Thank you. by Beth Nakamura

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Ghosts of Highway 20 has received much recognition, including a handful of Emmy noms this past week. It meant a lot to me when I got word that the photography would be included in American Photography’s Best of 2018. There have been other acknowledgements, too. 

Just want to put here for the record, such as it is, that most meaningful to me was recognition that came not from the journalism industry but from the National Women’s Coalition Against Violence and Exploitation (NWCAVE). At their conference last month we attended a luncheon, where we were honored for our work. Marlene Gabrielsen, whose story we featured in the project, came as our guest.

Marlene, whose experience of sexual violence perpetrated by someone who would go on to kill women, was disbelieved by law enforcement. Had Marlene been believed - she underwent a rape kit at the time of the attack; there was plenty of evidence - it’s entirely likely none of the murders would have occurred. 

I want to thank NWCAVE for this recognition. It’s my hope that the sweeping culture change occurring around sexual violence, assault and harassment will bring about new cultural norms with regard to the treatment of women, here in the United States and the world over. We have a long way to go. If everyone steps up — and I type these words marveling over the fact that they even need to be expressed — real change is possible.

TBT: INTRODUCTION TO A TALK I GAVE AT THE SOCIETY OF PROFESSIONAL JOURNALISTS' BUILDING A BETTER JOURNALIST CONFERENCE. by Beth Nakamura

   This photograph floated into my mind as I thought about what I could possibly say to you, a group of wannabe young journalists, sitting in a room, earnest, open, expectant. I tend to think in pictures, which float in and out of my head. And when I’m lucky enough or open enough or in the shower or whatever it is that predisposes the mind to latch onto and capture our most important and often elusive currency, which is to say our ideas, I try and stay alert to that. So this picture came into my head.  I shot it years ago, when I was just beginning my career, when I was you. And I thought that World War I veteran sitting there, that’s me: ancient, a little broken, just sort of holding it together -- at first glance, at least.  And that’s you, over there, that great-grandchild, face up against the window, clamoring to get in.  My mother got cancer when I was 29. I was working at the Virginian-Pilot then, and took a leave of absence to take care of her. A few weeks turned into a few months and that eventually became six precious months together until she died, finally, from cancer and exhaustion and more morphine than oughta be legal. When it was clear early on she was terminally ill and needed me with her, the Virginian-Pilot encouraged me to go and do what I had to do and don’t even think about them and Godspeed.  And they stayed true to that. They also kept me on the payroll the entire time. The entire time. That, my friends, was the gilded age of journalism.  I bring up my mother because when I think of the waves of grief I have endured in recent years, having experienced this slow motion collapse of the world of big and of institutions and of journalism as we understood it, and just, gosh, the entire revolution that is happening, and the redefinition of the craft and how we practice it; When I think of all the amazing minds that have left the industry -- whether through layoffs or just because they couldn’t stomach it and they’ve got kids to take care of and all the real and legitimate reasons, and even some of the phantom reasons, and just the cumulative effect of all of it, of these tremendous, tsunami-size waves of grief; Well, it’s not like losing your mother. But it’s close.   If you don’t have the mettle for the atmosphere I am describing here you should walk away now and don’t look back -- while you still have plenty of chance. But if, like me, you can’t imagine a life without all the interestingness, the access and the steady stream of fascinating people and stories and of the beauty that is our everyday ordinary, our privileged experience, then by all means, welcome. Who am I to get in your way. Throw everything you have at it. Be nimble. Be open. And play those two words on repeat. Nimble, open, nimble, open.  Which brings me back to this picture. Because the best work in whatever form contains nuance and metaphor and often a little irony or paradox, and because wherever there is shadow there will always be light, I thought well, sure, that’s me, that old guy. That much is obvious. But I’m also that little kid, alive with the possibility and power of journalism, hands pressed against this window of opportunity I have with the work, and with you here now.  In ancient myth, as in life, wherever there is death, there is often rebirth. And I think that’s where we are now. I’m often pretty much baseline emotionally exhausted these days. But also – and please hold onto this if nothing else – I’m exhilarated.

 

This photograph floated into my mind as I thought about what I could possibly say to you, a group of wannabe young journalists, sitting in a room, earnest, open, expectant. I tend to think in pictures, which float in and out of my head. And when I’m lucky enough or open enough or in the shower or whatever it is that predisposes the mind to latch onto and capture our most important and often elusive currency, which is to say our ideas, I try and stay alert to that. So this picture came into my head.  I shot it years ago, when I was just beginning my career, when I was you. And I thought that World War I veteran sitting there, that’s me: ancient, a little broken, just sort of holding it together -- at first glance, at least.  And that’s you, over there, that great-grandchild, face up against the window, clamoring to get in.

My mother got cancer when I was 29. I was working at the Virginian-Pilot then, and took a leave of absence to take care of her. A few weeks turned into a few months and that eventually became six precious months together until she died, finally, from cancer and exhaustion and more morphine than oughta be legal. When it was clear early on she was terminally ill and needed me with her, the Virginian-Pilot encouraged me to go and do what I had to do and don’t even think about them and Godspeed.  And they stayed true to that. They also kept me on the payroll the entire time. The entire time. That, my friends, was the gilded age of journalism.

I bring up my mother because when I think of the waves of grief I have endured in recent years, having experienced this slow motion collapse of the world of big and of institutions and of journalism as we understood it, and just, gosh, the entire revolution that is happening, and the redefinition of the craft and how we practice it; When I think of all the amazing minds that have left the industry -- whether through layoffs or just because they couldn’t stomach it and they’ve got kids to take care of and all the real and legitimate reasons, and even some of the phantom reasons, and just the cumulative effect of all of it, of these tremendous, tsunami-size waves of grief; Well, it’s not like losing your mother. But it’s close. 

If you don’t have the mettle for the atmosphere I am describing here you should walk away now and don’t look back -- while you still have plenty of chance. But if, like me, you can’t imagine a life without all the interestingness, the access and the steady stream of fascinating people and stories and of the beauty that is our everyday ordinary, our privileged experience, then by all means, welcome. Who am I to get in your way. Throw everything you have at it. Be nimble. Be open. And play those two words on repeat. Nimble, open, nimble, open.

Which brings me back to this picture. Because the best work in whatever form contains nuance and metaphor and often a little irony or paradox, and because wherever there is shadow there will always be light, I thought well, sure, that’s me, that old guy. That much is obvious. But I’m also that little kid, alive with the possibility and power of journalism, hands pressed against this window of opportunity I have with the work, and with you here now.

In ancient myth, as in life, wherever there is death, there is often rebirth. And I think that’s where we are now. I’m often pretty much baseline emotionally exhausted these days. But also – and please hold onto this if nothing else – I’m exhilarated.

by Beth Nakamura

This has been an unimaginably difficult time in Portland, Oregon, where I live and work.

Last week, Ricky Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche were both stabbed to death while protecting two teenage girls – one, African American, the other, Muslim American, and wearing a hijab – from a very violent and vocal white supremacist who was hurling anti-Muslim insults at them. A third man, Micah Fletcher, also bravely rose to the girls' defense and was seriously wounded. It all happened on the Portland MAX train -- a commuter rail that runs through the city.

One day after this wrenching event, a vigil was held. From there, I live-tweeted.

 

The following morning I turned to Facebook, where I posted this:

“Yesterday it struck me that fate put the best and worst of Portland together on a train, and the worst won. Then I covered last night's vigil in Portland, where I encountered Asha Deliverance, whose 23-year-old son, Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, was one of the two men murdered on the MAX train.

At the vigil, Asha was alternately, and very publicly, grieving her son and reaching out to people. There was an especially moving moment that quickly passed through my camera, where she leaned in toward a woman who approached her who was Muslim.

I walked up to Asha as she was leaving and we talked. I told her that I was sorry I photographed her, but that I thought the world should see. I don't know why I apologized. It just feels so bad in the moment, you know? She grabbed my arm, looked me in the eye and smiled. I'm guessing she wants the world to see.”

The photograph was also posted on the Oregonian’s website, where I work.

I have heard from people all over the world since the image was published.

My hope is that the feelings expressed to me by so many, many people will somehow reach and surround these two women, everyone who was on the train that day, including and especially the two girls -- children, really -- and the countless others who have been so profoundly traumatized by what happened.

I’ll leave you with the words of one woman who reached out to me. She is a 21-year-old student in Pakistan. In part, and with her permission, she had this to say:

“It’s easy to hate about a thing or person whom you don’t know … I am saying this due to increased Islamophobia about Muslims …  undoubtedly there are many things which divide us …  and I really wish we could treat each other as fellow humans rather than division …  I hope we all reunite for peace no matter how difficult it may be.”
 

 

 

Riverview Abbey Mausoleum, a shrine to love and loss by Beth Nakamura

Every day, Fred Kimberley, 87, makes the drive to Riverview Abbey mausoleum to check in  on his wife of 57 years. It's the same trip he's made more than 2,000 times before. 

"Two days ago, it was 5½ years," he said of Patricia Kimberley's death at age 78, pointing to the fresh bouquet of pink roses gracing the glistening  marble niche that holds her ashes. 

"What finally did it was the Alzheimer's. Her mind just ... " he pauses, searching for the  words, "... closed away." 

For Fred, the daily visits help fend off a loneliness he admits has plagued him since his wife's death. He brings fresh roses with him at least once a week.

"I miss her," he said. "She was a wonderful person, a beautiful lady, and I loved her.

"I still do love her."

Stepping inside the mausoleum, it's easy to forget that lying behind the mahogany trim and imported marble slabs are more entombed bodies than there are residents of Oregon City. More than 35,000 lives are represented here, 50 marble-lined corridors of them.  

The mausoleum, which turns 100 this year, is one of two in Portland. There's Wilhelm's, over in Sellwood, and Riverview, tucked away in hilly Southwest Portland -- hidden, you might say, in plain sight. 

"Some people have driven past the road here for 30 or 40 years and never stepped foot in here," said Robert Griffith, one of four brothers who operate the mausoleum, which has been in his family since 1918. 

The mausoleum holds more than 1,800 veterans, including one John O'Brien, an itinerant newspaperman and Civil War veteran who died in Forest Grove in 1931, according to one Civil War related website. 

One needn't be grief stricken to visit this shrine of love and loss, which offers free tours. 

The 16 foot-tall  corridors feature more than 30 stained glass windows and marble imported from seven countries. There's a room devoted entirely to dead children. There are handwritten cards, dangling from towering walls and written to loved ones who've been dead over half a century. There are flowers, mostly plastic, but some of them fresh, fragrant, alive. 

The cavernous structure – think of it as a cemetery, with benefits – has a crematorium, funeral home and a chapel, which hosts services of all faiths. 

"People grieve very differently," said Timothy Proctor, a funeral director and embalmer at the mausoleum.

"There's no right way to handle it."

Fred Kimberley visits every day. He's not the only one.

"Some people make weekly pilgrimages. And I am sure some people would come a lot more if they were more mobile," Proctor said.

On a recent Monday, Fred has been sitting for about a half-hour on a bench a few short feet from the niche that contains Patricia's ashes. There, he talks to her. The couple never had children. He tells her he loves her, tells her about his day. Small things, mostly. 

"I tell her that I'll be joining her there and that we'll be angels together. And we'll be together forever."

The daily vigils have allowed Kimberley to get to know the mausoleum workers and, under the unlikeliest of circumstances, friendships have formed. 

"I had 'em over for Thanksgiving two years ago," he said of mausoleum staffers James Stirling and Nick Kravchenko. "And Christmas." 

He's chatting with Stirling, who's crouched on the floor, leaning against a nearby wall. They're going back and forth about a golf game they both happened to catch on television the previous  day. The corridor is dimly lit;  the tones,  hushed. Behind them, beams of sunlight stream in from a set of glass doors several feet  in the distance. 

Tomorrow, Kimberley will  spend the day with Kravchenko, who works with Stirling in maintenance.

"Nick and I usually get together about once a week," Fred said.

They'll head out to Welches, where Fred owns some property, and take the same drive along the Salmon River that Fred and Patricia used to enjoy. Later, they'll stop for ice cream cones. 

Then, as he does every day, Fred will return to the mausoleum to visit Patricia. It's a routine that has given structure to the widower's life. 

"When I wake up every morning, I have something to look forward to," he said.

"She knows she's not alone when I'm there, and I like being with her, to give her comfort. It's comforting for both of us." 

-- Beth Nakamura