Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Matthew Ferrara, 1983-2007

(Photos from Marcus Ferrara)

A friend of my family was killed in Afghanistan on Friday, November 9. If you follow the war news, you might have seen reports on that incident in particular, since nine soldiers including Matt were killed in that ambush, as they returned from a meeting in a mountain village, and about 19 more were wounded. Matt was the platoon leader.

His family found out on Saturday, November 10. And word went out around the neighborhood that day, because the Ferrara family is a whirlwind of activity, with Mario and Linda and their five children well known and loved by wide swaths of town. I knew them mainly through the Boy Scout troop in which my brother and father were active; the oldest, Marcus, was a year ahead of my brother in school. Simone, the only daughter, was a soccer star at our high school. Matt was the third of them, and I'm still most used to thinking of him as the little Scout that he was when my brother was an Eagle. Ditto Damon and Andy, who used to be such little guys running all round -- when you spotted one Ferrara somewhere, you could bet the rest of them were nearby, and all of them dynamos of helpfulness and cheer (and the occasional prank).

None of them are little any longer, with Andy, the youngest, now the tallest. He's at West Point right now, like Marcus and Matt before him, and Damon is in ROTC at USC (Southern California). Between them, the Ferraras owned the distance running records at our high school, with the younger ones making it their mission to outdo the records set by their elders.

It seems that Matt was the first New Zealand citizen to be killed in action in Afghanistan (his mother Linda is from New Zealand and so he has dual citizenship). His uncle came and spoke at the funeral, very well I might add, and since said uncle is the New Zealand defense minister, his words are reprinted here.

...had dual citizenship.

It feels so wrong to talk about him in the past tense. Not fair, not right. His family, his friends, who spoke at his funeral, the stories they told, they all described someone with so much talent and life energy that it is hard to get into my head, or rather my heart, that he will not be here, somewhere, any more. Marcus in particular brought him close; Marcus looks older than in high school, as do we all, but Marcus and I are not so old that he ought to be speaking his soul at the funeral of his little brother, not now, not yet, not right.

Hearing the news about Matt Ferrara gave me a feeling that I've had a few times before: that what I was learning was too wrong to be happening, that somehow I was mistaken, because the news was too awful and therefore not real. I felt this way watching the replays of the shuttle Challenger exploding on the school library TV; I felt this way watching the replays of the World Trade Center collapsing. All of these were followed by a growing sadness and a feeling like a hole in my stomach as I accepted the truth. This time, though, the sadness and subsequent anger were the strongest, because this was the closest blow.

Obviously most of my anger is for those who killed him, but had I written an entry during the first few days, there would have also been some long strings of words aimed at certain political figures. But that isn't the sort of entry I want to write, now.

The only crumb of comfort that anyone who knew Matt can take from this, is that he never wasted any of the time he had. He did not get a full life, but his life was full of his family, friends, enthusiasm, joy in existing. The slideshow and videos at the funeral and reception were beautiful and funny and heartbreaking all in a swirl.

Broken surfboard in Costa Rica:

Traveling in Italy:

It was also a strange feeling, especially the first couple of weeks, that unlike Challenger and the World Trade Center, the world in general was unaware. Well, less aware -- the local Daily Breeze had a front-page story more than once on Matt and on the other local soldier who died in the same attack, and the funeral was well-attended. But as his parents received his Bronze Star and a folded flag, as the silent crowd watched under the dimming November afternoon sun, as the sea breeze fluttered the flags of the honor guard, the larger world trundled on, outside us.

It did, and it does, and it will. But one more thing is not right with the world, and it will never be quite right any more.