SLICE OF LIFE: Christmas, life goes on

2012-12-23T00:00:00Z SLICE OF LIFE: Christmas, life goes onBy Vanessa Renderman, (219) 933-3244

I'm lucky to sit near the only newsroom window in the Munster office.

In the summer, the sun shines so brightly that I can make shadow puppets on the opposite wall. In the winter, the days are shorter and the skies are gray.

About 3 p.m. Thursday, mere hours before the predicted first huge snowfall of the season, an almost blinding burst of sun came through the window for just a few minutes.

My co-worker, Times reporter and columnist Philip Potempa, noticed, too. He told me it looked like a halo, like I was an angel.

"I played an angel in a grade school play when I was little," I said.

And that bright spot turned a little dark. In the flurry of news reports about the Connecticut school shooting, I learned one of the little girls who was killed was supposed to play an angel in a Christmas play that night.

In times of tragedy, I think we all try to connect to it somehow. Whether you're a parent, a teacher, a first-responder or a human being with compassion and a beating heart, you felt pain that day and made a connection.

For me, it was my fellow angel.

The day before the school massacre, The Times family suffered its own loss. Longtime columnist and reporter Mark Kiesling died unexpectedly.

He was walking around the newsroom just two days earlier, wearing a shiny red jacket that some of us teased him came from the '80s.

I worked with him for nearly seven years, but others here worked with him for decades and have great memories to share.

Bill Bero, longtime friend and former co-worker, said Kiesling was unbeatable at Trivial Pursuit. He always wore a tie to church. He'd rather listen to White Sox games on the radio than watch the games on TV, even when the Sox won the World Series in 2005.

He didn't chew gum and didn't swear unless he was quoting someone. In his younger days, Kiesling resembled Dan Aykroyd. He knew every line to the Blues Brothers and A Christmas Story movies.

He once rode his bike from Munster to Bero's mom's house in Dolton, to get exercise and to hang out with Bero.

Christmas is two days away. I don't mean to bum you out with this column. But, I hope you'll pay attention to every moment with your family and friends.

Listen to every note the choir sings, watch every bow get unraveled and remember that life is short. Tell the people in your life that you love them.

Vanessa Renderman covers health care for The Times. You can reach her at

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