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Cowardice has served me well

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — I’m a coward. I’ve always been a coward.

But, I must say, as a journalist for nearly 40 years, my cowardly ways have kept me out of harm’s way on many occasions, including a 12-year stint in Central America during the war years of the 1980s. That included 10 years in Guatemala, where I worked as a foreign correspondent during some of the worst years of military dictatorship.

I covered military coups, violent street protests, guerrilla warfare and some of the worst human rights violations recorded in the Western Hemisphere, both in Guatemala and El Salvador, which I visited every three months to write about the civil war there.

Unlike other reporters, who raced to the front lines in nearly all occasions to cover events, I always stayed back, reporting from a safe distance and even interviewing my brave colleagues about what they saw while photographing and documenting events after they returned to the comfort zone where I remained entrenched.

Unfortunately, like everyone who lives life in the tropics for long enough, I ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time on various occasions. I emerged generally unscathed, save for once when I virtually lost my hearing for about 24 hours after a bomb exploded in a restaurant bathroom as I washed my hands.

And, of course, there are the lifelong emotional scars of watching colleagues get killed or persecuted for being brave souls who did their jobs as front-line journalists, academics, lawyers, activists and more. Add to that the acquaintances whom I regularly interviewed and admired as they dedicated their lives to working to better the world they lived in.

Those experiences taught me to keep my head down, but my eyes open, while diving into the thick of everything to report the news. It taught me that being a coward is the right choice for me, allowing me to do my job on the front lines, imbedded in the eye of the storm, where I’m cushioned from the disaster swirling around me and yet able to observe the world at its best and worst and write about it with a bird’s eye view.

In New Mexico, where I’ve lived since returning from Central America in 1992, I’ve continued my cowardly ways. And, as always, it’s served me well in the pandemic.

Like most of my colleagues at the Journal and other media outlets, I’ve worked almost entirely from home for the past year, quarantined with my wife and nephew while closely observing all that is swirling around us. And, of course, finding ways to write about everything I can in my area of the business beat as the economy and society trudge forward through the pandemic.

I’m entrenched in my comfort zone, unabashedly glued to my cowardly refusal to do any onsite reporting while many of my colleagues venture forth to the front lines.

I admire my co-workers, beginning with the photographers who haven’t stopped documenting the worst of COVID-19’s ravaging effects since day one, from the Navajo Nation to southern New Mexico. The reporters as well, who still go forth to get stories, faithfully reporting from the front lines, pandemic be damned.

Apart from those reporters, I also deeply admire all of our front-line workers, from medical professionals to police and firefighters, from fast-food-chain and restaurant servers to grocery-store stockers and cashiers. All of them bravely do their jobs each day, despite the coronavirus, to provide the goods and services we need and to put food on the table for their own families.

And I admire all our public representatives, from the governor on down, who have diligently worked to pull New Mexico through these trying times, notwithstanding disagreements about the best, or most-appropriate, measures to keep people safe while still keeping the economy going.

I’m grateful to all. Their efforts inspire a coward like me to continue doing what I do, albeit holed up in my comfort zone, and writing about everything I can.

Still, like everyone, I’m scarred by the thousands of coronavirus casualties, from those who lost their lives or suffered through the illness to all their family members who must now live their lives with the horror of losing loved ones to a merciless plague.

Better times are coming. Vaccinations are taking hold. Herd immunity is on the horizon.

And me? I’ll trudge forward like everyone else, until the sun shines on a COVID-free world, allowing this cowardly reporter to re-join the better, braver people who surround me and who put their heads down, grit their teeth, and marched forth, pandemic be damned.

UpFront is a regular Journal news and opinion column.


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