My lifelong best friend was killed in a car accident when we were both 20.
Ten years later, my mother -- a pedestrian standing only feet from my childhood home -- was struck and killed by a car.
Both of these life-changing losses happened at this time of year -- the first in mid-May, the latter on June 1. The trees were green, the days were sunny, and it made absolutely no sense to be going to the funerals of the people who meant the most to me.
My friend had been in a car with five other Niagara University students (she wasn't at the wheel), coming back from a weekend night out at the lake in Angola. Their car colliided with a tractor-trailer at an intersection in Evans; all six girls died.
Drunk driving may have been involved in both incidents; a lack of caution certainly was. Nor can alcohol be dismissed as a factor in ongoing hit-and-run manslaughter trial of Dr. James G. Corasanti or in the rash of tragic accidents over the past few days in the Buffalo area.
So maybe it's time to prove Monica Ferrar wrong. She is the director of the local Drinking Driver Program who was quoted today in News reporter Gene Warner's story on the recent accidents:
"Nobody learns from other people's mistakes," Ferrar told Warner. "They don't think it can happen to them." (Along the same lines, the DUI Foundation website offers what it calls a sobering fact: "On average, a first time drunk driving offender has driven drunk 87 times before being arrested.")
But clearly, it does happen. And tragedy may follow.
My friend Lauri Githens observed a few days ago that the photograph on the News website of Corasanti's car following the collision with 18-year-old Alix Rice -- was "the most violent image you've run since Merge," an allusion to a controversial photo taken just after the 2010 shooting of a Buffalo restaurant worker.
The Corasanti trial is happening for a reason; we don't know exactly what happened that night or the role that alcohol may have played.
But the image of that mangled BMW is haunting. It ought to be.
The trial continues this week and everyone will keep talking about it. That's inevitable. But as we do, it would be useful to take something from our fascination other than gossip fodder.
In paying such close attention, we could, finally, learn something.
Here is Brian Meyer's interview with court reporter Patrick Lakamp, summarizing last week's testimony in the Corasanti trial and looking towards the weeks ahead.
When former Washington Post political reporter David Maraniss has a new book project, it's worth paying attention. Maraniss won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage, during the 1992 presidential campaign, of candidate Bill Clinton. Now an associate editor at the Post, he is also the author of several outstanding biographies, characterized by their deep reporting, graceful writing and probing insights into his subject, whether that is baseball legend Roberto Clemente, NFL coach Vince Lombardi or President Bill Clinton.
Maraniss has now turned his attention to the life of Barack Obama. A excerpt from his soon-to-be-published book, "Barack Obama: The Story" appears in the June issue of Vanity Fair magazine. The excerpt centers on the young Obama's romantic relationships, particularly one with Genevieve Cook, the "New York woman" during his single days after graduation from Columbia University -- "the deepest romantic relationship of his young life." You can read the excerpt here.
Vanity Fair also features a question-and-answer interview with Maraniss. Read it here.
Here's a sample from that Q&A:
What parallels, if any, did you see between Clinton and Obama?
Bill Clinton and Barack Obama both came out of dysfunctional pasts. They grew up without fathers, with mothers who were doting and ambitious but not always there, with the shadow of alcoholism hanging over the family. But the ways that they reacted to their circumstances were diametrically different. Clinton had a deep need for people from the beginning. He could never be alone. Obama did not need people in that same way. He had the sensibility of a writer or anthropologist, a participant observer. And he spent 10 years of his young adulthood trying to figure himself out. It was only once he had resolved the contradictions of his life that he felt ready to move on toward his political future.
The book will be published by Simon & Schuster on June 19th. Given the election season, and Maraniss' reputation and skill, it's bound to be very much in the conversation over the next weeks and months.
The 1981 photo of the young Obama, a student at Columbia University, in New York's Central Park is from Vanity Fair.
With World Press Freedom Day approaching Thursday, here's a good overview piece by Gene Policinski, executive director of the First Amendment Center, on the troubles journalists continue to face around the globe.
Meanwhile, a list released by the Committee to Protect Journalists identifies the 10 most repressive places in the world for press freedom. This AP story gives the harrowing details.
One of the nations on that unsavory list is Burma. But, on a more hopeful note, Burma today is the setting for one of the most inspiring international stories of the year so far. In a nation where democratic reform is gaining a foothold, Nobel laureate and icon of demoracy Aung San Suu Kyi has just been sworn in as a member of Parliament after spending many years under house arrest over the past two decades. This Voice of America story tells her unlikely and uplifting tale.
Let's hope that press freedom in Burma, and elsewhere, will soon follow. Democracy won't truly exist without it.
(The photo of Aung San Suu Kyi from her swearing in today is from the Associated Press.)