Rarely does a journalist take on an assignment with such intent to deeply understand what makes a country tick.
But that was the case for Sander Thoenes, an energetic, probing Dutchman who wrote for the Monitor from Indonesia over the past two years.
His joy was sharing well-reported insights on the hidden motives behind troubling events that have moved Indonesia toward democracy and a better economy. He was witness to much of the nation's violence but always saw hope for progress amid civil strife.
Two years ago, in his first dispatch from East Timor, he wrote a heart-felt tale of desire for freedom that foresaw later events. Here's a sample:
"In theory, we are free," she says as her daughter brings in steaming plates of fish, fresh from the ocean nearby. "But when can a Timorese stand in the street and scream whatever his heart tells him?"
This week Sander was killed in East Timor by rogue gunmen just as UN peacekeepers were liberating the province. He was, as usual, riding a motorbike in the hills, searching for telling details that could bring home the meaning of distant events.
His was not an assignment of living dangerously.
He was, as Thoreau sought at Walden Pond, living deliberately.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society