather than feel like I am a reporter covering the story.
Before I say farewell, I want to say thank you again to all editors of this great newspaper (especially Jeff Peterson and Bill Stedman) and to all the friends I met along the way who allowed me to publish my words in this paper. I also want to send a very heartfelt thanks to the legendary Jack Authelet, our town historian, my friend, who is the definition of not only community and generosity, and whose writing style always inspired me to write better. Want to be a great writer? Read everything Jack has written and try to be half that good.
Someone asked me recently what’s the secret to writing. I replied, “Read as much as you can on every subject, and write as much as you can, starting with what matters to you.” That is what I have tried to do here as I contribute my verse.
So, with all that said, and in the spirit of brevity… (This is where my sister Theresa says, “Yeah, that ship has sailed, Bobby.”) … I’d like to wrap up.
I love this town of Foxboro and its people, organizations and spirit of friendship and community. I am so profoundly grateful to live here and be part of such a generous and giving community. I hope to continue to contribute and make a difference even in small ways for the rest of my life here. (I’m a life member of the Foxboro Jaycees, so that goal is pretty much assured, it’s not they will EVER let me retire! And I wouldn’t have it any other way).
And maybe I’ll cross a few other items off the bucket list along the way.
You’ll still see me all around town, doing my thing, but not here on this page anymore. It’s time for me to do some different things.
So, I wish everyone health, happiness and love, and will end with one of my very favorite quotes:
“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” — Meister Eckhart
From me, to all of you, THANK YOU.
And God bless you all!