To those who came before

the brick in question Ethan Butterfield

A thank-you note to the Carillon, past and present

Before this second wave of COVID came crashing down, I’d been taking advantage of the Carillon’s office space on campus. It’s a smaller room on the second floor of the Riddell building, and has a key-coded door so only other employees can get in. I needed somewhere to go with actual peace and quiet for school and work (since my home rarely provides either), so it was perfect.

There’s around half a dozen functioning desktop computers in the office, a couple couches, our collection of prior Carillon volumes, plenty of books on editing, and trinkets that have been left by the dozens of Carillon employees who’ve wanted to leave their mark. Roughly a month ago I really took the time to explore, and found everything from a flask (empty), to hidden pictures of Danny DeVito (yes, several), to a haunted doll (allegedly), and an inconspicuous cinder block.

That cinder block has immense sentimental value for some of us Carillon employees. There’s a note tied to the block that reads: “This brick has been handed down from the now-demolished old Carillon office which used to be located between Campion and the PAC. It has witnessed every CHIT and layout night we’ve had since 1962. It reminds of who we are and of our collective roots. Please don’t laugh.”

I had to just sit and soak in those words after reading them for the first time. That simple cinder block has watched over nearly half a century of writers and editors of our paper, it has had a front row seat to ground-breaking and heart-wrenching stories alike. It reminds us of our collective roots because it’s a reminder of the Carillon‘s journey to where we are today. That journey has not gone smoothly at all of its points, but that’s a story for another op-ed.

As you can see from the cover image of this article, the note with that quote is tied to cover the higher hole of the cinder block. Since I was in a digging mood, I realized that I had never moved that note to check the empty space behind it – It just never occurred to me to try before because I hadn’t taken the time to be mindful of my surroundings. Now that I was doing that, curiosity got the best of me, so I looked. Then I laughed, then I stopped to reflect, and finally I sobbed with gratitude.

I laughed because behind that note was hidden not one, but two nearly-empty packs of cigarettes. One was an old Marlboro pack with a single, slightly-bent cigarette left, and the other was a pack of Next with four cigarettes left in perfect condition. I could tell they were older packs because they didn’t have the required images and package layout that’s the current norm. Beyond that, though, I have no clue who hid the packs, how long ago it happened, or if they even remember having hidden them there in the first place.

I reflected after laughing because I had an instinctive emotional reaction to seeing those packs of cigarettes, which didn’t instinctively make sense to me. I mean, they’re just a few smokes that a couple people forgot about, so it didn’t make sense to start tearing up over – yet there I was.

My best guess is that I started tearing up because I can relate to whoever left those smokes there. As someone who’s been quitting cigarettes for the last year and a half, I can relate to keeping a few on hand for the really rough days where the craving feels more like a need than a want. I can relate to writing an article and needing to stop part-way through to step away for a smoke break because what I’m writing about is breaking my heart and I need to stop and just breathe.

This isn’t an easy year to write for a paper. On one hand there’s always news, which you’d think would make the job easier. On the other hand, that news is about a global pandemic, the resurgence of fascists and neo-Nazis, and law enforcement services committing racist violence with impunity. On one hand there’s always news, but on the other hand it is not easy to be saddled with the responsibility of putting words to emotions while still processing the reality of an event. On one hand there’s always news, but on the other hand you have to dig deep to find the stories that will remind people there is still some good.

I sobbed with gratitude when I found those cigarette packs because it reminded me that I’m not alone in what I’m feeling. When I feel like nothing more than an overwhelmed mess of emotions, I know that others have felt that too – others who were exactly in my shoes. Others who worked through those complicated, uncomfortable emotions to get the stories out. Others who struggled through their bouts with imposter syndrome to lay the foundation for my current opportunities. Others who sometimes really just needed a damned cigarette. It’s thanks to them – the hundreds of writers and editors who have been in the presence of that cinder block – that I am where I am. That I can, as a young woman, write for a newspaper and have my words actually mean something. That is not an opportunity I take lightly.

Writing for a paper that gives me the freedom to write about what I’m passionate about is a privilege. Having editors that genuinely care about their writers and want to see us do well is a privilege. Having an editor-in-chief who extends empathy to her employees and treats us like human beings is a privilege. So I’d like to say that I’m grateful for all the current and past Carillon employees who’ve put in that time to work through their emotions to get their articles out – your voices are music to my ears.

P.S. To whichever Carillon employees left those cigarettes in the cinder block? Thanks for unintentionally doing me a solid. They really hit the spot.

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