Saturday, November 19, 2016

Gwen Ifill and the Power of Remembrance


It was my wife who introduced me to the habit of reading obituaries. Even more than in "human interest stories," well-written obits can provide a full and holistic view of what it means to live a life and make a positive impact on the world. And so it was that the too-soon passing of journalist Gwen Ifill led to an outpouring of grief, love, and appreciation that stood in stark contrast to the particularly squalid politics that have commanded our attention for far too long now, and which threaten to bum us out far into the future.

We get our evening news from the PBS News Hour, where Ifill served as co-anchor and co-program editor with Judy Woodruff. Sometimes it would hit me that, hey, we're watching the evening news and both anchors are women, and more than that, one (Gwen) is African-American! The reason it only hit me occasionally is because both were so good at what they did. This was no misguided affirmative action maneuver. I especially appreciated Gwen's facility with interviewing. I do interviewing as part of my work, and I marveled at her clarity, poise, focus, and all round intelligent awareness of how the conversation might go to attain maximum results. It's not easy, mostly because it's happening in real time. It also requires a lot of background knowledge to get it right.

The News Hour even devoted a full program to an appreciation of Ifill and her work. Since this happened just a few days after the election, it meant I could lift my self-imposed news moratorium for one evening. For fifty minutes we didn't have to hear about the Orange Person Who Shall Not Be Named! Rather, we heard about what it means to live an extraordinary life and how deeply one can change so many lives for the better. Yes, politics is real. But living a good life, a rich life, is even more real. I was moved to see how much she meant to young women of color, and how her example and mentoring was the truest gift of all. Certainly it was painful for those close to her, but for me, it was a pleasure to learn more about and be inspired by a person who so manifestly made the most of her life.

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