Letter: No judgment, just questions
The other morning, I read the many visceral community reactions to Rick Carroll’s, sadly, Rush Limbaugh-style, dirt-show article about Will Graham. I don’t know you personally, though I know of you and now I can infer some things about you by your own words. I don’t judge you, however, because I do not have any grounding in fact, understanding or direct impression that such an act would demand. I do have many questions for you, however.
Did you ever meet Will Graham? Do you have children of your own or care dearly for children in your life? Have you, in your life, done things that you regret or still struggle with, or that you would undo if you could? Have you ever come to the defense of a friend who was maligned unfairly or who needed support from you when he or she had made a bad mistake? Do you understand your own power as a journalist, who can, with impunity, fashion the impression of one individual for thousands of uninformed readers? And finally, do you understand the innerconnectedness of a small town like ours, where joy, deep sadness, hurtfulness, celebration, pride and mutual experience carom back and forth like the ripples on still water?
Did any of these questions enter your mind as you tapped out Will’s rap sheet and the partial impressions of a young man whose life, struggles and standing with the people who love him you clearly never sought to understand? Your job may be to report the facts available to you on some subject or person, but a more important part of that job is, or ought to be, to ask questions that matter beyond the raw outcomes and damage of past events and sensational headlines.
I best knew Will as a glandular, endearing, funny, energetic high school boy, one who lived much of the time in a state of remorse and sadness about things he hadn’t completed in school, or some crappy test grades or being on the cusp of academic ineligibility to play hockey — a sport that defined most his boundless energy, his sense of commitment to an individual and team effort, and his ability to truly excel at something he loved. I remember spending many extra hours with Will to help him keep his grade in English where it had to be so that he could play hockey, and he always said “thank you,” always promised me that he wouldn’t let things slide again after the season ended — and he didn’t! Most poignant to me in remembering that boy, however, was how much he feared letting down his mother, Geraldine. Her love, however, was and is unconditional, but Will’s natural goodness would not allow him to presume on that.
Will was not a model student and could be hard on teachers, family and friends sometimes in his struggles and his frustrations, but in that brief encounter at the Meadows last week, I saw all the good things that live in Will: His ability to reflect on how his behaviors affect others, his enjoyment of people and connections that matter, his humility as a man who knows the struggle he faces, the honor and standing that still attend his service to country and most of all, his capacity to try again to be his best self.
I envision you sitting in your office at the Times waiting out the s—storm that your article set off. I’ve read the apologies of your general manager and others at the paper, but there has been nothing from you. I had a very wise mom in my life, and when I had done or said things that sent hurt or misunderstanding out into the universe, she told me that acknowledging my behavior and expressing regret for that behavior are honorable and meaningful acts. You owe such acknowledgements to Will, to his mother and father and brother, and to all the people who know, love, and care about him. You’re a man of letters, Rick, and surely have read Hamlet. Be Will’s Horatio now and save him from Hamlet’s fear. “…what a wounded name,things standing thus unknown, shall I leave behind me!” You owe Will Graham that effort, Rick.
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