She Knew How to Unwind in a War Zone
I was in the library when I heard about Margaret Moth’s death and that, subsequently, is how I was introduced to her.
It was a summer for finding out about deaths in the library. I’d already attended a friend’s funeral that summer after finding out about it on Facebook while at my reference desk job at Hillman — a library that looks like it was once a parking garage. I shivered in the overenthusiastic AC, pulling periodicals to send to the bindery and reorganizing the stacks, killing time on the Internet and feeling frustrated.
I felt like I wasn’t really doing anything in my life, of significance or otherwise. I felt pent-up ambition that I’d thought had sort of hit a brick wall of ability or opportunity or just back luck. The life I wanted and the life I was living seemed to have an unbridgeable distance between them.
Then I opened an email from my professor with a link to a eulogy for Margaret Moth.
You probably haven’t heard of Margaret Moth, but that’s not because she wasn’t remarkable. It’s just that in the world of remarkable journalism, Margaret Moth operated behind the camera. “Operated,” is really too tame a word, though. Behind the camera, Margaret Moth lived. Intensely.
Margaret Moth jumped out of planes for fun. She filmed in war zones for decades. She got footage no one else got, not because she had no fear, as many said of her, but rather because she had a well-balanced relationship with it. She changed her name to “Moth,” thumbing her nose at patriarchy and creating something that was uniquely hers.
Read about Margaret Moth and what you’ll discover is that she did exactly what she wanted to do in life and didn’t give a damn if other people thought that was odd. She was shot in the face filming in Sarajevo and returned to film there as soon as she was able. She cared deeply about animals (when she died, she was survived by her 25 adopted cats.) She inspired Christiane Amanpour. She lived and worked all over the world. She had a wicked sense of humor. She had an insatiable desire to be there, in the moment, when history was being made. She was kind, dedicated, persevering, and ever grateful for and astounded by the life she got to live.
I wonder if she realized how much of how her life turned out was based not just on external circumstances but on her character, her own vim and vigor.
I read and reread descriptions of Moth from time to time to remind myself that someone has done it before me — someone asked of life more than most and really got it. Her colleagues spoke of how inspiring she was — if quirky. I think, “Screw quirky! Who cares about ‘quirky’?” This woman lived her life so exactly as she wanted that when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer she had no regrets. Well, maybe she had just one. “Dying of cancer, I would have liked to think I’d have gone out with a bit more flair,” she said.
Moth is my larger-than-life talisman. The trailblazer who reminds me that it’s not impolite to go to life and ask for seconds, thirds even. And if, when my bell tolls, all I have left to quibble over with life is that it didn’t provide me a flashier way to die, I will be supremely satisfied.