Thursday, June 28, 2007

Tragedies, New and Old

NEW YORK, June 28 — Tonight we were going to write about the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the school integration cases decided today, which is, in many ways, a striking national tragedy. It deserves more complete treatment than we can give it now, and two other tragedies have gripped our minds today as well, compelling more immediate thoughts. So, for now, let me point you to The New York Times coverage of the schools decisions here and The Christian Science Monitor's coverage here.

Now, however, we must turn to the new tragedy — five stunning, brand-new high school graduates killed in a fiery crash half an hour from their homes two towns away from our hometown. The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle has comprehensive coverage here and The New York Times ran covered the sadness on the front page of the metro section, here.

We saw the news first on the D&C's site yesterday, shortly after it broke. Read the NYT story this morning at work, online, without opening the print copy until moments ago, greeted by the nearly half-page spread with the victims' photographs from their yearbook and their Fairport, N.Y., friends locked in a grief-filled embrace.

It never makes sense when a teenager dies. Last week this time, they were celebrating their proudest moment together, graduating high school. A week later, the principal of Fairport High School, told reporters that instead of their five graduation parties, he'd now be attending their five funerals. It didn't make sense when Melissa and Jason died 10 years ago. Their deaths make no more sense now, as we wrote here last week.

Hannah, Bailey, Meredith, Sara, and Katherine were headed to a cottage on Keuka Lake for some summer fun in the sun, the papers reported, but they never made it. Their deaths don't make sense now, and they probably won't make sense in 10 years, or ever. They're gone, and but for the grace of God it could have been any of us, any of our friends, brothers, sisters, loved ones. And so our hearts go out to their friends and families, with deepest sympathy.

Turning to an old tragedy, another too close to home, which ripped from life 270 souls, including 35 Syracuse University students, one of whom grew up in Webster, just north of Fairport. We write, you may know, of the Pan Am Flight 103 tragedy. On Dec. 21, 1988, a bomb ripped apart the 747 Maid of the Seas over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all aboard — 259 passengers and crew — and 11 on the ground below.

In the years since, a Scottish court has convicted Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence agent. Now, as the NYT reports here, a review panel in Scotland has concluded that Megrahi may have been wrongfully convicted. We have yet to read the story closely, and it's no doubt more complicated than a headline and lede can express, but it provokes in us questions of whether we should let it go and whether we'll ever know even most of the truth about what brought down that plane.

At Syracuse University, 103 is part of the student experience; not just with a memorial at the heart of campus, but with an annual Remembrance Week, full of active engagement of the issues and ideas surrounding the tragedy.

We're admittedly too close to it to examine this most recent development objectively, but a simple conclusion jumps out: if the conviction was a miscarriage of justice, then let's examine it to figure out the real story. If it was not, let's examine it anyway, as painful as it is, to make sure we got the real story right the first time.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

A Moment for Jason and Melissa

It’s been 10 years since we lost two Friends, Jason Pollack and Melissa Klotz, killed in a tragic train accident on a trestle over the Erie Canal in Pittsford, N.Y. Jason and Melissa are always on our minds, always remembered, but today, the tenth anniversary of their deaths, I wanted to take an extra moment for them.

I wasn’t very close with either Jason or Melissa, but in a tightly knit community like Brighton, we were all friends, and Jason and Melissa brightened our lives with their smiles and laughter. Their closest friends and relatives miss them most, I know, but everyone else felt the loss, still feels the loss, will always feel the loss.

Their deaths were, in the most basic sense of the word, great losses. Losses of life, losses of laughs and smiles. We all have less laughter for having lost them, but the memories I have of them are vivid and bring a smile every time they cross my mind. Here are some of those memories of Jason and Melissa, for Jason and Melissa.

Jason cutting up during our middle school football team photograph — an eighth grader then, me a seventh grader, lined up next to him, trying to hold a straight face as Jason cracked one joke after another. I don’t remember the jokes, or our coaches’ responses, but I distinctly remember how he seemed to put everyone at ease. Coaches loosened up, teammates smiled, and as a seventh grader who’d been mildly intimidated by my older teammates, I relaxed, realizing at least one of them, Jason, was harmless, just a big goofball who loved to laugh and make his teammates laugh.

Melissa returning to school in second grade after a month or so out sick with pneumonia, I think. This memory is fuzzier — longer ago — but I seem to remember her return as triumphant, and everyone — 7-year-olds and teachers included — smiled when she came back. As youngsters, we’d been mystified by her being out of school so long, sick with something none of us could pronounce. While the memory is fuzzy, I know Melissa returned with a huge smile, glad to be back, like she’d been gone only for a few minutes to swing on the playground.

Jason, again hamming it up, a high school sophomore, riding on the back of the school’s Zamboni-like floor-waxing machine on the freshman side of the cafeteria, after having snagged it from behind the backs of the unsuspecting maintenance staff, I’m sure. Like any good Zamboni driver, Jason entertained his crowd with silly antics as he rode the machine, until a stern faced teacher on cafeteria duty spotted him and ended the fun. I remember his closest friends watching the whole episode, doubled over with laughter, and the whole cafeteria brightened up thanks to the rebellious clowning.

Melissa, as a freshman, shivering in her cheerleading uniform on the sidelines of a JV football game, on the road at Bishop Kearney. From the sidelines, in a break from playing, I must have glanced at the bleachers searching for my family, and I noticed all the cheerleaders but Melissa had their warm-up suits on. I never asked her about it, but she must have forgotten hers warm-up suit that game. She cheered on just the same, hands balled tightly in the ends of her sleeves when not clapping, I’m sure. I don’t think we won the game; that season was a rough one, but Melissa and the other cheerleaders never gave up on us.

Ten years has gone fast — in Brighton and the world — considering all that’s happened since June 21, 1997, when that freight train took Jason and Melissa. But we remember them and their smiles, and we will always remember, today, and always.