Why is this so great? Before we get to that, let me say I wish I had not had reason to stumble across it. The author of that intriguing sentence was one of the five fatal victims of the assault on the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis. As details of the shooting, the gunman and the victims spool out, Hiassen was remembered in several news obits, none that could have captured an enchanting character more than the one by Jean Marbella of the Gazette’s sister publication, the Baltimore Sun. Marbella ended her obituary with that line, written by Hiassen himself as part of a piece he did for The Sun about being the brother of someone famous — in this case, the unabashed novelist and columnist Carl Hiassen of the Miami Herald. (The reference to hitting is a nod to Billy Ripken, brother of Baltimore Oriole great Cal Ripken.) As Hiassen’s former Sun colleague Susan Reimer said for his obituary: “He was both a tender-hearted features writer and a jaded journalist. He absolutely saw it all, and with a very clear eye.”
I can think of no higher praise for one who stood with his boots planted in the muck of news yet dared to the aspirations of literary grace. It’s a gift to be able to share his lovely sentence here as I – we – struggle to make sense of one more senseless act, this one not just an assault on individuals but on a room devoted to truth-telling.
But beyond that, the sentence stands on its own even to those who have no clue to its origins. He wrote about one thing that was really about a lot more. We’ve all felt trapped beneath the cold shadow of something: a more successful sibling or colleague or friend; a boss or law that held us back; a gap in income or opportunity. But I read Hiassen’s line to say, quite simply, that it’s a waste of time to compete on someone else’s terms. Better to work to be your best self, because that’s all you have. It sounds like Rob Hiassen did just that. It also sounds like he didn’t let himself get trapped beneath one approach to journalism, but let himself be both jaded and tender-hearted. We need more of his kind.