Letter From New York, August 17, 2010

Or, as it seems to me…

I usually do a draft of my letter on Saturday or Sunday, mull it over, play with the words and then send it out on Tuesday. This past Saturday morning I was awake early, it was another beautiful day at the cottage and I had an impressive list of errands to run. The day started with perusing the news online. I was creating some witty things in my head to write about Steve Slater, the world’s favorite flight attendant gone berserk. He was, after all, the story of the hour. The blogoshpere was atwitter. It was something one could not not comment upon.

I spoke briefly with Torrey Townsend, head of the small team Odyssey had down in Haiti covering the earthquake six months after. He sounded in fine fettle. Lucia, his associate producer, had been down for a day but had bounced back. They had good things planned for filming. All was going well.

In the sun blessed day, with perfect temperatures and that soft wind blowing, I ran my errands. While I was weeding in the center patch I missed the phone ringing. Later I noticed I had missed a call from Lucia and that a colleague, Eric, had left me a message. Torrey, in the few hours since I had spoken with him, had collapsed with a high fever, gastroenterological distress and was hallucinating.

The lazy, lovely Saturday I was enjoying was shattered and in a moment I was engaged in the process of extracting a team from Haiti, one of them very ill and the other two very worried and scared. Torrey was the team leader and with him down…

It took me back to a moment some years ago now when I helped Brent and Craig Renaud get an assignment from Discovery Times [the now gone, much lamented network] to go cover the Iraq war, embedded with the Arkansas National Guard, returning, eventually, with an award winning ten hours of programming that is one of the things I am proudest of having been involved with. The day they got on the plane to Iraq, were on their way, I broke down and sobbed. Jon Alpert, the great documentarian, was on the phone with me. He too was fighting tears. We had worked for months to fulfill their wish to do this job and when we had succeeded, it came down crushingly, we had just put two wonderful young men into harm’s way and their was no guarantee they would come back safely.

When we learned Torrey was ill, hallucinating in Haiti, on a Saturday when the normal office infrastructure was unavailable to support us, I filled in. I had to. I had sent him there and in his moment of distress, it became my job to organize our getting him and his team out. SOS Emergency got him booked on a flight out on Sunday. I secured the last two seats on that flight for his team, thanking God for credit cards, internet access and the intervention of God that I could get those seats. I did not want him alone, sick, on that plane. We got Lucia focused into getting some local doctors to provide some care, which they did and which, it turned out, turned the tide.

There was huge frustration because I wasn’t on the ground, getting things done. I was on the tenuous tether of AT&T cell service. Each step we took helped me feel I was doing what was my responsibility to this young man and his team. They had gone willingly, even joyously, to Haiti.

Several times as we moved Torrey and team out of Haiti and back to the states and through the hospital and to the good news that he was on the mend and that the drugs given by the Haitian doctors had been good choices, that as relief came, I found tears near the edge of my eyes, grateful, as I had been when the Renaud brothers returned unscathed, while pondering the bond sensed when lives intersect, even briefly, in some crisis.

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One Response to “Letter From New York, August 17, 2010”

  1. Erin Sim Says:

    and Steve Slater had his 15 minutes of fame without you. God not only arranges airplane seats in times of crisis. God taps us on the shoulder and says “Pssst… the really important thing is over here…”

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