An unknown caller from San Anselmo, Calif., rang the other day. I'm not sure what prompted me, but I picked up.
Joan Wienheimer was on the other end. She had heard EHN reporter Kristina Marusic on NPR talking about pollution and mental health. How, she asked, could she get a copy of our investigation on the topic, Pollution's Mental Toll?
I started to rattle off our website, but Joan interrupted: She didn't have a computer. Or an Internet connection. Could she get a paper copy? Or a cassette recording?
At that point Joan had my full attention. Nobody, in my 12 years as an online journalist, has ever asked me to mail a printout of one of our stories.
Joan told me she's 77 years young. Grew up in Pittsburgh, next to a steel mill. Her entire neighborhood used coal for heating. She's had a lifetime of ailments.
Answer to nagging questions
Joan, in our conversation, emphasized over and over how much the reporting meant to her: An answer to so many questions nagging her for years.
Some unseen force, Joan said, prompted her to turn on the radio just as Kristina's segment started – a sentiment I often hear from my mother when life serendipitously offers a blessing.
A string of kindness
After we chatted for 45 minutes and hung up, I sat thinking about the events that brought Joan to me:
- The librarian in San Anselmo who found my phone number for Joan.
- The Heinz Endowments, which supported the idea of a Pittsburgh-based reporter focused on regional environmental issues with national relevance.
- Kristina Marusic, our prize-winning reporter, who tackles her beat with grace, empathy and a bulldog's tenacity. She co-founded the Pittsburgh Media Partnership, a collaboration of regional media, which led to the recent mental health report.
- The Living on Earth producer who heard our work on local radio and saw a national story.
- And you, our readers, who give us power.
I look back at the thread connecting all these and marvel. Joan (and my mom) would call this fate. I see a long string of kindness.
As snow starts to fall in Bozeman after weeks of unseasonable warmth and brown, I feel an immense sense of gratitude: All these pieces were in place to get Joan information that offered solace and answers.
Now to get these printouts in the mail.
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Stopping to marvel at events that connected one reader to our work – and offered insight about her health and environment