Beliefnet
Chattering Mind

There are moments in marriage you remember, images in a mental frame. Last night, I got to see my tuxedoed husband Mr. Chattering (Steven Waldman) charge up to a podium at Lincoln Center to receive from the American Society of Magazine Editors Beliefnet.com’s award for Website General Excellence. We won in that category over ESPN.com, BusinessWeek.com, People.com, Slate.com and dozens of other excellent websites that entered the competition (the award itself, modeled after an Alexander Calder sculpture, is called an “Ellie” because it looks like an elephant). As images of our web pages were flashed on an overhead screen, here’s what was said by presenter Mark Whitaker, the former editor of Newsweek, now an NBC News vice-president:

“Beliefnet.com is remarkable in both its focus on spirituality, inspiration
and faith, and its ability to unite a diverse audience under one digital
roof. Its strong content and web-friendly presentation feel rich and
satisfying. Packed with provocative commentary, unique blogs, user-generated material, original videos and inspirational talks, the site soothes and amuses in features as far-ranging as Preachers and Teachers, coverage of the DaVinci Code, the Jovialities and The Virtual Talmud. The site is one of a kind.”

All this causes me to flash back to a quieter moment in 1998, when Mr. Chattering came home to our row house in Washington D.C., having just met with some investors to discuss a long proposal he had written for a multi-faith religion magazine.

I think I was either emptying the dishwasher or holding a baby when Chattering put his backpack down and said to me, with an air of exhaustion, “They don’t want a magazine on paper. But if I turn it into a website, they’ll continue talking to me.”

“A website?” I said, perplexed and a little angry. Inside, I was thinking: “I don’t know websites. I dislike computers. I can’t relate to that.”

And this is where the “visionary” title truly fits dear Mr. Chattering. He walked downstairs to his basement office and rewrote the proposal that night. He came up with ways a web-zine (still very much an emerging form) could be better than a magazine on paper. With a website, readers could get information, interact, chat, post memorials, and form prayer circles quickly.

What Mr. Chattering visualized then is remarkably similar to what Beliefnet.com is right now. In his acceptance speech last night, Chattering saluted Beliefnet’s incredibly devoted, talented staff. He recalled the day when Beliefnet went into bankruptcy six years ago, and he was forced to lay off everyone on the staff–including himself–because he didn’t have any money left to pay them. That was on a Friday. Come Monday, everyone came back to work, he said. The website, in its darkest hours, never faded to black. Editors wouldn’t quit because they believed in the project and loved the topic with all their hearts.

Things come together. You wallow through life’s difficult patches, and you’re surprised to find gold at the end. And then you realize–to your amazement–that life’s been golden the whole time. We’re surrounded by gold, in fact, but we fail to see it. We don’t realize how happy we are until we choose to take that happiness in. I extend my warmest congratulations to the Beliefnet.com team; I thank every contributor, and send my deep appreciation to you, our readers, for sharing your thoughts, hopes, prayers and dreams. It’s been a joint venture, blessed from the outset.

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