Both drawing and crossing the line have a price

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When I was in college, I drove a friend to an abortion clinic. We sped, then inched along, sped and inched, desperate to reach our destination, dreading the same.

At the clinic, we parked a moment, gathering our resolve. A knot of people, just as resolved, picketed the front door, bobbing their convictions at passing cars. To them, what happened in that building was murder.

Walking past them felt, indeed, like we were about to kill something. But for that friend, at that time, it was the right thing to do.

It felt much the same when I walked through the picket line into The Seattle Times after striking for 28 days.

Something died when I passed colleagues to return to a newsroom that now holds considerably fewer of them.

I severed friendships, from the quick hallway hello to those who counseled me through a minor medical crisis. I bruised my credibility with readers and sources. And I am well aware of the hypocrisy of being a columnist who speaks for the Man On the Street - then leaves him out there.

But I also am in the business of calling a spade a spade, of saying out loud what would be so much easier to draw in, like a breath, and hold until everyone is gone.

I grieve the damage to my relationships in the newsroom. But the most important relationship I have at the paper is with you. So I want you to know what happened here, and how I came back.

Newspapers can be anonymous, distant institutions. As a columnist, it is both a privilege and a responsibility to have my face in the paper and to write in the first person.

Three times a week, I am allowed into your homes. It's only fair that I sometimes let you sit in mine.

Within my own walls now is my experience as a union member, a striker and a term that hangs in the air like bus fumes. All are concepts that, until a month ago, were more for bumper stickers than how I define myself.

Peel back the stickers, though, and you become enlightened. You learn who your friends really are - not in terms of their loyalties, but their beliefs.

Every conversation I've had about this strike could as easily have been about religion. Friends spoke of growing up in a "union family" with the same reverential, say-no-more tone as "Catholic family" or "Jewish family." I would not dare judge them.

We shared childhood strike stories about parents who were policemen and garment workers and, like my mother, teachers. We nodded at the need to stand together.

But this was a stand visited upon me - not one I chose. I didn't recognize my mother's union experience, or my issues. It's as if a stranger came to my door, invoked the name of a beloved, deceased relative, and demanded that I follow.

I did - until I could no longer see where we were going.

Now that I have turned around, Seattle has lost some luster. Some homes will no longer be open to me. And the corner of Fairview and John is a new sort of intersection now.

At first, I tried to explain myself, but I began to sound like one of those bumper stickers; I barely scratched the surface.

And so here I sit, after a month of no words, without the right ones. I simply need to say, out loud, that I came back.

A friend shared with me some advice about doing what is right for you, even when others can't understand. I shield my heart with it as I cross the picket line every morning and every night:

Never explain. Never apologize. Never lie.

They are New Year's resolutions I intend to keep.

Nicole Brodeur's column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com. She sleeps fine now, thanks.