I’ve slept under a long concussion of artillery fire, only to jump awake when it stopped. I have watched Jews and Muslims dash through a lit doorway in view of Catholic snipers to attend Christmas Midnight Mass because, they said, this is what a cosmopolitan and tolerant people do.
I’ve walked down a dirt road with reporter Martin Kasindorf, who wrote as he walked and conducted three interviews in two languages simultaneously. It was nothing, he told me. But it was something.
I’ve sipped warm beer in Northern Ireland with reporter Mike Leary, seen Jeff Fleischman start each day by sharpening his pencils, and counted the new sniper-bullet holes above Barbara Demick’s Sarajevo writing table.
I’ve been under a single hanging light bulb as reporter Craig McCoy peeled away street talk and posturing till the room was filled with eloquence and understanding. I watched staff writer Mike Ruane turn a mob into confidants. I’ve been to Graceland.
I’ve eaten too many beets, drank too much coffee, and downed too much beer. The butterfly-cut steak in Colombia, in the place where everybody else showed up on horses and the cook chopped and served with a pair of machetes—well, that was the best. The women in Bosnia who reached into the fire to barehand a steaming coffeepot—they were impressive.
The waiters in the Sarajevo Holiday Inn closed the drapes when the guests notice the illuminated sniper rounds. The shooting was on and off all morning. I stood in a blown-out storefront. An old man was shuffling head-down across an open area. Glancing up, he saw me and changed his angle to head my way. He arrived in one piece, and stood there, his head still down, wobbling on his cane. His accent was deep, his panting loud, and he said something. He was off on his way before I could process what I had heard, but then it came to me. “We are not animals in a zoo,” he had said.
I’ve seen people strip a washing machine to build a water-powered electric generator—a generator whose sole function was to power a car’s dome light, the only illumination in a home.
I’ve had a .45 automatic shoved in my ear. A soldier in Mexico ripped my shirt open with his gunsight, filed to a razor’s edge. I’ve been hit with rifle butts, pipes, and a lot of other things.
I’ve seen wavy lights make their way across the night sky toward me, followed by a brilliant flash and a concussion . . . that’s a missile strike.
I’ve mixed chemicals with the water in a toilet and processed film over a camp stove. I’ve seen an armed man picking breadcrumbs from the floor of a plane to eat. I’ve spent $100 for a gallon of gas.
I’ve seen all kinds of money and machines in hospitals, but nobody was really cured until somebody reached out and touched the patient. Perhaps that’s true for everything in this world.
Kids at a birthday party during war: Inside a darkened room, they brought the simplest thing wrapped in scraps of paper, and each took turns singing and playing the guitar. There was not a thing to eat. They were so happy together, laughing. I saw a woman savor a tiny scoop of ice cream for what seemed like hours, just touching the tip of her tongue to the vanilla, slowly consuming a scoop just the size of a quarter. This is how it is when people are under siege.
I’ve met Rosa Parks, photographed all the presidents since Gerald Ford, and line-danced the Cotton-Eyed Joe with Walter Cronkite. As for winning first place in the World Press Awards, that was for me, and I loved it.
I’ve needed to be better than I am.
It has been a privilege everyday to work for the readers of newspapers. I regret, greatly regret, that more people don’t respond to newspapers.
Despite it all, I’ve learned that the world is very safe. The world is a safe and lovely place, and lovely people abound.