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Stateside With Rosalea: Rugby Kicks Ass!

Stateside with Rosalea - Pt 1

Rugby kicks ass!

So wrote Mark Bingham on the rugby page in the staff copy of his Los Gatos High School yearbook. Yearbook editor and the only student in the school's history to have captained the rugby team twice - that honour usually being reserved for students in their final year - Bingham was apparently once banned from playing rugby in New Zealand for seven years. On a school rugby tour down under in 1988 he ran through a plate glass window at a NZ airport, but told his mom a story about a farmer and a pumpkin to explain the scars on his legs when he returned. He didn't want to worry her.

At his memorial service today his mother said that the last team he played on had 45 members - the passengers and crew of Flight 93 - and recounted how when he was on the field Mark would run alongside the other players in his team saying: "I'm with you! I'm with you!". It's what she likes to think he's saying now, and the words "With you!" were under the smiling photo on the programme of his memorial service at Berkeley today.

I don't usually go to memorial services for people I don't know, and I wouldn't have gone to this one except that Senator John McCain flew out from Washington to be there so I figured it would get some media attention and I wanted to see what was said free from the effects of the jingo bacillus that has infected the airwaves for the past two weeks. As it turned out, I served an unexpected purpose because the person who sat next to me was totally blind, so couldn't read the messages that were part of one of the slide shows in the service and I was able to tell him what they were, and describe the photos that made people laugh.

And there was a lot of laughter. Bingham drank the draught of life "with both hands on the cup", his friend Cameron said. And who else, he asked, could bring together up on stage politicians, students, frat boys, the gay community, artists and sportspeople. One of those frat boys, Jeff - wearing an American flag T-shirt - wanted to "introduce the individual I know" and said the values Bingham embodied had prompted him to listen better, evaluate less, and empathise more. He'd also led him into a deal of mischief and good times "until Tuesday, when I guess heaven needed some livening up."

"Persevere, stand strong, but don't be bitter," is what Mark would be saying about the events of September 11, said another speaker. "It all matters - there's never a moment that doesn't," said Amanda of her memories of the man she lived with in New York, having moved there from Sydney 11 months ago. She and Mark met on that school rugby tour in 1988 and became firm friends. He had recently broken up with his partner of six years, Paul, and moved to New York to live another chapter of the high life he so loved. Paul had a long list of descriptive words for Mark Bingham - representing the many-faceted individual that he was - but the phrase that stuck with me was that "he was not a good loser." The bravery of Mark and the other people on Flight 93 represents what's best about the United States, Paul said, before introducing Senator John McCain.

The senator was invited because Mark had met him during the 2000 primaries when McCain was running against Bush to be chosen as the Republican presidential candidate. His stand on campaign finance reform particularly interested Mark, and he had a photo of himself with the senator on his office wall. At the memorial service McCain was quick to acknowledge that he didn't know Mark Bingham but he wished he had. Acknowledging all his supporters he said: "They were the best thing about my campaign. Not me."

On September 11 "I may have been in the Great House of Democracy" along with all the other people who work there, he said. Now all public servants are "charged to remain worthy" of people like Mark Bingham to whom they owe their lives. "Such a debt you incur for life."

Mark's mother spoke last, saying she knew when he was born he was not hers for long. Not because he was going to be taken away by death but because he was going to be taken away by life. She quoted from a poem by Kahlil Gibran which had always meant so much to her:

Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They came through you but not from you. And though they are with you yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you, For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

The quotation was as eloquent for what she left out, as for what she said.

Lea Barker
Berkeley, California
Saturday 22 September 2001


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