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An Open Letter to The Ringer's Sean Fennessey 3 min read

An Open Letter to The Ringer's Sean Fennessey

Dear Sean, You don’t know me, but I’m writing to simply say how incredibly sorry I am to hear about your mother’s passing. I was listening to the most recent episode of The Big Picture when I heard Amanda mention a beautiful essay you’d written surrounding

By Cary Littlejohn

Dear Sean,

You don’t know me, but I’m writing to simply say how incredibly sorry I am to hear about your mother’s passing. I was listening to the most recent episode of The Big Picture when I heard Amanda mention a beautiful essay you’d written surrounding your list of favorite movies of the decade. I made it a point to go looking for it, assuming it would be on The Ringer. Not finding it, I googled your name. Before I found the essay on your Tumblr page, I saw the Reddit thread that you referenced in the essay; I thought it weird, but not weird enough to click on. Then when I read your essay, it all made so much more sense.

In the same breath as I extend my condolences, I hope I can say, on behalf of all of us out here who love that you give so much of yourself online, I’m sorry you had to deal with that. I’m sorry our consumption, in essence our fandom, intruded on your moments of grief, robbing you of solemnity and privacy. I write in hopes you will see this, because I am a fan. I feel the same intimate feeling of closeness that so many fans feel with podcasts, in particular. It’s the nature of the medium; it’s the sense of you being your truest self that draws me to listen, convinces me more than anything of how much I’d simply like to grab a drink with you and talk with you like one of the guests on the show.

But more than that, I write to you because I know the power of a mother. I was listening to backlogged episodes of The Big Picture and The Rewatchables as I packed up my apartment and prepared to leave the town where I’d just spent two years earning a graduate degree in journalism after an aborted career as a lawyer. I was feeling sorry for myself, but I always find such comfort in the show. After the mention of your essay and finally tracking it down, I felt something akin to shame about my self-pity, realizing that, as is so often the case, my trials and tribulations pale in comparison to those of so many out there. It came full circle for me, reading the words you penned about your mom, and thinking of my own, who is a constant source of love and support to me. I thought back to my tepid admission to her that I was unhappy practicing the law, and I tested the water with only a toe as I asked her if she’d support my going back to graduate school. I remember the resounding “yes” she gave me, the pride at just the thought of me earning another degree, and how it wasn’t nearly as scary or dreadful as I thought her reaction would be. For whatever reason, as a man nearing 30 at the time, my mom’s opinion still mattered most to me, and her blessing was the first sign that it was okay to attempt something unconventional and new.

I thought back to the unhappy years I spent in the middle of Mississippi, working as a lawyer, depressed and uncertain about my future. I thought of how films and going to the theater had always been my form of relief and escape, usually an hour south of me in Jackson at the Malco. I thought of how I’d drive over two hours, north to Memphis, to its version of an arthouse theater to see films that weren’t likely ever to make it to Mississippi. On those drives, I’d often call my mom, talking about life, catching up, and I remember how it never shocked her that I was driving nearly 5 hours roundtrip just to see a movie or two. I thought of how she helped instill that love of film, how Thanksgiving nights would often be spent at the theater, dating back to Toy Story in the 1990s and Coco just a few years ago. I thought of Ford v. Ferrari this year, and how we both loved it and discussed it all the way home.

I remembered how much moms and movies can go together and what a sweet combination those two things can be. I realized, until your essay, that I too often take it for granted. After your essay, I realized how much I’ll miss her questions about the movies I see, much like those you described coming from your father now; she trusts me as the film buff in the family, and I like the feeling that trust gives to me. Like I’m a dime store knock-off of you.

I can’t imagine the feelings you’re experiencing today, as we all focus on the starting of something new – new year, new decade, a new normal.. It’s too new, I suspect, and greatly unwanted, this new normal. I’m sorry, from the bottom of my heart, that you must go through this, and I hope your support system is strong and there for you. I don’t know what else to say because I know enough to realize none of this will salve any wounds. But I did want you to know that what you do matters, to a great many people; you provide friendship and companionship without ever meeting any of us, and that’s a special thing. I hope that small reminder can be of some comfort to you, because I can only imagine your mom is incredibly proud of that reality. I know mine would be.