December 2020 was indeed bleak. Prospects of Christmas, Hanukah, the Solstice, were muffled in the tedium of computer quicksand, and shed but dim light light over the month. Instead, we felt like the “separate, dying embers“ of Poe’s December poem, The Raven, which “wrought their ghosts upon the floor”.
The world was on the rack. Our friends were particles in an expanding universe with plagues and other evils swirling between us. The G’wichin people, who follow the caribou, and tell some of the world’s funniest stories, seemed about to lose their fight with the Bureau of Land Management over drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge. The war industry, which enthralls our nation, was goading the Senate to pass on a $23 billion sale of drones and missiles to further incinerate Yemenis. A bioengineering solution to climate change, regarded as insane in 2011, was now being seriously considered by scientists.
Locally, Caltrans was girding itself for another attack on the ancient redwoods of Richardson Grove.
We all felt frozen when we confronted our true spiritual state. We saw Hieronymous Bosch images of Hell everywhere, and were on the verge of succumbing to St. Anthony’s temptation: despair.
Then, one morning, an elderly woman and her son walked out to the end of the North Jetty. A wave swept them into the sea. The son barely managed to save himself by clinging to the jetty rocks, but his mother was swept away. Somebody’s drone made a video of the son and two other men fleeing back down the jetty, pounded and drenched by waves. The son had a cellphone pressed to his ear to get 911 and is staggering as he falls further and further behind the other two.
The woman’s body was retrieved later from the surf.
Christmas is a Mother-and-Son story, but this was a diabolical twist on it. The news told us that her name was Mary Malouf, and that she was from Utah. In my sluggish and aimless dreariness, I looked her up.
It turns out in Salt Lake City, and indeed in Utah, Mary Malouf was a force of nature, and eloquently mourned. Pictures showed a beautiful woman, merrily dressed, in cowboy boots, tons of jewelry, bright red lipstick and a space between her front teeth. She was Editor-in-Chief of Salt Lake Magazine where she was also the culinary writer, funny, a sort of newspaper Julia Child. She wrote devastatingly, wittily and knowledgeably (I checked this out and found a subtly wicked sketch she wrote, describing the Dallas Institute of Humanity and Culture, and its High Society. )
She opened her house and kitchen to one and all, offering safety to those who needed it.
She was described as an “irreverent and fiery spirit”, “crazy-haired Texas spitfire”, “larger than life”, “galvanized magnolia”. On a large wall mural painted in downtown Utah, she stands at the center, holding a globe.
Together with her husband, the reporter Glen Warchol, as one eulogy summarized, “she helped sculpt the culture of this city, not in massive, showy ways but important ways that go to the core of the community of who we are. They built a civilization together”.
Salt Lake City has an open-minded community – spirited population, history of progressive mayors, all members of Mayors for Peace.
This couple’s love for each other was famous (“it was something the rest of us have aspired to find”) and for years they went camping all over the west. He died two years ago. Her father died of covid last month. Her grief was heavy but through it all she continued to work.
Another encomium: “There never was a time when there was not Mary. Until now. Today, Mary died when a rogue wave swept her out to sea. Only she, perhaps the world’s foremost lover of Bronte, BBC mysteries, and, of course, Moby Dick, would appreciate such poetic drama.”
Apparently Mary and Glen used to discuss manners of death as fellow reporters. What sort of death makes good copy?
Mary Malouf found hers unerringly. This Moby Dick lover walked out the North Jetty on a day when the waves were nearly 30 feet high. Definitely splendid copy.
One eulogizer quoted “I know not al that may be coming, but be that as it will, I’ll go to it laughing.” He intentionally attributes this quote to Mary Malouf, but then corrects himself, confessing it was actually Melville.
Melville, who would immediately go to sea when he “found himself bringing up the rear of every funeral”.
It is not infrequent that people get swept off the Eureka jetties. But my initially phlegmatic search into this recent tragedy brought me to my senses. Mary Malouf was magnificent. And everybody, everybody, whether or not they get swept off a jetty or taken out by Covid, is composed of the miraculous if you really look at them. Some get a chance to really shine, like the millions of Indians blocking the gates of Delhi, or the Portlandians who won’t get out of the streets. We have to look harder, and see more, and, when this Covid is done, hug and kiss each other over and over again, all around the world, to make up for lost time.