Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bidding goodbye to the best of 2009

Photo by John Moore of Getty Images.

As the final day of calendar 2009 blasts its way to the finish line, the proliferation of “best” lists are in full swing: best gifts, best deals, best party ideas. Best cocktails, best holiday foods.

The bests are also rolled out for those of us practicing journalism—best photos, best stories. I read all the journalism bests I come across. Not because awards are the only opinions that matter. Awards nearly always indicate excellence work, but there are brilliant artists who will remain a lifetime unrecognized. Some of the most talented ones, in fact.

Still I pore over the pictures and devour the stories, because when a particular story or photo begins to gain a following, it has earned value in cultural relevance, no matter what the rest of the people say about it.

The photo above commanded my attention the first time I looked at it many months ago, and it caused me to stop and think. To piece together the story behind it in my mind. I wondered what this young woman was whispering to her fallen fiancé deep in the ground. I thought about how a pledge to marry would remain forever unrealized. It was powerful enough to evoke tears.

I wasn’t the only one galvanized. The photo has been heralded as one of the top picks for this year, a symbol of the humanity behind the machine of war. Of loss, love and grief. Of an almost-widow’s loyalty, respect and honor.

“Some people feel the photo I took at the moment was too intimate, too personal,” said Getty Images photojournalist John Moore. “Like many who have seen the picture, I felt overwhelmed by her grief, and moved by the love she felt for her fallen sweetheart.”

Mary McHugh is the young woman pictured, and she’s mourning the loss of her fiancé, Sgt. James “Jimmy” Regan. The decorated Army Ranger did a fate-tempting four deployments in three years, double tours of Afghanistan and Iraq. But a roadside bomb stole the last of his luck, and he died in Iraq on February 9, 2007.

Moore spent five years photographing war in the same countries Regan was deployed in, but that’s not how he came to hear about this 26-year-old fallen soldier from a New York hamlet called Manhasset. On Memorial weekend last May, Moore decided to wander the famous military cemetery in Virginia, where 300,000 veterans and military casualties are interred.

“I felt I owed the Arlington National Cemetery a little time – and I think I still do. Maybe we all do."

Walking the cemetery evoked different emotions than the ones Moore has grown accustomed to witnessing in battle.

“After so much time covering these wars, I have some difficult memories and have seen some of the worst a person can see – so much hatred and rage, so much despair and sadness. All that destruction, so much killing. And now, one beautiful and terribly sad spring afternoon amongst the rows and rows of marble stones – a young woman’s lost love.”

And by giving us a window to witness the grief for an unknown's lost love, Moore reminds us to hold our loved ones a little closer. In troubled times, and in peace.

Sgt. Jimmy Regan with his parents James and Mary in happier times.


Anonymous said...

Utter sadness and the knowledge that loss will never leave her.

It will change, but not go away - that is the myth of grief.

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