Ted Jackson calls the response to his story on "The search for Jackie Wallace" unreal.
Yeah, you might say that.
As of the moment I'm typing this, Jackson's Twitter post sharing the story has been retweeted 127,641 times and received 273,000 likes.
"This might be the most amazing bit of reporting I've seen in years," veteran religion writer Bob Smietana said in his own tweet. "There are stories that haunt journalists for years. This is one of them."
This is one of those cases where, if you insist, you can keep reading my post. Or, and I promise you won't hurt my feelings if you choose Option No. 2, you can proceed immediately to the story in question and devour it just like Smietana and I did. It really is that good.
I mean, there are must-read stories, and then there's this incredible tale.
It's a lengthy read but so, so worth it. Here's the nuts-and-bolts summary from the Times-Picayune, the New Orleans newspaper where Jackson worked as a staff photographer for 33 years and won a Pulitzer Prize:
A New Orleans football legend reached the pinnacle of the sport.
Then everything came crashing down.
This is the story of his downfall, redemption — and disappearance.
Two factors make me hesitant to copy and paste much of the piece into this blog post: First, there are so many twists and turns that you really need to read it yourself to understand it — and fully appreciate it. Second, I don't want to give away any spoilers.
But I will point out just how crucial it is that the writer is a person of faith who understands the faith angle. (I don't think I've connected with Jackson directly, but friends of mine in New Orleans know him and have mentioned his service as a Church of Christ elder.)
Here is a particularly compelling, revealing section of the piece:
Finding Jackie under the bridge has always been a landmark moment for me, professionally and personally. As a photographer, I believe in the power of a single frame to change the world. As a man of faith, I believe in the power of grace to transform lives. Living happily in Baltimore, Jackie was my hero of powerful photojournalism and miraculous redemption.
For 10 years, Jackie and Deborah’s life together was marked mostly by uneventful days and steady work. Deborah was known for her great cooking. Jackie internalized his lessons from the 12-step program and continued to regularly attend meetings. He made time to counsel homeless men on the streets.
He had learned how important it was to stay on “his medicine,” his word for doing the right things to stay sober.
“Everybody that’s ever been through treatments knows what the right thing is,” he said. “That means, you go to these meetings, you get you a sponsor, get you a home group. You get people who you’re going to listen to that’s going to tell you the truth, and you do it.”
But after 12 years sober, something snapped. “It was one day of me not taking care of myself,” Jackie said.
Trust me, there's so much more there that'll make you think, make you cry — make you want to know what ever happened to Jackie Wallace.
Go ahead and read it.