31 March 2008


This morning I received an email from the playwright UnCommon Cause Theatre had been collaborating with to create As Far As We Know, informing those of us who did not yet know that the remains of Staff Sergeant Keith "Matt" Maupin had been recovered and identified. For those of you who don't know, the events resulting from the disappearance of Matt -- in 2004 -- were the inspiration for that show. For years, in spite of a video purportedly exhibiting his execution, his status remained active as far as the military was concerned, and his family kept faith that it could be true. That was the real subject of our play, what really kept our interest in it: keeping that faith and what we may have to lose by keeping it.

I had decided at some point in the process that most likely Sgt. Maupin had died. I had no details, and vacillated frequently on this position, but ultimately it was the idea I came to embrace. He was gone. That was my luxury, that perception. If I learned nothing else working on As Far As We Know, I learned that the perspective I was afforded by my distance from the situation was absolutely a luxury. No one who knew Matt, none of his family or the people living in his hometown, no one who had loved ones involved in this war could afford that luxury. I could. I had the distance to decide for myself, regardless of the hopes of others, that the best thing for all involved would be to grieve now, to try to say goodbye.

What I've discovered, with the arrival of this official news, is that my decision to say goodbye never reached my heart. It was just a decision. Now, this morning, I discover that all this comfortable time of mine I had been keeping a candle of faith going in my heart for Matt and his family. I've discovered that I wasn't comforted by my perspective at all. My perspective merely quieted my mind. What gave me comfort was that unconscious lick of flame, that nearly unjustifiable hope, which is now just as quietly extinguished. Matt is gone now. He has been missing, potentially and finally actually deceased for years, but now he is truly gone.

I can't compare my grief to his parents', his brother's, his friends'. I can't even compare my grief to my fellow players' and collaborators', some of whom have been to Matt's home and met the people there. It would be ridiculous to conceive of it. I'm just a guy who followed the news, studied the situation and tried to imagine the lives inside it. Yet I'm in tears to learn that he is gone. What was Matt to me? I'm not sure. Probably, figuring that out for myself will be what allows me to let him go. He represented a lot for me -- patriotism, ambition, discipline, the commingling of faith and love -- but representation doesn't tear at emotion this way. No, in some way, without ever meeting him, I came to love Matt for myself. And there is nothing right in this, in his death. No matter what peace it brings, no matter the resolution. His death is wrong.

In one of the introductory classes we were required to take as freshmen in the BFA program at Virginia Commonwealth University they tried to help us understand the nature of tragedy. Actually, of capital-t Tragedy. That is to say, as a form, not simply a vocabulary word. One more colorful teacher asked us, "What is it when a busload of nuns dies?" Someone naturally responded, "A tragedy." (That someone: probably a young guy with a bit of something to prove who valued very highly his own ability to know the "right" answer, and obviously in no way was that someone, nor could he ever have been, me.) "Wrong. When a busload of nuns arbitrarily kicks it, that's a travesty. Now, if it's a king, and we can see it coming from a mile off, but nothing we say or do can change it, and we just have to watch it unfurl into its ultimate conclusion ... that, my friends, is Tragedy."

The circumstances of Staff Sgt. Keith "Matt" Maupin's capture, torment and murder add up to a travesty. Even accepting that Arthur Miller made us see the possibility of a salesman experiencing a tragedy normally reserved for kings, there's too much that's arbitrary about Maupin's story to leave it room in the parameters of tragic action. He was not in combat, but escorting fuel trucks, and they weren't meant to be on the route they took when he was captured. He lied about his personal details on the hostage video that was released, presumably because he felt he had to, and even now news agencies are reporting those, misunderstood as facts. The government had to do everything they could to avoid looking like they were flailing helplessly, owing to how little they knew. It's a travesty.

But. But. Part of what makes Tragedy work is the way in which we come to resist the inevitable outcome. The tragic hero could be someone we would never get along with in life, yet through the journey of the story we come to intimately identify with a commonality: the will to live. "Rage against the dying of the light." We do. We always will, be that light our life or hope for others'. Ultimately, Matt's situation would not turn out well. The more time that passed, the more certain his fate became. We would have been smart to let our hope go, to will it to pass. And yet. And yet.

I -- little me -- will miss you, Matt Maupin. I wish I could hold you and your family up. I hope you all find peace and the space of breath to grieve. The tragedy of this outcome devastates me, but the years of your faith . . . our faith . . . inspire me. May you never lay down, may you always believe.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

-Dylan Thomas


Unknown said...

Thank you, Jeff. You've brought me a little comfort, my having read your entry today. You helped me understand why I've found myself crying on and off since I heard about Matt. I too, must've had the luxury of keeping the reality of his fate just far enough away from my heart so that it wouldn't hurt too deeply. Now it has, and I'm surprised at how acutely I'm feeling it. I, like you, believed Matt to have died in captivity. But only today does it feel like he died.

Reading the articles in the Cincinnati Enquirer have been particularly poignant, seeing the faces and reading sentiments from people we heard about so often over the past few years: Pastor Snook, Bob Proud, and of course Carolyn and Keith Maupin.

There wasn't a thought in my head that there was any more camaraderie to be experienced from the AS FAR AS WE KNOW collaboration, and even if I had the thought, I certainly wouldn't think it'd be this. I didn't think Matt's remains would ever be found. But they're really going to bring him home. Can you imagine? The family, the town, the Army, have many difficult moments coming in the next few weeks. How Carolyn and Keith will move forward, I do not know. I hope knowing Matt's at rest brings them comfort. As Carolyn said, at least they can't hurt Matt now.

I keep thinking of Keith Maupin taking up a razor and finally shaving his beard, and what that moment will mean to him. They're bringing his son home, and that's all he wanted.

Jeff said...

Thank you, Christina. It feels strange to be in something of a vaccuum while experiencing this ending. When a reunion of the cast was suggested over email, I thought it would probably be too much for me. Now, though, I think it would be just right.

I think about everyone in Bethel too, particularly the Maupins. We should do something for them, even if it ends up being a drop in the buckets of support they must be receiving right now.

Unknown said...

Personally, I'm not sure a cast reunion of sorts is for me. We'll see on that one.

As to the people of Batavia, I've never taken more seriously their actions, sentiments and support. They are the very definition of "community".

Jeff said...

I'm with you on both points, Christina.

Patrick said...

I think some small part of us always keeps hoping, when there is any possible chance to. Our intellect can compile a convincing argument, substantiate its points, talk sagely about wisdom... but we still hope, even when we won't admit it to ourselves. I'm not surprised you're feeling so overwhelmed by this. You lived with him, or a version of him, for over two years. You're a loving person and good artist; of course you became attached to what you knew of the real person. And that voice of hope kicked in, that maybe this time there would be a happy ending. I'm saddened for his family's loss, and that of so many other families tonight.

Jeff said...

Thank you, Patrick. I've come to believe -- through this work and through watching my mom do her job -- that everyone's sympathy and caring can influence even the most remote circumstances. So at least insofar as that's true, our feelings can help the Maupins. Your feelings, of course, help me very much. Thank you again.