“What Do You Want to Be?” column for Sept. 27, 2016

On the first day of fall, I sat by a window in Redding, Calif., looking out on a pond that mirrored a blue sky, watching squirrels and geese and clouds and trees do what they do best.

I wish you could’ve seen them.

I believe all God’s creations are put on Earth for a purpose. If their purpose that day was simply to delight me, they knocked it out of the park.

Have you ever noticed how most things in Nature seem to know why they are here? Humans are the exception. As soon as we can talk, someone will ask us, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

When I was 6, I wanted to be a forest ranger in a lookout tower. Somedays, I still do.

Animal babies are never asked what they will be. Birds grow up to be birds. Dogs grow up to be dogs. Jack rabbits grow up to eat everything in my yard. Humans grow up to be human. Most of us. But some of us spend our lives trying to figure out why we are here.

My reason for being in Redding was pretty clear. In three days, I spoke at three events, two of which were fundraisers for the Women’s Fund of Shasta Regional Community Foundation.

Those talks were easy. I talked about some of the kindnesses I have known: As a child whose family fell on hard times; as a teenager hoping to go to college; as a wife and mother whose husband was dying with cancer. I’ve had vast experience on the receiving side of kindness. I can talk about it until the cows come home. And so I did.

Kindness, I said, is love in action: The love of God. The love of family and friends. Even the love of strangers. It comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. A canned ham when you’re hungry. A college scholarship when you need it. The prayers of someone’s children for your children. And in countless other strange and wondrous ways.

Sometimes, I said, it’s an organization like the Women’s Fund, that makes hard times a little easier for women, like my mother, and families like mine, who never want a “handout,” but need a helping hand.

There are many organizations like the Women’s Fund, neighbors helping neighbors all around the country. Or there should be. If there’s not one in your town, maybe you can start one with your friends?

At the third event, I met with some journalism students from local colleges. I told them my story of how I became a reporter (through the grace of God and the back door of a newsroom) and a few things I’ve learned in my 25 years as a columnist. Like all good journalists, they asked excellent questions. I wish you could’ve heard them. There are days when I worry about the future of journalism. Something about the light in their eyes made me worry a little less.

For three days in Redding, I shook hands, hugged necks and met hundreds of “friends” I’d not met before and may never see again this side of heaven.

I got to know the gorgeous land they call home, the birds and trees, the mountains and the river and especially the people. They made me feel like it was my home, too.

I listened to them talk about the things they love, the hopes and fears and dreams they share for themselves, their children and their community.

For a while, I got to be one of them. What a gift. Best of all, I heard them say that my stories are their stories, too. We are all more alike than we are different.

What is your purpose, your reason for being here? After all these years, I’m still not sure of mine. But I do know what I want to be when I grow up:

I want to be kind. A truly kind wife, mama, nana, sister, auntie, cousin, neighbor, friend, writer, speaker and forest ranger in a lookout tower.

If you hear of any openings, let me know.


  1. If you haven’t figured it out yet, Sharon, you have already found the job and filled the position. Oh…you may not be watching the world go from the view of a lookout tower, but, as the old saying goes, you can’t have everything!

    Who needs the tower though, when you have everything else?

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Pam Upshaw says

    Each column is like talking to a good friend,the one you can laugh and cry with. The one that loves you even when you might be a bit less than lovable; they will help you to regain yourself by gently reminding you that God loves you and they love you enough to tell you what needs to be said. This is the best work that anyone can do for you and it is stated in the line, “…I want to be the best daughter, wife, nana, gramma…..I can be. Sorry, if I misquoted, I didn’t reread before I typed this, my hands have gone numb and I am in a hurry to try to make a reasonable? comment. I read and re-read your columns every time I see them on Facebook, or in my newspaper. Thank you for putting your heart out to your friends you haven’t met, we need you.

  3. So special . I am speechless !! This column made me think again my purpose of life. Thank you !I am late to read but I read it today. Loved each line. Love you.

  4. Nancy Salzman says

    My sister and I were blest to be among the ladies and gentlemen who attended the Redding dinner with you last week. After reading your column for so long, we were so excited when we heard you were coming to our town, and we were not disappointed. You are one of the loveliest and kindest ladies we have ever met. Thank you so much for being so warm and friendly; and, if we don’t get a chance to meet you again this side of heaven, you can be sure we will see you there!

    Two sisters who wish you the best always

  5. Awe- so beautifully stated! I have been the recipient of kindness the past 8 years as our son has been recovering from a bad auto accident and sustained a TBI. I have been surrounded by the kindness and Love you spoke of. I too Love people and find we have much more in common than not. Thank you for being able to express yourself in written words- a true gift!
    Hugs from the Peninsula- yes Monterey!

  6. Marcia Tolbert says

    Like Nancy Graham said, “We would love to hear you.” We’re in Salisbury, NC & you got places to stay with your friends! You should see us! Anywhere in the South and we’ll come to you!!

  7. Nancy Graham says

    Yes, we would all love to hear you!

    • Nancy, as I mentioned in my comment, you can catch an interview on YouTube with Sharon if you search Sharon Randall Voices in Mystery. I thoroughly enjoyed it. We are blessed to have her column return to our newspaper.

  8. Are you on TED? Or YouTube. I always watch Jeannie Robertson, who makes me laugh with her wry observations. I KNOW you would be great and so enjoyable, even if you just read some of your columns. I have a friend who got tickets when you came to Winston-Salem, and I am still mad at her for not letting me know they were available.

  9. After reading this column, I wished your public speaking engagements were recorded for all of us to hear. I especially would love to know your answers to the journalism students’ questions. After doing a quick search, I found an older interview you did for Voices in Mystery. In fact, you actually addressed your start in journalism during this interview. After years of sharing some of your happiest, saddest, funniest, and most frustrating moments with us, it was so nice to finally hear your lovely voice.

Speak Your Mind