“Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not.” — George Bernard Shaw
Cynthia Beaudette was always asking why. Now, those of us she left behind are asking that same question.
Why did four children have to lose their mother? Why did we have to lose a friend? Why does death take those who deserve to live? If Cynthia were here today, I’m sure she’d be asking those questions.
But she’s not here. Cancer robbed Cynthia of her life this past weekend. The Muscatine Journal lost a reporter, and her co-workers — as well as people in Muscatine — lost a friend.
You may not have known her, or even met her, but I promise you, everyone had a friend in Cynthia, whether they knew it or not. No person's story was ever too small for Cynthia, and she always looked out for the people she wrote about. She always made sure to treat them with the same respect she would want to be treated with. She had an unwavering conviction that everyone deserved a fair shake, that no one should be exploited or hurt and that the truth always had the last word.
Cynthia wrote thousands of stories and crossed paths with countless people. Often, she'd take the time to walk those paths with the people she interviewed, and sometimes she'd even walk in their shoes. It's part of what made her special. People would confide in her, and they knew they could trust her not to abuse that confidence. And when the occasion called for it, she would fight for those people.
There were times when Cynthia and I wouldn't see eye to eye on how to approach a story. Her empathy would stand in the way of being able to write the less-than-pleasant parts of a story that needed to be told and I’d have to remind her that the truth isn’t always pleasant. She had a tendency to want people to read her stories through rose-colored glasses. The problem with rose-colored glasses, though, is that they cause us to lose focus on the big picture and keep us from seeing the thorns. But make no mistake: Cynthia didn’t suffer fools gladly, and she was no fool herself. She knew the world had thorns; it's just that she preferred to see the roses.
Then there were times when Cynthia would get frustrated at the very thing that endeared her to so many people. In her moments of insecurity, she would tell me she felt that people's impression of her limited her to writing "only soft stories." I would tell her that she needn't be frustrated: Of course she could write more than "just" soft news. She covered nearly everything from student council presidents to presidents of the United States. But she shouldn't retreat from what she does well. She should own it. It's a rare gift to be able to touch people the way Cynthia did.
It was a gift that would shine the brightest when times were darkest. Whenever we had to cover a tragedy, she could reach out to the people in the middle of it and gently peel back the layers of pain to find the story inside. She possessed a deft and delicate strength that could persuade them to share their stories with the rest of the world.
Insecurity and strength: that was part of Cynthia, a person full of opposites that attracted themselves, and attracted others to her. Those of us who knew Cynthia would say “This is Cynthia’s world. We’re just living in it.” It was our way of reminding us that Cynthia looked at life in her own special way. She was a case-study in contrasts — a mixture of naiveté and skepticism, hope and cynicism, happiness and sadness, fantasy and reality, compliance and defiance, frustration and patience. Her conversations could be peppered with head-scratchers in logic and non-sequiturs — she was sort of the Yogi Berra of our newsroom — but we loved her for it. She was a little bit of all of us rolled into one person. Maybe that's why she related so well to so many different kinds of people.
Whenever I think of Cynthia, I think of a song we both loved, “The Kid.” It was from Art Garfunkel’s album, “Everything Waits to be Noticed,” and it was one of her favorite songs. Cynthia and I heard it for the first time when we saw Garfunkel, Maia Sharp and Buddy Mondlock perform in Chicago during the winter of 2002. She said the song, part of which follows, made her think of her own life ...
"I'm the kid who ran away with the circus. Now I'm watering elephants.
But I sometimes lie awake in the sawdust, dreaming I'm in a suit of light.
Late at night in the empty big top, I'm all alone on the high wire.
'Look, he's working without a net this time. He's a real death-defier.'
I'm the kid who always looked out the window, failing tests in geography.
But I've seen things far beyond just the schoolyard — distant shores of exotic lands ...
I'm the kid who has this habit of dreaming. Sometimes gets me in trouble too.
But the truth is I could no more stop dreaming, than I could make them all come true."
Ultimately, none of us are death-defiers. Cynthia's passing is yet another reminder of that. But even as she began to lose her balance on the high wire, Cynthia never looked down. She always looked ahead. She never stopped dreaming. As we talked during what turned out to be her final days, one of the last things she told me was that she'd be back soon — "I want to come home," she said of her job at the Journal.
A few days ago, Cynthia donned her suit of light and left the big top. I don't know what lies beyond this greatest show on Earth, but I hope it's a place where all of her dreams can come true.