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Monday, November 8, 2010

The Eds, Take 1

While I was in Laramie, I didn't get a lot of academic-y stuff done.  Most of the people I had hoped to chat with were gone for the July 4th weekend, and after some bad planning and some car troubles, I only had a few short hours to make use of the university library before they closed up for the 4th of July weekend.  

But my time in Laramie wasn't a loss by any stretch.  I spent a lot of time with my brother Coyote, who let me see this community for a weekend through his eyes, and for which I thank him.  I spent a lot of time lost in the wilderness trying to learn how to be alone with myself again.  And I got three whole hours in Coe Library, where I spent my time digging in the basement and looking at the microfilm.

And what I found was really interesting.  I only had a short time to look at the Boomerang's coverage of the original beating and the ten-year anniversary, but it was extremely revealing, and I'll be talking about that in more detail later.  But the best gems I came back with were some editorials from the current Boomerang staff.  After 10 Years Later, we all learned about one snarky editorial on their Opinion page; as it turns out, there were two.

The first editorial (which I highly encourage you read) doesn't get a mention in the play from what I remember, and it's pretty interesting.  It was entitled "Ten Years Later, It's Time To Move On,"  and it's a bit of an over-the-top emotional argument about why the community needs to let the specter of Matthew Shepard go.  For one, I noticed that this one is actually attributed to the editor personally.    She's also asking a legitimate question: why do some stories of murder remain and get memorialized and others don't?  That's a great question, actually.  What I don't like is using that question to dismiss any attention paid to Shepard.

In the editorial, the editor gives a litany of other murders and tragic deaths which happened in Laramie (of which Cindy Dixon, Russell Henderson's mother, is one) and complains that none of them are given the same recognition.  She's not quite right about her examples of forgotten tragedies, however.  There was a memorial marker erected at Tie Siding where the members of the cross-country team died (and note the evasive wording in that statement).  This white cross stands near the location where the accident occurred.   Nothing, however, stands on the ground where Shepard was brutally murdered, not even the fence on which he was tied.  One location has a white cross marker to help establish the memory of a tragedy while the other has been wiped clean of all bad memories.  I'm not saying that this is a problem per se-- that landowner has the right to have peace on his or her own property-- but it does complicate her point, which the editor tries to paint a little too much in black and white when this is an issue that by definition requires shades of gray.

I also find it interesting that, in her litany of tragedies in her editorial, she chose to skip over Kristen Lamb.  That was the tragedy that had so many people in Laramie steaming (her murderer's trial roughly coincided with the Shepard beating) and is often cited as justification for those who resent the media attention over Shepard's death.  Perhaps some things run too deep, and too painful, even to be used as ammo by an angry journalist in a newspaper editorial.   Maybe there are other tragedies she would like to see remain at rest, and unmentioned. 

Anyhow, I guess that would be my main complaint here.  Sure, Deb, you're asking a legitimate question, and it's one that I (and many others) are interested in, too.  But you're not asking it in order to get an answer.  You're simply using it as an excuse to complain about an event that has left Laramie feeling bruised.  If you'd stop and explore that question-- why some stories are remembered and others are not-- you might learn something really fascinating about the nature of collective memory and human nature.  That's a lot more productive than trying to wish away a memory of an event that stings to remember and isn't going to go away.

Whether we like it or not, Matt will be a part of this community's memory.  The only real question, in my mind, is whether or not we incorporate that memory in a positive way or not, and an attitude like yours makes that difficult.   And it makes it impossible for everyone to "move on" from this tragedy like you want.  No one can "move on" from a story like this until it is confronted and you reconcile yourself to its existence.  That's the only kind of positive healing this community can ever have, and if you don't do that, you will continue to be haunted by this memory which will never leave.  The more you try to "move on," the longer he's going to be with you. 


1)  The roadside memorial at Tie Siding, Wyoming, taken from gregor_y's Flickr photostream:

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