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February 27, 2009

BILL MOYERS: Like so many other people I know, I read the obituary page almost every day. At this stage of life it's often the catalyst for gratitude, at still being around. But the obits can also be a place to read about strangers you wish you had known, people whose lives left a light in the window for others.

In THE ECONOMIST magazine this week, I came upon this full-page obituary for Alison Des Forges, one of the fifty people who died two weeks ago in that plane crash near Buffalo. Regrettably, I didn't know about Alison Des Forges until her death, although I do know and admire the organization with which she worked, Human Rights Watch.

Des Forges was one of the first from the outside to alert the world to the genocide in Rwanda that began in 1994. Her calls for international intervention went largely unheeded - the Pentagon would not even jam the signals of Rwandan radio stations directing the murderers to their victims. When the massacre was over half a million people had died, and still, much of the world turned away. But Alison Des Forges went to Rwanda, investigated the genocide and produced an 800-page definitive account that put many of the guilty behind bars. Here she is in a video produced by Human Rights Watch in 2004.

ALISON DES FORGES: Justice is not going to erase the memory of the crimes, but it will provide people with some level of closure. At least they'll know it has been dealt with, talked about, someone's been held responsible...So this is very important, it is very important that the truth be known, that the people who were killed be remembered, and that their killers be acknowledged.

BILL MOYERS: "That the truth be known" - an epitaph to be remembered.

Then there was this obituary in THE NEW YORK TIMES this week of another remarkable life. Christopher Nolan was born in Ireland both mute and quadriplegic. With the incredible devotion of his family - and a stick strapped to his forehead - Nolan was able to peck out on a typewriter, one letter at a time, poetry, a novel and a prize-winning autobiography called UNDER THE EYE OF THE CLOCK.

He once told an interviewer, "My mind is like a spin-dryer at full speed, my thoughts fly around my skull while millions of beautiful words cascade down in my lap. Images gunfire across my consciousness and while trying to discipline them I jump in awe at the soul-filled bounty of my mind's expanse."

Christopher Nolan's creativity soared high above his severe physical adversity. He even managed to attend school, where his classmates included members of the band U2. They wrote a song about him - with lyrics by Bono - called "Miracle Drug."

U2: I want a trip inside your head
Spend the day there...
To hear the things you haven't said
And see what you might see
A miracle drug...

BILL MOYERS: That "miracle drug" was courage, and it kept Christopher Nolan going right up to his death, at age 43.
That's it for the JOURNAL. I'm Bill Moyers. I'll see you next time.

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