The war in Afghanistan has really hit home for me; my friend, Michelle Lang, a journalist for the Canwest-owned Calgary Herald, was killed while riding in a military vehicle with four military personnel. The vehicle they were travelling in struck an improvised explosive device (IED) which killed all four of the military personnel and my friend Michelle.
It is a strange feeling to know that my friend Michelle will never be coming home again, or emailing me or phoning me. Admittedly I have not seen Michelle for a few years. Since her move from the Prince George FreePress to the Calgary Herald we only emailed one another occasionally. But I can no longer email her and expect a reply.
Michelle and I went to Simon Fraser University together. I believe we took a course in American Literature together and we shared many laughs in that university course.
During that semester I clearly remember walking down to the office of the Peak, the SFU newspaper, and Michelle asking about submitting an article she had written. The person at the front desk had some wild hair colour and piercings all over her face with some bizarre ensemble for clothing. She sneered at us and told Michelle that, “We don’t take mainstream shit.” I was very taken aback. But Michelle? She stood her ground and said, “I know.” And this was one of the defining characteristics of Michelle; she did her homework and she knew what she was getting into. She knew that the Peak would not publish a “mainstream” piece. She needed to get something published for another course she was taking so she had done her homework to know what the paper would take. This is a work ethic that Michelle carried with her into her writing career.
At the end of the school year we bid each other a fond farewell and wished each other luck in our future endeavours, never dreaming that our paths would cross again.
But our paths did cross again. I was accepted into the teacher training program in Prince George and Michelle obtained an internship at the Prince George FreePress. And this is where our friendship grew and matured. We went for many walks along the Fraser River and talked about our future plans. She admired my resolve at becoming a high school teacher. She said that she wanted to write for a few years and then maybe go back to university, with some life experience under her belt and then become a teacher. I think that changed when she visited one of my classrooms to discuss the role of the media and the kids gave her a pretty rough ride. Perhaps that was when she decided to stick with journalism. Probably not though, Michelle had a tougher skin than that.
Over the years our paths went separate ways but that email and phone contact was always there. While teaching in the Fraser Canyon I took on a freelance position with the Bridge River-Lillooet News, the Ma Murray newspaper for Lillooet and area. Feeling like I was in way over my head, I phoned Michelle for advice. Her words still echo in my ears, “Always be prepared, even if I am going out to a farm equipment demonstration, I know what I am going to be seeing and I am never afraid to learn, even if it is about something as hilarious as a manure spreader. Always do your homework and be honest with your readers. And if someone says, ‘Off the record’, you had better pay particularly close attention because that is when you get the best quotes!”
Even though she was already on her way as a journalist she still had the time for me, a small town boy writing community news. She encouraged me keep writing and to consider expanding my writing to cover more news. I did as she suggested. Through Michelle’s encouragement I started blogging about BC politics. I covered the provincial election of 2005 with my blog, TheLeftCoast.ca and have been writing ever since.
However now, I cannot just send an email out into cyberspace and wait for her reply. Michelle can no longer answer my emails because the vehicle she was riding in hit an IED, killing all four soldiers and my friend. My friend Michelle was killed in Kandahar, Afghanistan. And she can longer write for her readers or an email to me. I will always miss my friend. Good bye Michelle.