Life is Voluntary: More Than I Deserve

By Henry Piarrot

I have been writing a column for some publication nearly every week for almost fifteen years. The modest amount of money I have earned as a writer during this time has often inspired family and friends to ask me why doing this is so important to me. The two hour interviews, long nights of homework and of course, the actual creating of the story provides a weekly challenge that my very patient wife and children have all learned to live with.

I have always believed being a writer is a gift and not applying the ability to a positive application would be turning my back on my Creator’s expectation. So, just because I may have been born to be a writer does not necessarily mean I will ever make a living doing so. However, I feel I have made a life I can be proud for my children to remember.

Life is naturally hard and sometimes it is even harder. Fortunately, at a young age, a special mentor explained to me during a bad day over coffee, “Once you become cynical you will lose your youth. But, if you can find the good in people and not be defined by the days that do not go your way, you will become a useful light to those who only see darkness.” Now, he was not explaining how to be a great writer, just a good hotel manager.

When I began writing in Nashville, the “serious” reporters all thought that my “good news” stories were cute, but believed they were of little value because I only wrote about people that were actually contributing to society. But as the columns grew in popularity, they were no longer a novelty, they became competition.

Many times the people I write about have never been publically recognized or have ever found their name in a newspaper.

Nevertheless, they have all lived, or done something excellently and just because they have not robbed, cheated or killed someone does not mean their existences or efforts are not newsworthy. Actually, I will forever argue they are more worthy.

As I have explained before, I am not a reporter. The reporter arrive almost as soon as you fall down and always brings a camera. Because we all fall down from time to time in our own ways, I will argue that falling down is not particularly newsworthy. I show up when you get up, because the news the rest of us can use is your example of perseverance.

During 2008, I received a letter from an anonymous reader responding to a column I had written called “Dancing With The Devil.” It was a story about spousal abuse and how our United Way of Sevier County helps abused women through our local SafeSpace program. Although I wrote the column almost two years before I received her letter, she still took the time to let me know that she cut the article out of the newspaper and reread it often as she gained the strength to finally take her life back. I shed more than one tear as she made sure I knew that my words made her realize she was not alone.

To this day, I still do not know the identity of the grateful woman who thanked me for inspiring her. But, I did frame her precious letter and keep it on the wall of my office. Not long ago, a friend who knew that I had been up all night writing that week’s column to make deadline, asked me why I work so hard to do something for which I do not get paid. I directed her to the letter on my wall and explained that I have been paid more than I can spend.

Because so many of our readers are guests to our community, I am always aware that every column I write may be the only story someone who does not live here may read with my name on it. As we all know, second chances to make good first impressions do not exist.

I do not claim to possess the skill of Hemmingway, Twain or even my oldest son Philip. Chances are very good I will not win a Pulitzer Prize for journalism. But every time I present the best of us to the rest of us, I know someone, even if it is only one person, will benefit from the example I have carefully presented.

Consequently, when I find someone has found solace, inspiration or simple comfort in the story of one of their neighbors, I am paid more than I deserve.

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” – Robert Frost

Henry Piarrot is a Sevier County resident on assignment in Hattiesburg, MS. Please send all story recommendations to