When I began considering applying to graduate school, my mother told me I should read The New York Times to help build my vocabulary. So while studying for the graduate entrance exams, I started picking up the Sunday Times from a newsstand next to the burger joint I waitressed at. This quickly became a favorite weekly ritual, I truly loved taking my time to read through the massive paper –especially the travel section.
The newsstand owner found my loyal reading of the dated print version amusing; he said I was the only person under the age of 75 who showed up every week, without fail, to grab it. If I missed a week, he would bring the paper to the burger joint, insisting on leaving it as a tip (a very nice gesture for a broke college student—those aren’t cheap).
I don’t remember exactly when I stopped reading the printed Sunday Times religiously. Maybe I became distracted managing injuries resulting from a car accident that almost took my life, maybe my grad school workload got in the way, or maybe the move a thousand miles away from that little newsstand (which has since been converted to a taco shop) allowed the memory of the habit to fade. While I maintained an online subscription, it felt very different from the feel of that big paper in my hands.
Although I no longer read the printed Times, it continued to shape my experience. A few years into grad school, I stood on a ledge overlooking Machu Picchu, feeling as though I had achieved a lifelong travel goal—one that had been solidified by a Times article. As an undergraduate, I had cut out a picture of the ancient ruins from the paper, pinning it to the bulletin board above my desk to serve as a constant reminder during my final semesters of the places I could go with a college degree.
This weekend, over five years after I fell in love with the Sunday Times, I will go to a small newsstand to pick up an issue for the first time in years. This particular issue is special to me. Within the depths of the paper I used to so enjoy tearing apart—amongst all the vocab words, sandwiched between the travel and style sections—is an article that quotes me and discusses my research. The piece, beautifully written by Jon Mooallem of The New York Times Magazine, argues that Neanderthals were people too and examines the ways we have thought about these extinct creatures.
It’s a small quote, and it’s a small thing, but it means a lot to me to be mentioned in a paper that has taught me so much. Plus, it’s fun to celebrate these tiny wins–especially when grad school can get discouraging. The precise moment, too, is significant—a time when scholarly research and journalism are both being challenged and devalued. Mooallem did a wonderful job of incorporating the challenges we face today in his story, using Neanderthals as a way to ask questions about how we treat other people.
So thank you Jon, the newsstand guy, and of course Mom. For the opportunity to look back on and build upon my Times memories, I am very grateful. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the feel of that heavy paper in my hands renews my old favorite Sunday ritual.