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Missing Bill Moyers — and his wisdom, humor and passion for justice

Another Friday night has come and gone. Just as Bill Moyers and his weekly television show, “Bill Moyers Journal” on PBS, has gone. I don’t begrudge his wanting to let go of demands of a weekly television show — nor his desire to do some other creative things with the next years of his life. After all, I let go of one profession to take up another. I did not want to reach the end of my life and not have tried to see what I could create with words and with camera lens. Perhaps Moyers has the same feelings.

But just the same, I miss him. I miss his wisdom, his humor, his delight in learning new things, his passion for justice, his keen intellect.

He would sit there every Friday night at 9 and focus on his guest across the table. As he engaged in the conversation, he often would lean forward, his face and eyes alive. His questions were always respectful, but week after week his positions and perspective on the world were clear. And he could skewer someone as nicely as anyone.

However on April 30, it was his last choice of a person to interview that is a metaphor for what I miss most. He invited the writer Barry Lopez, whose most recent book is “Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape,” in which Lopez continues to examine our relationship to the landscape and natural world.

It has always been evident that Bill Moyers lived his life in the political world. But he also lived in the literary world and beyond. He knows the importance of the wisdom that thoughtful writers and poets have to give us.

Wars, world hunger, climate change, politics, injustices, educational policy, immigration, technological changes, aging, health care reform — the list of critical concerns in our times is long. “Journal” addressed all of these and more. Moyers expanded the search for creative approaches to the issues of our day with a steady stream of writers. No one else in the contemporary media does what Moyers was so skillful at doing every Friday evening.

In the last interview on the “Journal,” Barry Lopez said to Moyers: “Where I start from is ethical responsibility to an audience. The creation of something that is as beautiful as you can make it. And that ensures that what we dream, what we really desire, not for ourselves, because that’s what you do as a kid, but for children — how will you ensure some possibility here by making sure we don’t forget where we are going or what we are up to.” Wise words that say it all.

Nearly six months later, I wonder whom Moyers might have interviewed in the middle of this midterm election. What would he have to say by his choices of guests? I expect he would have homed in on issues such as secretive campaign financing, the negative preponderance of attacks on opponents rather than elucidation of candidates’ positions, attitudes toward Muslims, the deep polarization in our country.

Certainly he would have invited more than political commentators, as Americans begin to move toward their polling places. Moyers’ intellectual curiosity and his passion for social justice would have meant digging deeper. Guests might have included a poet or two, a novelist, a theologian or moral ethicist, perhaps a cultural anthropologist.

I can see Moyers now in my imagination, leaning across the table with that fire in his eyes. Asking in Barry Lopez’s words: how can we “ensure some possibility here by making sure we don’t forget where we are going or what we are up to?”

I miss you, Bill Moyers!

Elizabeth Nagel is a local writer and photographer who is a teaching artist at The Loft Literary Center. She spent 30 years as a licensed psychologist. Nagel and her husband maintain a blog.

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Robert Langford on 10/25/2010 - 11:36 am.

    Thank you for this thoughtful commentary. I miss Bill Moyers too, and find my frustration with the simplistic, hurtful and oportunistic media almost more than I can stand! Even the old reliables are opting for the new mode of interview and coverage, and the result is a whole media face of disjointed opinion that seems to have little more than anger behind it. The insight of Moyers allowed for a clear view of the world that just is so needed now, and we are all the less for his being gone.

  2. Submitted by John Olson on 10/25/2010 - 08:46 pm.

    Maybe Moyers saw a majority of his colleagues resorting to sophomoric behavior to try and get ratings and decided it was better to leave on his own terms.

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