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After 36 years, it’s time to say thanks and farewell to readers

Sandy Banks says farewell to readers

Sandy Banks, second from right, with daughters Danielle, Brittany and Alyssa Robinson and dogs Lola and Rio.

(Thomas Randolph)

This is my final column for the Los Angeles Times. The hardest to write — and to get right.

I’ve spent 36 years at this newspaper, sharing stories and building bonds with readers.

I’ve spent the last few weeks wondering, What do I say about leaving?

This job has been the perfect fit.

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I was the kid who asked too many questions and left no thought unexpressed. I never dreamed I could get paid for doing what came naturally.

Writing a column enlightened me by forcing me to scour the news and examine every personal encounter for some lesson or universal message.

The meaning of life in 900 words twice a week. That became my obsession.

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That meant I was always sniffing the air in search of ideas.

Sometimes, I was still gasping and empty as deadline neared. Other times I felt smothered by options, as thoughts and phrases played on a continuous loop in my head.

In the process, I’ve learned a lot — about myself and my city.

I will savor the experience of living in the moment instead of scrutinizing everything through a single prism: ‘Can I write a column about this?’

I will miss the intensity, the process of discovery. But I will savor the experience of living in the moment instead of scrutinizing everything through a single prism: “Can I write a column about this?”

::

I’m going to miss my tribe — smart, hard-working, passionate journalists who help people make sense of the world.

I’m going to miss my readers.

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You supported, schooled and scolded me, broadening my perspective. You responded to the plight of strangers with candor and compassion. Your generosity, time after time, astounded me.

And I’m grateful to subjects of my columns, who trusted me to tell stories that challenged and captivated readers.

And transformed me.

I learned the power of grace from Ruett and Rhonda Foster, who helped redeem troubled young men by forgiving the gang members who shot and killed their 7-year-old son.

The value of unconditional love from Dayna Bennett, a special-ed teacher who adopted a severely handicapped student whom everyone else had written off.

The importance of family from Jim and Dona Perry, who adopted six abandoned children — after raising three of their own — and helped them all grow into responsible, hard-working, fun-loving adults.

I’ve learned that we are better than our worst mistakes — and stronger than our deepest fears.

That change is inevitable and often painful.

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And that you can’t please everyone.

::

My final day of work last week fell on the anniversary of the day, 23 years ago, that my husband died. Then, as now, I was thrust into a new and uncertain life.

I can still remember how scared I felt, wondering how I’d raise three young daughters on my own.

Those girls are now women, with dreams and lives that are no longer easy for Mom to turn into column fodder.

They grew up in the limelight. My career was their calling card. They will have some adjusting to do as well, as I untether myself from what defined me for so long.

Growing up, they felt like the entire city was watching them.

That could have been a burden. But they took comfort in the notion that countless surrogate parents out there were encouraging their mother and pulling for them.

My oldest, now 30, admitted on Christmas Eve that it will be sad losing that “family” of readers. But my daughters are proud of me for stepping off the treadmill and striking out on my own.

I can’t yet conceive of a life that doesn’t revolve around deadlines.

I’m worried I’ll park myself on the couch with the dogs, and sink into endless hours of “Modern Family” reruns. Or busy myself tearing recipes I’ll never cook from magazines I’ve never bothered to read.

But I am looking forward to the freedom — and to getting to know myself a little better: the private me that doesn’t have to have an opinion on everything.

Leaving the newsroom will give me a chance to step back and figure out how to actually solve some of the problems I’ve been writing about.

I don’t know what comes next.

But I can finally stop eavesdropping on strangers in grocery store lines, or mining family vacations for column gold.

I can stop watching televised school board meetings in my free time. I won’t get worked up when the mayor says something dumb or the police chief won’t take my call. I won’t have to subscribe to three newspapers and read them cover-to-cover.

I can be quiet, just feel and think. A healthy sense of detachment will restore some balance to my life.

I will miss what felt to me for so long like a conversation with a million of my closest friends.

But after 36 years in jobs I loved at the newspaper, it’s time for me to write a new chapter.

Thanks for the memories.

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