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Editor's Note

A truism still: They are what they do

By H. Jay Burns, Managing Editor

The war stories from Navy fighter pilot J.J. Cummings ’89 remind me of something New Yorker baseball writer Roger Angell said about ballplayers.

They are what they do.

Angell used the line to dim the aura of the professional athlete, saying we should expect nothing more from athletes than athletic grace. But when applied to Cummings, whose deeds now define him to a great degree, the phrase he is what he does gets very big indeed. Between missions from the USS Theodore Roosevelt, he writes about the audio/video hookup that let him see and talk to his wife, Sarah ’89, and their kids; getting up at 4 a.m. to watch the Patriots-Raiders football game; and bombing Tora Bora with such fury that the mountains looked like “the surface of the moon – a burning moon.” The stories evoke fundamental themes: Navy, country, loyalty, family, friendship. Heck, toss in apple pie, too. (His e-mails go out to a list of friends – including many Bates people – that’s as long as your arm.)

His zeal complements the intellectually diverse campus response to the war, reflected in President Harward’s call to “reject hateful substitutes in the difficult search for justice.” The search for justice by the campus community carries echoes from 60 years ago, when students confronted the reality of war in the days after Dec. 7, 1941. See “Words of War and Peace.”

Physical and intellectual responses to crisis are two of what a Bates colleague calls “the primary colors of human existence.” There’s a third response, of course, and Kate Eastman ’82 brings religious faith to the crisis of children who die young. Her calling has led her to found the Jason Program, a pediatric hospice for critically ill and dying children.

Common to all three responses is something President Harward expressed after Sept. 11:  “For whatever else we learn in a moment of unspeakable tragedy, we learned that we need one another.”


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