Ethel Editor Shelley Emling on 'What I Know to Be True'
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There's One Thing This Ethel Editor Knows to Be True

A personal message ... just for you.

Letter addressed "Dear Reader" animating into a winter scene
Ryan Johnson

Just a few days after my 10th birthday, my maternal grandparents were killed in a car crash. They had just been to visit me and my mother in St. Louis and were driving back to their home in Washington, a small town about 50 miles away, when they were struck by a truck. These were the years before wearing a seat belt became a habit (and mandatory).

In an instant, my life and the lives of my family were rocked to the core, sending us on a vastly different trajectory that led us far from the backyard croquet, church dinners and cornerstone of care that had characterized my childhood.

Fast forward about 25 years, and my mother — and best friend — died after a long illness just when we thought she was getting better. This event, too, was intensely devastating, so much so that my emotions still bubble to the surface quite easily. Coming across my mother's handwriting can leave me on the verge of tears. And on occasion, I will reach for the phone to call her, only to suddenly remember she's no longer around to answer. Even now.

I'm not trying to depress anyone. Many people have gone through far worse. And in between these great losses I married a wonderful man, started a family, and wrote my first book. But what I wanted to say during this strange year of 2020, when one crisis has followed another, is that the one thing I know for sure is this: Life can turn on a dime — but in both directions. A week after the death of my mother, when I was so sad I could barely crawl out of bed, I got a call from my boss offering me my dream job: a foreign correspondent covering Latin America. I was going to refuse, but my husband pushed me: "your mother would have never wanted you to turn this down."

Of course, to many, the idea that "life can turn on a dime" is a precautionary phrase — one that's supposed to remind us that a potential tragedy is always just around the corner, ready to strike and send us careening toward despair.

But I look at it a bit differently. Yes, life can rip the rug right out from under us when we least expect it, and the result can be unspeakable sorrow. The term, though, can also be one of hope. Even when you’re at your lowest point, something can abruptly happen that zaps your mood like quicksilver, from desperation to true joy. Horrible moments of injustice can, too, be turning points for real change.

Doesn't every day seem so much more intriguing when you consider that, at any second, your whole world can be altered instantly?

Life is truly precious — and so profoundly fragile. Everyone has to deal with change, and with loss, but how you handle it is entirely up to you. No matter what happened yesterday, today could be the day that something amazing, something surprising, something extraordinary happens, leading to a string of very different tomorrows.

And so what if your life has turned on a dime, in a disastrous direction? What I also know for sure is that strong female friendships can help like almost nothing else can when life throws a curveball. If you're feeling alone, or if you haven't heard from someone in awhile, reach out. Everyone is going through something.

As the editor of The Ethel, I can honestly say that we truly value female friendship and that we promise to show up for you, as often as we can, just as we have since we launched in August 2020. We hear you, we see you, and we value you. Let's hold each other close and wish for all good things in the months ahead.

And remember: anything is possible because, yes, life can turn on a dime.

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