Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tim Hetherington

SGM Caldwell, me, Tim

"It was an emotional hit. He was a good man who lived his life for others." - COL Bill Ostlund

I'm breaking a rule tonight.  I'm sitting on my patio drinking alone.  I'm drinking to the life of Tim Hetherington.  No, I'm not drinking to his memory.  I don't want to "remember" him.  I want to hug him.  I want to listen to that British accent for hours.  I want to see that smile that goes on forever and those eyes that can go from dancing with excitement and joy while telling a story to dark and foreboding while telling a different story.  I want to watch his hands dance as he responds to a reporter's questions in an interview.

Tim being interviewed about RESTREPO

I want to watch over and over again as he greets a Soldier that he spent months with in Afghanistan - to see him gaze across the heads in a crowded room until he spots one of those Soldiers then navigate the crowd like threading a needle until he gets to his objective.  I want to watch him grab that Soldier in a big bear hug, lay a resounding pat on his back and hear him say with the most genuine of emotion and love, "Good to see you man.  How are you?"  I want to stand back and watch while he and the Soldier go from a laughing and animated conversation to one of seriousness and dignity as they remember a fallen brother.

Tim and some of the Soldiers of RESTREPO
Just as many others are I am in denial and disbelief that Tim has been taken from us.

Honored.  Privileged.  Grateful.  Fortunate.  None of those words or any others can describe how I feel about having the opportunity to meet and get to know Tim.  No, we weren't "best" friends.  But we were friends.  And I knew that if I ever needed to pick up the phone or drop an email to Tim for help he would have done so without question.

My eyes are red and puffy and the tears continue to stream down my face.  I just cannot make them stop.  I keep having this vision of Tim in the hospital in Libya and me willing the doctors to MAKE HIM LIVE!  I knew Tim had been in Libya but I thought he was on his way home.  And he had been, sort of.  But  he decided to go back in and not come home just yet.  I suspect it was because of the plight of those in Misrata that he went back.  Ever the humanitarian Tim spent his adult life advocating for those in war zones and areas of conflict and genocide.  I'll never question why Tim made the decision to go back in and not come home just yet.  See, Tim Hetherington wasn't a thrill seeker.  He wasn't egotistical.  Tim Hetherington was a humanitarian to the core of his soul.  I have to believe that Tim felt or knew there was something below the surface of the reports we have been getting from Libya.  Something that he felt the world needed to know.  I know he didn't go back in just for the hell of it.

A lot of people seem to have the impression that, because he was an Academy Award nominee, Tim lived the high life.  Probably had a penthouse apartment in New York where he lived.  Those who knew him know that cannot be farther from the truth.  Tim lived an incredibly spartan live.  Advocating for and helping others was what made him happy.  Tim once said that the only furniture he had in his New York apartment was a chair and a bed.  Tim and Sebastian Junger (co-Producer) went into debt filming and producing RESTREPO so that they could keep editorial control and make sure the men of the ROCK were not portrayed differently from exactly what they went through.  Contrary to what some think Tim did not get wealthy off of RESTREPO or INFIDEL.  I suppose, in the end, they became more of a labor of love.

Soldiers aren't an easy group to win over as far as trust and respect goes.  Tim Hetherington more than gained the trust, respect and love of the Paratroopers with whom he embedded in OEF VIII.  As I've read comment after comment on facebook today from the men of the 173rd, 2-503rd (and not just Battle Co, 2nd Platoon), I have been touched with the love they are sharing and the heartfelt loss they are feeling. Many are commenting that he is a "brother."  Others are calling him one of  "The ROCK". One comment hit the nail on the head, "Without a sign, his sword the brave man draws, and asks no omen, but his country's cause. Tim was the brave man without a sword and his cause was humanity."

The day he left for Libya Tim stopped by Sebastian's on the way to the airport.  While he was there he signed a couple of copies of INFIDEL and RESTREPO for me.  I've run my fingers across those signatures many times tonight.  For some strange reason it makes me feel like he is still alive.  Even though Tim is no longer on this earth he will always "live".  He will live through his amazing works.  He will live through his inspirational life.  He will live through the love he gave to so many in so many ways.

Between sips of scotch tonight I have been turning page by page of Tim's book (that he autographed for me last year) "Long Story Bit By Bit: Liberia Retold."  Many people don't know that "He was the only photographer to live behind rebel lines during the 2003 Liberian civil war -- work that culminated in the film 'Liberia: an Uncivil War' and the book 'Long Story Bit By Bit: Liberia Retold' (Umbrage 2009), and his work for Human Rights Watch to uncover civilian massacres on the Chad / Darfur border in 2006 appeared in the documentary 'The Devil Came on Horseback,'" his biography on the "Restrepo" website says.  Most images in the book are profoundly haunting.  The interviews explain this history of the troubled nation.  Tim's love for mankind seeps out of every page.

Tim wouldn't want us to be sad or make a big deal out of his death.  He would want us to forge on advocating for those suffering humanitarian injustices particularly in time of war and conflict.  He would also want us to find a way to "be there" for those who have returned from war and are struggling each day to re-integrate back into society. 

There are many links on the internet tonight about Tim.  I like this one best.

Tim was a great man and a man of greatness although he would argue that.  He'd lose the argument with me.  I couldn't mean it more when I say that Tim Hetherington was one of the greatest men I ever had the privilege of knowing.  I am grateful for the laughs we shared and for the moments of serious conversation.  I'm grateful for his work on RESTREPO and INFIDEL.  I'm grateful for the unconditional love he had for the men of the ROCK.  And I'd be remiss if I didn't say (on behalf of every red blooded American woman) that I'm grateful for the skinny jeans that Tim wore.  :)

My heart physically hurts tonight for Tim's family, for the love of his life and for the thousands around the globe whose stories he told through his incredibly works of photography and film.

So, while I began this by saying I wasn't going to "remember" Tim tonight I will.  I'll remember him tonight and every night for the rest of my life.  Tim and his work inspired me.  I hope that each day I can do something to help others that would make Tim proud.  I hope those of you reading this will pledge to do the same.  What a wonderful way that would be to remember Tim and to honor his life.  He was absolutely one in a million and I loved him for who he was.  Say hi to Dad and all our Fallen Heroes Tim.



Greta Perry said...

Beautiful words indeed. Cheers!

K-Dubyah said...

[pulling out a chair, pours a drink]

Think I'll join you, Leta. While I didn't meet Tim myself, I think you just told me all I needed to know.


[drains the glass, and throws it on ground!]

AFSister said...

Here, Here! To a great man, who documented many other great men.


JihadGene said...

Very sorry to hear this. Prayers sent.

Homefront Six said...

Like K-D said, I didn't know him but you made him come alive in my mind. Thank you. We are lesser for his loss.

GunnNutt said...

Damn girl, this is one of the best things you've ever written. I'm giving you a hug and saying 'Thanks for giving a piece of Tim to all who read this."