Did I ever tell you the true story of the blank newspaper columns? No?
Well, I heard this story years ago. It really happened in a small midwestern town. Tex Wilson had worked on newspapers back east for 40 years and, nearing retirement, he scraped together the money needed to buy a little weekly newspaper out in the Midwest. An old crony, Walt Knesal, came to join him in setting type and running the press. Tex rounded up the news and got the needed advertising.
During the second year of Tex’s ownership of the paper, there appeared a blank column on the front page of the paper. After that, perhaps twice a year there would be a blank column, sometimes inside and sometimes on the front page. People were puzzled, but whenever he was asked about it, Tex would just say, “There’s no law says every column has to be filled.”
The day after the fifth blank column appeared, Walt Knesal got the first proof that there was something behind the columns. He and Tex were alone in the office when a young man named Gonzales came in. He was angry and clearly had been in a fight. “It ain’t fair, them calling you crazy! I’m going to tell what those columns are all about!”
He had been in a beer joint and heard folks laughing at Tex. “No, only you and I and a few others know the reasons for the blank columns,” said Tex. “You keep quiet!”
But a few months later, young Doctor Marsh had a patient who, thinking he was dying, told the doctor the truth behind the blank columns. From then on, whenever the doctor heard Tex being criticized, he would simply say, “Well, if he’s crazy for running those blank columns, I wish we were all crazy!”
Then the rumors started flying around that Tex was being paid to keep stories that would reflect badly on people out of the paper. That hurt Tex, and he began to stay to himself. But then Pete Moody, whose wife, Molly, had been ill and had just died, heard the vicious rumors. He was in the local grocery when he heard it, and he told the whole crowd the story. “Tex never took money to keep stories out of his paper! I know – because I was one of those columns!”
And this is what Pete told them. He was nearing retirement, and didn’t know how he and Molly would make ends meet. So Pete had done something totally foreign to his whole character – he quietly took a tool from the supply house where he worked and sold it in a nearby town. He had been selling tools for several weeks when his employer set a trap for the unknown thief and caught Pete.
Tex happened to be in the sheriff’s office that day when the employer called, and so Tex went with the sheriff to the supply company and sat quietly in the background during the confession. Finally, Tex put his notebook away and asked the sheriff and the owner to go aside with him.
“Pete has been a decent man until this happened. Molly is a fine woman; she is known for her church work and community service. She doesn’t deserve to be disgraced,” said Tex.
Twenty minutes later, Tex came out alone to talk with Pete. “Normally, I’d run the story of what you’ve done, and it would be front page news, Pete,” said Tex. “I’m going to run the column anyway, but it will be blank – as a warning to you that if you ever do anything like this again; if you ever let Molly down, I’ll publish the story.”
There was proud admiration of Tex when the true story of the blank columns got out. Of course, there was a lot of speculation about the other blank columns. But when Tex died, eight of the 11 blank columns were still unsolved.
File this story under gratitude for the second chances all of us have received; second chances from those who love us, those who trust us ... and especially gratitude for the second chance that God gives us through the death and resurrection of Jesus.