Yesterday morning began with my usual rounds — email, blog, Twitter, Facebook. One of my Facebook friends posted a link–“Amazing story,” she said. Normally at that time of day I wouldn’t follow a link, because I need to get busy writing, but something made me follow this one: Fearless to the end: Remembering Margaret Moth.
Moth was a photojournalist for CNN who’d died the day before, but this wasn’t like any obituary I’d ever read. This was the story of a woman’s well-lived life and the impact she’d had on others. Here are the first few graphs:
Simply put, Margaret Moth made an impression.
Given her jet-black hair, thick black eyeliner, black clothes and combat boots (which she often slept in while on assignment), people didn’t always know what to think upon meeting her. She was quirky, the sort who excused herself from a social gathering by saying she had to wash her socks. And she was fearless, the kind of woman who not only kept the camera rolling while under fire, but zoomed in on a soldier who was shooting at her.
Colleagues learned quickly to appreciate all that this CNN camerawoman was. Beyond her rich personality, which included deep optimism and kindness, she brought to her profession top-notch technical abilities, unmatched dedication and an approach to work that inspired others to push themselves.
I’d never heard of Margaret Moth before, though I vaguely recalled a CNN staffer being shot in Sarajevo in the 90s; that was Moth. But after reading about her life, and watching the CNN short documentary clips about her, I feel I know her just a bit–and feel inspired by her a lot. Would she like knowing so many are admiring her now, when she’d chosen a life behind the camera? Maybe not, but I think she’d like that others were empowered by her journey.
LESSONS FROM MARGARET MOTH
Forge your own path– Moth changed her name from Margaret Wilson to Margaret Gipsy Moth early in life, because she wanted to be her own person–there were too many Margaret Wilsons in the world; how would she ever stand out? “Gipsy Moth” came from the small airplane of the same name–a two-seater that she often used for skydiving. Professionally, she plotted a stand-out course from the beginning as the first camerawoman in both New Zealand and Australia.
–and proceed fearlessly. When some cameramen would stop filming to take cover during combat, Moth would press on and record truth. Her body of work is more than notable, it’s highly respected among her peers, because they knew the kind of chances she took to get those shots, to film those sequences, and they admired her bold nature. She was never one to take the easy road if the hard road looked like it had more to offer.
Don’t shy away from the macro lens. Safe pictures of warfare weren’t to Moth’s taste; she preferred to get close, closer, breathe in the danger to show it authentically. She believed the advice of WWII photojournalist Robert Capa who said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”
Be an example. Moth not only took others new to her dangerous profession under her wing to teach them her tricks–how to sleep safely in a war zone, how to avoid land minds–she inspired her colleagues to ask more of themselves. Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s chief international correspondent, was with Moth after a gunshot wound to Moth’s face following an attack on CNN’s media vehicle in Sarajevo left her unrecognizable and near death. When she was asked to return to the war zone shortly after Moth’s injury, it was being with Moth that inspired her to keep going.
“I said I’d go back, and I know to this day that if I hadn’t said ‘yes’ then, I probably never would’ve gone back and I never would’ve done this career. But I said ‘yes,’ because I couldn’t say no,” said Amanpour. “We did the work for her. We did it because she was our champion, and we wanted to be her champion.”
Moth herself returned to Sarajevo and her job about two years later with a reconstructed jaw.
“She endured all those endless surgeries, she had to learn to eat and drink and talk again. She had to endure people’s embarrassed, curious stares,” said Amanpour in one of yesterday’s many tributes to Moth. “She got hepatitis C from the initial blood transfusion in Sarajevo that saved her life. And later, she got cancer, fought the good fight for longer than anyone could imagine, and died. Life battered and brutalized her, but she remained unbowed and happy. She was a survivor, a unique soul, and she bore all that came her way with a remarkable sense of calm and equanimity.”
Keep your feet firmly planted on the ground. “Margaret represented the best of CNN,” wrote senior correspondent Ben Wedeman in another of yesterday’s tributes to Moth. “Modest, yet confident, skeptical of bluster and ego, utterly dedicated to her job. She had no tolerance for the ‘news star’ syndrome that often afflicts reporters these days. She kept all of us with our feet firmly planted on terra firma.”
Realize just how in control you really are–of your actions, of your mindset. For all that she saw and endured, she knew herself to be lucky to have the opportunity to tell the stories she did, to be in the game. Despite the often harsh situations in which she found herself, she was positive (e.g. Think of the traveling we’re doing, how remarkable this is.) and she was pragmatic (e.g. I was shot because I was in a war-zone; it was nothing personal.).
“I think life’s sort of like a game of tennis,” she said. “You have no choice over how that ball comes to you, but it’s how you hit it back that counts.” And that is entirely up to you.
Play hard. As hard as Moth worked, she played just as hard.
“When she was on assignment, she gave 100%, but I have to say, she also knew how to unwind and how to relax,” said colleague Sausan Ghosheh. “In a war zone you could go crazy if you don’t actually know how to cool down a little bit and how to have fun.”
Jokes, sky diving, hanging around with your favorite cats (literally and figuratively) to toss back a few beers, even rollerblading in a hotel lobby in Baghdad — those are just a few of the ways Moth chose to unwind.
Don’t care what others think. “She does not give a toss what anybody thinks about her,” said colleague Hala Gorani. “She has absolutely her own unique set of values, what she thinks is important in life. She doesn’t care about the establishment, the whole ‘what is expected of women.’ She’s a true pioneer.”
Live without regrets. “People say, ‘people like you, you have a death wish,'” said Moth in a former interview. “And it used to make me so angry. I thought, don’t you dare insinuate I have a death wish. I don’t know anyone who’s enjoyed life more…”
When Moth learned she was dying of cancer, a friend of hers asked her how she was coping–because she seemed to be coping almost too well.
“If I’d had an uneventful life, I would be in a panic right now,” she’d said. But because she’d lived a well-lived life, she had no regrets and didn’t fear the end.
A wonderful life, no?
Today, try applying a Moth-like approach to your work: Step into its conflicts and macro-lens nuances. Drive yourself past your comfort zone. And if you’re a self-professed herd animal, now’s the time to out yourself, so we can turn you off the beaten path.
Write on, all.