Dispatch from the Hill: Serendipitous snapshot

    Edwin Rios is spending the winter wallowing through the nooks and crannies of Capitol Hill as a mobile journalist as part of the Medill on the Hill program, a 10-week political reporting program out of the Medill News Service in Washington D.C. He will report on affairs in National Security. This is his Dispatch. 

    I leaned over my computer and pleaded for its compliance. 

    “Hurry up, dammit,” I said under my breath. 

    The deadline loomed over my head. More than 300 photos I shot earlier Wednesday afternoon slowly uploaded onto the bureau’s Flickr account. The clock ticked and ticked. All I needed to do was send her the link and my night would be over. 

    The countdown began. I was on another editor’s deadline. 

    Fortune often greets you when you least expect it. It lurks behind a corner, waiting for you to let your guard down so it can make its move. I wonder whether it is truly present during dire circumstances. Doubt pushes fortune aside sometimes, and everything feels lost and desperate. Never-ending questions deluge one’s mind like a looming torrent — the thought unceasing, the feeling overwhelming. 

    Over the past week, I felt like fortune and misfortune followed me everywhere I walked. My phone’s battery died Monday night, so I rushed to the Verizon store the next morning to find a replacement. I arrived shortly before the store opened in a rush to meet my fellow reporter for the committee hearing we would cover. The customer service representative slid the glass door open a crack.

    “What do you need?” he asked. He slid the doors open, 15 minutes before he was supposed to. I quickly purchased the battery and met with my partner to walk to the hearing. 

    But as I waited over my computer late Wednesday night, I felt a fortunate reality settle in.

    Photo by author / North by Northwestern

    Earlier, when my partner and I covered an event on Title IX and its effect on high school athletes, a press secretary for the Women’s Sports Foundation, who hosted the event, approached me. My partner and I switched roles that day, so I played the photographer. She whispered in my ear that the Washington Post needed a photo of Cornell McClellan, the First Family’s fitness guru, and hoped I could send her my photos for the Post to use. 

    "Are you kidding me?" I thought. 

    The Post didn’t have a photographer present, and they needed a photo of McClellan for a story they were doing about his talk on fitness. Humbled and slightly baffled, I said yes. How could you turn down an opportunity of having a photo published in the Washington Post? I placed my zoom lens on my Nikon and continued shooting. 

    After all, I had an assignment to finish. 

    I received an email early the next morning from the press secretary. She gave me confirmation to express utter joy. For a solitary moment, time ceased to matter. All that mattered was finding that morning’s Post and buying as many copies as possible. As I walked with my housemates into the newsroom, I said the only words I felt confident enough to say about the whole situation, the pride resonating in my voice. 

    “I made it, fellas.”

    The guys announced it to the rest of the newsroom. The whole idea of “LOOK AT WHAT MY FRIEND DID” turned into proud statuses and tweets and reflected a much deeper sense of accomplishment. Congratulations and kudos came from every direction, but boasting never once crossed my mind. The published piece meant more than just the satisfaction from being printed in one of the nation’s premier newspapers. Rather, it was an ode to the many lessons my mother has taught me about hard work and persistence. My mother always taught me to do what you love, and eventually everything will fall into place. This time, luck just so happened to settle behind the shadow of a press secretary who needed some help. 

    So I walked to my desk, turned on my computer and went on Facebook, just as I had for the past few days. But buried deep in the Lifestyle section, a photo I took of McClellan graced prominently at the top of a page. After the page was passed around the newsroom, I took it, folded it in half and placed it on my desk next to a prayer card and a stuffed snowman. 

    On the outside, I smiled and dropped my head, abashed. On the inside, I wanted to bounce off the walls, for I had experienced one of the few journalism highs of my young career overnight. 

    It has been only a month and rewards continue to stumble my way. I may have missed out on an opportunity to be inside the chamber for the State of the Union or see the president in the flesh, but fortune eventually found its way into my life in the form of a printed photograph. I’d call it a strike of luck manifested out of sheer necessity to document moments of serendipity, with notepad and camera in hand. 

    After all, that’s my job, right? 


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