Women in the World

03.14.12

A Eulogy for Marie Colvin

American journalist Marie Colvin was killed on assignment in Syria last month. Read her longtime friend’s tribute.

Delivered at the funeral mass on March 12, at the Church of St. Dominic, Oyster Bay, New York, by Katrina Heron

On behalf of Marie’s family, thank you for coming today to celebrate her life. These surroundings are, it must be said, a bit sedate for her taste. Marie would take one look around—so delighted to see all the people here whom she loved—and say, “Um, can we move this party? I know a great little place down the street ...”

That voice is unmistakable, isn’t it? Expansive, amused, irresistibly self-confident, self-deprecating. Full of passion, full of belief. Fierce in its loyalties, alive. Always creating space, never merely filling it. Marie sought out delight, beauty, wisdom, truth—and fun. She came “trailing clouds of glory”—and pandemonium. We have enough wonderful stories for many lifetimes.

It was impossible to be with her on peaceful shores and not feel you were in the grip of a great and quite possibly hare-brained adventure. Marie sailed all her life like a bird in flight—on this beautiful morning, we can imagine her heading out into the waters of the bay—but skimming down the Long Island Expressway with her by dark of night in a sports car, you would run out of gas because of her bold insistence that the temperature needle was the fuel gauge.

Such catastrophes bred only mirth. This intrepid reporter, so completely in command of her craft, came home to us to love and play. She had a genius for bringing people together and for scattering pretty much everything else. Again, the stories are manifold.

Take the epic saga of the house keys. You may have scaled a garden wall with her or perhaps politely, oh so reasonably, invaded a neighbor’s domain and attic to skitter across a rooftop and down a sheer carapace of slate to a blessedly open window.

It was the laughter that always posed the greater threat to a safe landing. You were utterly, sublimely defenseless against the laughter.

Marie came by her impracticality honestly, but she fed the aura of joie de vivre that wafted around her—it gave cover to another side of her, no more authentic but intensely more private. Here was the tremulous, self-taxing writer, the aspiring scholar of history, the student of prose and poetry, and the fragile woman who would have loved to be happy in love.

She struggled with worldly woes, she vied with ever-greater risks in her work, but she trusted life: She lived in the attempt. She never went anywhere without her cache of reporter’s notebooks or her pearls.

We can hear her strength of will in the dispatches to faithful friends and family, couched to salve our anxiety and dispel the reality of the perishingly thin line she was treading:

“I'm in Baghdad,” she wrote to one close friend not long ago. “You would love it here—it's just like New York, except without the bars, restaurants, shops, telephones, electricity or taxis. I have, however, learned useful skills, like how to run your own generator.”

As she scattered merrily, she held fast to us and to herself. Many years ago, she wrote to me in a letter:

“We didn’t resolve anything in our last long ramble of conversations, you can’t of course, but I left with the feeling I had cleared my soul and the stronger joy that there is a kindred spirit in the world. Somewhere along the line, I accepted a difference in myself from what seems to be the way for most others. That is a large and fuzzy statement, maybe even approaching puffery. But you know what I mean. Rather than worrying about this constantly and making half-hearted attempts to approach the norm or at least to give such outward appearances, the thing to do may be to keep to heart the belief that there is, or will be, something for which to care passionately. Maybe we only get moments of that, or glimpses, but I choose it over the settling, the putting in of time, the jockeying for a well-placed carrel at the office.”

Marie lived her wish, lived it fully, and died for it. We need not, should not, submit to her death—any more than to the death of her compatriot-by-calling Remi Ochlik, or the many other reporters and photographers who have lost their lives covering conflict—or the countless civilians to whose struggles and deaths she and they bore witness over the decades. We know that Marie died valorously, and with nearly unimaginable bravery, doing the work she believed in. We are so proud of her.

She also asked of us a promise. As she said at a memorial service in 2010 for fallen colleagues:  

“The real difficulty is having enough faith in humanity to believe that enough people—be they government, military or the man on the street—will care when your file reaches the printed page, the website or the TV screen. We do have that faith because we believe we do make a difference.”

We can honor and keep that faith. Indeed, we know we must. But high-mindedness alone can’t speak to the grief we feel. This was a daughter, a beloved daughter; a beloved sister, a beloved aunt, a beloved girl, a beloved woman.

Give us her laughter, too. Let Marie stay with us.

Let us see her now in her new raiment. Let us hear her in the beautiful psalm of humanity she so loved, Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself. As I read the closing stanzas, let us find her here:

The past and present wilt ... I have filled them and emptied them,
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.

Listener up there! ... what have you to confide to me?
Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,
Talk honestly, for no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then ... I contradict myself;
I am large ... I contain multitudes.

I concentrate toward them that are nigh ... I wait on the door-slab.

Who has done his day’s work and will soonest be through with his supper?
Who wishes to walk with me?

Will you speak before I am gone? Will you prove already too late?

The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me ... he complains of my gab and my loitering.

I too am not a bit tamed ... I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

The last scud of day holds back for me,
It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the shadowed wilds,
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.

I depart as air ... I shake my locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies and drift it in lacy jags.

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your bootsoles.

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop some where waiting for you

For more on Marie Colvin's life and work or to contribute to her memorial fund, go to www.mariecolvin.org.