Ken Burns

From your first years on the planet, you have been giving the experience called “hard times” a run for its money. Denied a refuge from human mortality and frailty, you figured out how to turn sorrow into an invitation to the past, present, and future to get better acquainted. In the enterprise you have christened “emotional archaeology,” you put storytelling to work on the complexity and chaos of history, assembling fragments and restoring them to a whole. Refusing to hold the photographs, written words, and the lives of the departed at arm’s length, working in the merged media of light and sound, and giving magic to the prosaic word “editing, you reside in the doubled role of artist and historian. Telling the paired Western stories of the Dust Bowl and the National Parks, you have encouraged Americans to contrast the results of submission to short-term thinking with the consequences of actions governed by thoughts of posterity. Even when persuasively exhorted to “come again no more,” hard times show an unwillingness to disappear and a preference for shifting their shape. On those occasions, when the better angels of our nature seem despairing and anxious to take flight, you summon them back into our company. Maintaining your balance on an elevated tightrope, you remind us that lasting patriotism can only retain its footing with honesty in assessing our nation’s past. For four decades, you have lent your extraordinary vitality to the enterprise of bringing us  into the company of our predecessors. To paraphrase that Welsh fellow (who, with a different providence, could have held his own as a Western cowboy poet): Thanks to you, death has had to settle for a diminished dominion in our minds and souls.