Friday, January 4, 2008
The Lives They Lived
As we approach the first weekend of 2008, I would like to take a look at last week's New York Times Magazine. As usual, they had chosen to write short profiles on the people who had died in 2007. In the first page, the magazine introduced this year's series with a very succinct sentence: "In putting together this issue, we shy away from any attempt at being definitive; instead we embrace idiosyncrasy, storytelling and the interests and passions of our editors and writers."
These pieces do not sum up the whole of each individual's lives. Instead, the narratives are almost like sprints, short bursts of energy that seem to epitomize each character's career. Reading these made me squirm a little, because these people have what we call, "fire." They did what they loved, and they threw their entire beings into it. And some of them were so young, like the two soldiers who died in Iraq, Omar Mora and Yance Tell Grey in a piece titled "The Guardians" by Dexter Filkins.
I have many favorites, and each for very different reasons. There was the painful recount of Kate Webb by Maggie Jones, a Vietnam war correspondent, who went missing for 23 days, and was believed to be dead. After she was released by her captors, instead of going into hiding, she devoted the rest of her career to reporting every inch of South East Asia and the Middle East, immersing herself into the different languages and avoiding the usual expatriate neighborhoods. She saw a different face to her Viet Cong captors, one that was unlike what the United States gleaned from second-hand accounts of war generals.
I also really like the one by Elizabeth McCracken about Joybubbles, the father (or granddaddy, however you wish to see it) of phone hacking. This one was great because I have never heard of phone hacking or about telephone phreaks, so it was a real eye-opener. His life was quirky and a little surreal (he decided that he wanted to five years old for the rest of his life), but the end of the piece honestly made me choke back tears.
And of course, on the final page, there was a very short one about David Halberstam by Neil Sheehan. Really, a fmust-read for any future journalist. About their stint in Vietnam together, Sheehan wrote, "We were politically suspect. We ought to be fired. Many of our editors doubted us. David was just 28 when we teamed up, and I was 26. How could these kids be right when a four-star general and a senior diplomat said they were absolutely wrong?" I think that made me foam at the mouth a little.
What these pieces do for me, more than anything else, is remind me about the endless possibilities of each individual's lives. It also makes me feel incredibly lazy and unaccomplished, but this is exactly what I needed to get me to sit up and take notice of the world around me.
On a sidenote, you can see that I have finally figured out how to do the links. Well, Happy New Year, everyone!