The newest grave, planted in 2004, marks the resting place of a young woman of the family, Jena Marie Cooper, who was murdered at the University of Nebraska in 2004.
As far as I know, the murder remains unsolved, although what is known seems to point to a man who burst into a soccer team party, was told to go away, came back armed and shot Jena in the doorway.
Her big table-top marker is engraved with images from her babyhood on, especially from her various athletic endeavors, riding horseback, playing tennis, driving an off-the-road vehicle in Utah and playing soccer with her team. A strong-looking girl with a blond ponytail, it surely never occurred to her or to anyone else that she would be murdered during her college career or at any other time of what looked to be a promising life.
A quotation from her dairy, written two weeks before her death, is engraved between the images. In it she calls herself “Just a girl from Kentucky” and hopes her life may offer inspiration.
Inspiration often leads us into dangerous waters, as it should. Is it possible or even probable that her strength as a young woman, the confidence that shines from her face, drew the deadly attack?
It is impossible to know. But this much is certain: we have not yet come to terms with power in women. So often we have been the ones to smooth over, to make nice, and now when we are excelling not only in athletics but in many other realms, our strength may come at a dreadful price.
Recently I read a brief news story in The New York Times—our newspaper of record, still—about the firing of the executive director, Jill Abramson, elevated to her position with much fanfare a couple of years ago: the first woman The Times had ever chosen for this position.
No cause was given for her firing, which was abrupt and brutal. She was not even given time to say goodbye to her staff, nor are we ever likely to hear her side of the story. Doubtless whatever benefits she received depended on her accepting a gag order. And so her voice is silenced, probably for a number of years.
Into that silence intrudes the voice of The Times’ publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr. (these crown princes never shed the junior even decades after the senior is gone, so invaluable is the link), forced by criticism to say something about the firing which is being censored as another example of The Times’ venerable misogyny.
After first announcing to a “shocked newsroom” that he was firing Ms. Abramson and then replying to reporters’ questions, “There is nothing further I want to say about this,” Sulzburger eventually released a 500-page rebuttal of criticisms that also cited her lower pay. Sulzberger disputes that before going on to list the reasons he fired her: “arbitrary decision-making, a failure to consult and bring colleagues along with her, inadequate communication and the public mistreatment of colleagues.”
Each of these points can be examined in a different light: leadership often entails the responsibility for making decisions with which everyone will not agree; it is sometimes a waste of time to attempt to consult with colleagues who have been blocking action; inadequate communication is too vague to be defined; and public mistreatment of colleagues in the rough and tumble atmosphere of a news room happens with regularity.
I remember being so harassed by an editor, who happened to be a woman, during my years as book editor at the Courier-Journal, that for the first and I hope the last time in my life, I retreated to the woman’s bathroom in tears. Had anyone wanted to fire me from my not-very-important-job—and of course I was shielded, or thought I was, by my brother the publisher—every one of these points could have been used against me as I chose and edited reviews and wrote columns that challenged—I hoped—various conventional points of view.
Jill Abramson was not murdered, although she was certainly assaulted professionally and may find her working life made difficult as a result. And yet there is a thread connecting her to the girl buried in my woods: both confident, outspoken, strong women, they faced an opposition they perhaps could not have imagined because it is almost never mentioned: the opposition of the male establishment, in the person of a famous publisher or in the person of a nameless drunk, who made them examples of the price we must still be prepared to pay.
For more, read my post on Jill Abramson’s original appointment to the position.