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Jayne Lyn Stahl Headshot

Forces of Nature

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Last night, at her home in Austin, columnist and best-selling author, Molly Ivins, succumbed to her eight year battle with cancer at 62. If anyone could disarm death with humor and fire, I thought, Molly could. If anyone was unstoppable, it was Molly, she wouldn't brake not even for terminal illness, I thought. I'd like to say I knew Molly, but I didn't. Yet, she wrote with the style, and intimacy that made everyone who read her feel as if she were a friend.

Right after learning of her death, I started to write something for my blog and, mid-way through, decided to stop and think instead about what Molly's friend, Austin political cartoonist, Ben Sargent, said: "She was just like a force of nature." I went to sleep with that image firmly planted in my mind, the image of a force greater even than destiny, or will, an energy field that celebrates itself through the electric dance of defiance. I was content to think, and say, only that.

Until I awoke this morning, and scanned the Web, only to find a post on a blog titled "We Are All Molly" for which I can only say no, no, we are not all Molly! We do not all have the gravitas, the spine, inimitable wit, and panache that registers 7.5 on the Richter scale of satire. We can't all write "You Got To Dance With Them That Brung You." Most of us wouldn't dare to say half the things Molly did, when she said them, knowing just how close she was to the nexus of power, and what the consequences could be.

We can't all say that we're among the first of our gender to rise to the top in the newspaper business, to venture into largely male-dominated political commentary field, and to be the first woman to cover police activities for The Minneapolis Tribune. Some of us have to look up the phrase "glass ceiling" on Google; Molly Ivins didn't. She knew what glass ceilling meant, first-hand. Most importantly, she didn't play the "sex card," and I'm not going to, either. Though she could more than hold her own with any of them, Molly didn't want to be in the playpen with the big boys; she wanted to her game, by her rules, and that she won.

Indeed, we are not all Molly. We didn't all graduate from the Columbia University journalism school back in the days when there were maybe a handful of women in her class. We weren't all hired to be political writers by one of the three top newspapers, The New York Times, for several years during the 1970s. We couldn't all write a book called Bushwhacked, and expect to have the president pay homage to us in the press when we pass. Even a president who shows no greater love for the press than he does for truth, openness, and justice paid tribute to one whose motto was "give them hell." Not even a fraction of those who call ourselves writers possess even an ounce of her uncanny sense of timing, determination, and passion.

Molly was one of two or three women columnists that people know, and read, in this country. which, in and of itself, makes her a force of nature. And, few of us possess the grace, heart and courage, in the last weeks of an eight year struggle with cancer, to think about inspiring those we leave behind to take to the streets with pots and pans to speak out against the two-bit euphemism this president calls a "surge." "We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war. We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, 'Stop it, now!'" Molly wrote in her column last month.

More people succumb to fear than cancer and, though cancer may have taken Molly, she never gave in to fear. She spoke from her heart, with the kind of passion, and fire that move those for whom the words truth and justice still resonate to express only awe.

While she didn't make an issue of it, Molly worked hard to earn our respect, and she deserves nothing less. Better than anyone else I can think of, she showed how taking oneself seriously is the refuge of fools, yet she was, in the best sense of the word, one of the most serious, and significant political commentators of her times. There is only one Molly, she paid a high price to be who she was, and even the devil would surrender his seat to her.

So, while we may not all be Molly Ivins, we can all aspire to her moxie, and dogged determination to do what is right and, in doing so, best honor her memory.