And, oh, hi, i also have a life. I think this week was one that was ripe for all sorts of essay-length posts from me regarding what i mentioned in Monday’s mammoth post, but then Tuesday happened.
In 1996 i was 14, and i had just created my first website when TWA800 crashed. For the entire summer the footer of my painstakingly hand-coded splash page bore the visage of Mr. Benjamin, a favourite teacher of mine who had died on the flight.
I remember my reaction very clearly… how i was unable to tear myself away from Good Morning America that day before heading out to camp even though i didn’t know yet; how my mother was silent when she picked me up all the way until Broad Street; how the bottom dropped out of my stomach when i heard; how loosing someone who i didn’t even think about every day had a huger impact on my entire life than i ever could have imagined. I took a day off from camp so that i could go to our too-empty high school to sit with friends who understood how i felt, and when i got back the next day everyone had heard. It felt like they were all at once telling my how sorry they were and asking me through our van window how i was feeling and treating me like i was some fragile thing in a china shop that you are always afraid to brush up against because you don’t want to have to pay for it.
I don’t think i had ever known anyone else who had died of something that wasn’t related to age, and i wasn’t braced for the emotions that would result. Or for the consolations. I was utterly wrecked by both, but i kept it churning inside of my stomach because i didn’t know i was allowed to let it out. I thought that just knowing someone who died and was mentioned on teevee was not enough for me to have the right to be sad in front of anyone but people who shared my own position in the matter because my grief was so different than what everyone kept expecting.
Flight 800 is the first “Do you remember where you were when you heard…” that i had in my life, and it just so happened that i had a personal connection to it. For other people in my generation that event might have been the World Trade Center bombing of 1993, or Oklahoma City, or Columbine, or Princess Diana … there was no single across-the-board bookmark in our memory. Until now.
The funny thing about nationally (and internationally) televised tragedies is that we all feel like we have a right to react to them no matter how large, small, close, or far they may be. Everyone certainly does have a right to their personal feelings on anything that goes on in America, but with any other national event our collective obsession with being involved in the investigative process is only dwarfed in its tastelessness by our insistence that we be involved in the mourning process. Of course, this event is different in scale, scope, and national ramifications. But, after i got over my attempts to ascertain what was going on i stood back and realized that i have almost definitely not lost anyone i know… and i realized that at this point in time there is no place for my emotional or personal reaction to the tragedy that has befallen us here or anywhere else.
I remember how people thought they were being comforting when they offered their thoughts and prayers to me when really they just made me feel more fragile than i already was. This is not my tragedy the way it is for people who lost friends and family, or even for people whose cities were permanently altered. I can’t ignore the awful politics inherent to this situation, or that some people i know suddenly feel the need to discriminate again people with a different skin color or accent of their own.
What i can leave out of my reactions, although certainly not ignore, is my emotional and visceral reaction to Tuesday. If you are gushing about Tuesday, or if you are delighting in watching the investigation continually unfold on the news every night, i want you to take a strong look at what your interest is. Over the years i have learned to separate my emotions from my voyeurism because i don’t think it is my right to want to grieve on the behalf of anyone else, or to hear news that doesn’t pertain to me.
Yes, i am a Journalism student who hates the nightly news… every invasive investigative informational minute of it. There is something to be said for staying abreast of the current state of the rescue efforts in New York and in Washington, and on stories about the victims and their families. However, I think it is safe to say that the majority of America is partially or wholly ignorant of the motives behind the horror we’ve all been a witness to, and i very much hope that most of my readership is mature enough to focus on educating themselves before wallowing in the network’s excessive coverage.
You might disagree with everything i just said, but ultimately i think that anything else i could say couldn’t ever mean as much as my respectful silence on the matter. My thoughts are with everyone this has affected and, for now, i’m going to leave it at that.