Friday, February 4, 2011

Dear Keith

Dear Keith,

You wouldn’t believe the trouble with “water works” I’ve had this morning, a little over 20 hours after learning of your passing. I literally mean “you wouldn’t believe it.” You were so unassuming. You went about your life just being decent, not thinking about it, not knowing how rare and striking and dearly beloved that is—decency. Maybe especially notable to the women who worked alongside you; I don’t know.

How many years did I have the honor of working with you and Jerry on the nightside News Desk? Is that it, the explanation for how hard this has hit me? No words can describe that particular kind of stress. The deadline pressure every single night. The lying awake after an ungodly shift, trying to force the stress to drain so you can have a few hours of peace. The questions:  Did I miss something? Did I let some horrible potentially libelous mistake pass by me? Were we fair to the people who will be hurt by the news in the morning? No higher-ups in the chain of command to call at midnight, or four in the morning. Not to mention the very hardest moments when they came. Like, a suicide after we* had broken a story. Or, Mark calling in a fire fatality as it happened, me holding the phone to my ear taking his dictation, his voice cracking as he pushed through the report like the super-professional that he was. A 2-year-old child was dead in the burning house; the mother was screaming in the background. Could I even begin to thank you and Jerry, for the friends you were to me that night after the paper was put to bed?

You knew that tiny, near-detonating bubble of a world. Jerry knew. We leaned hard on each other’s examples. Quiet respect for each other’s pain, without wailing or teeth gnashing. No ridiculous coming unglued allowed—and that was good. We became comrades in arms, you and Jerry the clear war-wizened leaders. Examples of how to live in that world, and of the courage to continue when others (like me) drifted away.

I wonder how it was that I didn’t know this horrible “thing” was taking your life, but then I think, of course I didn’t. You wouldn’t have made it known outside the very closest circle. You are forever brave and decent and true in my mind and in my heart. You have my love, an inexplicable kind of love that has endured time and distance, always there even when hidden from my own daily thoughts. More than that, you have my deepest respect. How the world needs your decency.

*Mark is “here” with me today, too. Say hello for me, dear old friend.