A promise is a promise

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Last fall, my friend Melanthia asked me when I might return to Seattle.

We’d been colleagues at the Associated Press, where I was a staff photographer and she was a military reporter. I left the job and the state and had returned only periodically. For her wedding. To meet each of her three children. Her youngest is now four and it’s been nearly four years since I’d been back in the Emerald City.

Why, I asked.

I’m going to run the Seattle Rock ‘N’ Roll Half Marathon for my 40th birthday. OK., I said. I’m in. I’ll be there.

I said this in the fall of 2016. I had plenty of time to train. I knew what it would take and I knew I was nowhere near prepared. I had two marathons under my belt; they were both in the distant past. I was lighter, younger and better trained the last time I’d run any distance.

I had gained weight and lost muscle and endurance since I’d returned from Afghanistan in 2011. All my attempts at a return to fitness had fizzled and fallen short of my goals. I’d pushed too hard. I wrestled with too much stress.

I chose a fresh start with a new job in a new state in the fall of 2016. Melanthia and I now live in states that border different oceans on separate coasts, three time zones and a continent apart.

When I set a lofty goal, I draw inspiration from a quote by William Hutchison Murray from his 1951 book entitled The Scottish Himalayan Expedition. (The original of the couplet at the end, which Murray attributes to Goethe, has been debated.)

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:
Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!”

I had my share of setbacks and excuses to bail. I hung onto the quote and my promise to my friend.

It took me several months to find a place to live. It looks several 20-hour solo roundtrips by car to move my things. By the end of the year, I hadn’t started training. I hadn’t even unpacked.

I had started shedding pounds though. I knew I needed to be lighter if I were going to pound the pavement for 13.1 miles. I started walking and I watched Melanthia’s posted training runs. My trepidation increased with her increasing mileage. I was not matching her miles or dedication.

By April, I still hadn’t run much and I hadn’t bought my airplane ticket. I called Melanthia. I didn’t want to let my friend down and I didn’t want to hold her back.

And yet, a promise is a promise.

Are you doing this? I wanted to know before I booked the ticket. I also wanted her to know that I wouldn’t be a pace-setting partner. I explained that I hadn’t trained enough and I wasn’t as fit as I once was.

We set a simple goal: finish the race. The race rules warn runners that they will be yanked if they don’t finish in under four hours.

I’m going to run-walk, she said. I can can keep pace–and keep her company, I thought. I booked my ticket.

Yesterday we picked up our race bibs and packets.

See you at the finish line.







Remembering murder victims


As a journalist, I’ve covered war and famine overseas and crime and murders in the United States.

Since the story broke on the massacre in Sandy Hook Elementary, I’ve checked in and out, following the reports on National Public Radio and posts online on a variety subjects.

People and politicians are discussing gun control and mental health issues. Some people are advocating armed security in schools. Plenty of people are complaining about the media’s insensitivity and exploitation of the children and townspeople in a zealous effort to update the stories and break new stories. Reporters have gotten facts and information wrong.

And people have expressed outrage that the young gunman was receiving so much attention. They wanted the children remembered not the gunman. There was a post floating around Facebook, erroneously attributed to actor Morgan Freeman, suggesting that the media create celebrities out of killers, thereby encouraging others to emulate and outdo such news-making murderers.

As a journalist, I’ve covered terrible crimes that haunt me: grandparents and their grandchildren murdered in their home, a child whose parents refused medical intervention on religious grounds when the child nearly drowned, a young woman who was tortured in a garage then taken to a nearby forest and executed. And I’ve covered the crimes and trials of serial killers.

I was an Associated Press staff photographer in Seattle when the Green River Killer, Gary Ridgway, was captured and eventually convicted of murdering 49 women and girls.

A photo editor called an asked for the headshot/mug shot of Ridgway. I sent him the mug shot, plus the head shots of six to 10 of the women he’d killed.

The editor called back: You don’t need to send the photos of the women.

I told him that I absolutely needed to send the photographs of the murdered women. And he needed to run them. He needed to run them every time he ran a photo of the serial killer.

He listened though he was annoyed. I kept my word. Each time he asked for the Ridgway headshot, I sent photographs of the women.

One day, the LA editor called me again. Cheryl, I’ve thought about it. You’re right. We do need the victims’ photos. Thank you.

Here’s a link to photographs of the murdered 20 children and six adults, posted on the ABC News website on Dec. 17, 2012.


And here are their names.

“The following is a list (as released by police) of the victims in Friday’s shooting spree on the campus of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.” (From “The Huffington Post,” 12/15/12)

– Charlotte Bacon, 2/22/06, female
– Daniel Barden, 9/25/05, male
– Rachel Davino, 7/17/83, female.
– Olivia Engel, 7/18/06, female
– Josephine Gay, 12/11/05, female
– Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 04/04/06, female
– Dylan Hockley, 3/8/06, male
– Dawn Hochsprung, 06/28/65, female
– Madeleine F. Hsu, 7/10/06, female
– Catherine V. Hubbard, 6/08/06, female
– Chase Kowalski, 10/31/05, male
– Jesse Lewis, 6/30/06, male
– James Mattioli , 3/22/06, male
– Grace McDonnell, 12/04/05, female
– Anne Marie Murphy, 07/25/60, female
– Emilie Parker, 5/12/06, female
– Jack Pinto, 5/06/06, male
– Noah Pozner, 11/20/06, male
– Caroline Previdi, 9/07/06, female
– Jessica Rekos, 5/10/06, female
– Avielle Richman, 10/17/06, female
– Lauren Rousseau, 6/1982, female (full date of birth not specified)
– Mary Sherlach, 2/11/56, female
– Victoria Soto, 11/04/85, female
– Benjamin Wheeler, 9/12/06, male
– Allison N. Wyatt, 7/03/06, female

I am currently teaching journalism at Allegheny College. The students’ last day of class was Dec. 11. Most have finished finals and headed home for the holidays.

I sent out an email to all my students and mentioned that we would be discussing the ethics and challenges of covering this story if we were still in class.

I sent a link to an article by the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma that outlines guidelines for interviewing children.