For the longest time, I couldn’t put pen to paper for our beloved Annie Garrels. Clearly, she was one of the most brilliant people I have ever met, and her capacity for emotional generosity was immeasurable. Her sense of justice and her passionate opposition to injustice was something to behold, and her loyalty to her family, friends, and colleagues held up the world. At least my world.
But there was something else. Something more beautiful, unfathomable almost. A few days before her funeral, I was thinking about her performances of Between War and Here.
In the show, she told the story of being an embedded reporter in Fallujah, at a very difficult time in the Gulf War. She spoke of the young men she accompanied onto the streets of that dangerous city—and one young man in particular, Michael.
She described sitting in the darkness, recording the voices of those Marines as they spoke about their lives at home, but in a moment of clarity, I realized it was not the story she told that described Anne Garrels, it was the everything about it.
There she was, an embedded reporter in her fifties, making herself part of their lives. There she was, proving that she could keep up, haul her gear, not slow them down. There she was, running and ducking, and when Michael said, “I don’t want you to go into that building today, stay here.” She stayed there. And then she heard the gunshots that killed him, and she realized that she could send his mom the recording from that night when they sat together, as Michael described being raised by a single mom, and his deep admiration and love for her.
Of course, that was what she would do. But here’s the thing that I finally understood. She loved being there. Out there, in the world. She loved the messy, dangerous, crazy places that few of us have ever seen, and she understood that she could bring those stories to her listeners and readers in a way that no one else had done before, or has done since.
I imagined her sitting there that night, holding the microphone so that she wouldn’t miss a thing. I saw her being invisible, but fully present. I saw the humanity in her that made it possible for her to witness the humanity in them. I saw the love and admiration that she had for those young men, and the men and women who had peopled her reporting since, well, forever…those moments of life that she found, and saw, and heard, and brought to the rest of the world. And I saw how much she loved being there. Wherever she was.
She was all of the things that have been said and written about her since she died, but that thing, that ability to be so deeply present in a war zone, or in a tiny town in Russia, in her kitchen, or sharing dinner with a friend on Sundays, that is what those of us who were graced by her life, will deeply grieve—and the sound of her gravelly voice on the other end of the phone, saying “Hello my love.”
-Carolyn Anderson Surrick