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OPINION | MASTERSON ONLINE: What awaits us?

by Mike Masterson | January 2, 2022 at 1:42 a.m.


So another new year begins as here we wait holding our collective breath in justifiable trepidation over the unknown during the next 12 months.

We can only hope it will be a far more rewarding and fulfilling year than the horrors we've experienced together over the previous two, many of which continue.

A Facebook post the other day seemed to say it all: "I'm ready to say goodbye to all the pain and drama of 2021 and hello to the peace, joy and miracles of 2022."

Sure sounds pleasant enough to me. And I'm sure it's what each of us hopes for. You know, more like a lasting return to what life was like for many of us before 2020.

There's no doubt that whatever awaits will come and go faster than we imagine.

The previous 75 years of my life certainly have flown with each passing January to form a seamless tapestry of successes, failures, friendships, family gatherings, joy, sorrow, work demands, relationships and challenges.

Perhaps Einstein was right when he said time is an illusion.

Probably like your sense of the passing weeks, months and years, it's become difficult, if not impossible, for me to separate holidays, birthdays, life events and adventures by year.

I know these things occurred because I can recall them, or parts of them, anyway. But there have been too many happenings over decades to remember many details, only that they apparently happened at some point. Or, wait, was all that but an illusion as well?

Last January, I was with everyone else in wondering what effect the covid pandemic would have on myself, those I love and my friends. Today, I lament the loss of close friends who have succumbed to the virus since then.

Before 2021 mercifully ended, I was watching along with you as Americans continued to divide themselves by rigid political beliefs, inflation soared to levels unseen in decades, the never-ending virus continued mutating and claiming many thousands of lives, our Southern border became virtually nonexistent, the nation's supply chain fell apart, we conducted a terribly botched exit from Afghanistan, and crimes in major cities exploded as radicalized prosecutors failed to perform their duty to society. There was more.

It was the most disastrous and painful year for citizens of our United States in many decades. I suppose things could have been worse, though I can't imagine how. A massive asteroid slamming into the planet?

Now we begin anew, putting one day after another until this time next year. There's no question some reading today will no longer be with us. There's no question some will be in new jobs or relationships. It's a certainty others will be living in new environments. And there's no doubt many will be battling challenges that don't exist today.

And through it all, I'm hoping to transform my views of all we have lost to what hopefully lies ahead for each of us. They say satisfaction with life is a matter of attitude, and I'm making a resolution to enlighten mine after what we've been through.

Although I must say, valued readers, it wasn't helpful to realize the other day that we've officially embarked upon "2020 too."

Mysterious bullet hole

It was among the most startling moments in my early career some 43 years ago.

Visible behind a glass partition, both medical examiners at the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory scurried around the decomposed body of a 30-year-old woman named Millicent Lynn.

They had rolled the remains into the autopsy room after an exhumation requested by Millicent's parents following a series of investigative news stories in what was then the Arkansas Democrat into questions about the competency of the former chief medical examiner.

His official ruling was that her death was caused by drowning. Her remains had been found floating a year earlier in Lake Ouachita after she'd suddenly vanished from her Beebe home. An obvious gash atop her skull had been attributed by that previous medical examiner to a boat propeller striking her skull.

Thirty minutes passed as the pathologists pored over her body. They opened her mouth and it became clear from their body language they were startled.

But because former Democrat reporter Clay Bailey and I (then executive editor of the Hot Springs Sentinel-Record) were restricted to the hallway outside the room, we had no idea what surprised them.

Several minutes later, one pathologist emerged and looked at us with wide eyes. In a forceful whisper he said, "Big news, boys! We found a bullet hole in the roof of her mouth. The exit wound was that hole in her skull."

The news story about their finding was shouted in a banner headline atop the next day's paper.

Divers immediately went to Lake Ouachita to search for the gun in the waters around where Millicent's body had been discovered, but found nothing.

Then in my late 20s, the case taught me early on that just because powers-that-be offer an official version of events (including a discredited chief medical examiner), it doesn't mean it's true.

Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.


Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.


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