Share Your Pain

3 people are dead after a 5-car pile-up on I-79. The victims include a newly married couple and their young daughter. (fictional headline) Someone in your family dies tragically. You're distraught, wrought with pain, unable to function, when the media comes calling. "Bastards! What do they want?!? Don't they have any respect for families?! For people who are grieving?! They are so heartless! All they care about is a story!"

For some, this is true. And you recognize them. You can see it in their eyes, and you see it in the way they have handled other tragedies in the past. Ignore them. But when you're up to it, find the reporter or reporters in your town who you know are empathetic and concerned about getting the story right. Call them, and share your story.

When you do this, it puts a face on the misery. Puts power to the pain. For some, a light will go off. They will realize this isn't just another death, this is a person. This is someone who meant something to someone else. For someone 3 towns away, this will become more than just another nameless, faceless tragedy, it will for them, also, become the end of a phenomenal life. I read a story in Details magazine while I was at the gym about a soldier who came from a wealthy family, yet decided he wanted to join the military. He died in Iraq fighting for something he believed in. This is just one American story out of 3,680 at the time of this writing. I don't agree with the war, but that doesn't mean I have ill will toward those fighting. A fantastic NYTimes article about the children who were babies when their fathers died at war broke my heart.

This is why I became a journalist, to tell other people's stories. And because I care. I read the biographies of the victims of the Virginia Tech shootings (and this amazing article. If you don't have a Post i.d., get the free one just so you can read that.), and some of the bios of those killed on September 11th. It's the least I can do because I still have life. Often you can learn the most poignant stories from those who knew them best. In that, I draw strength from strangers.


Southerner in Suomi said...

I read the Va. Tech bios. It's upsetting because any one of them could be one of your friends.

Nikita T. Mitchell said...

journalists have more power than some of them realize. what you just wrote was beautiful and true. I'm gonna go read those links now...

GreatWhyte said...

I guess I'm just one of those who doesn't understand why the media needs to be involved in some stories. Like your fictional headline... I can't imagine why anyone in that family circle would ever want to talk to the media. Why would more insight into their pain ever really be helpful for them or for a reader? It's like Kanye's mother's death. People are so caught up in what actually happened to her. She died. It's tragic. Whether it was an anesthesia overdose or whether she just stoped breathing... she died. And it's tragic. I can't believe Kanye would want to read about it. I know I wouldn't.

Rashan Jamal said...

I feel you. I don't read those, cuz I don't like to dwell on tragedy. What others get inspiration from, I just get sad from.

CNEL said...

I too feel obligated to tell people's stories.

I also feel fortunate to have the opportunity.

I was just thinking about one of my experiences from this past summer. I had to cover a drowning in a small town. It was so odd, so awkward, so unnerving to have to try to find people who knew this young man, while they were suffering.

I know now it doesn't get easier as time goes on.

After the story aired I realized if I hadn't covered that story, his story might not have otherwise been told.

Jameil said...

v... exactly. that's why i read them.

m... thanks homie.

x... so that person's life is felt beyond their immediate circle. i want to feel like my life meant something even if i was someone who never lived outside charlotte. i wouldn't want to read about why my mom died, but i would want something to come out of her death whether it was people getting closer to their mothers or people researching plastic surgery or just knowing what a fantastic person she was.

rj... i get all the other details at work-- all the gritty and gruesome things-- that i just want to make it more personal. to me it all makes whatever happened more human and their lives not in vain. that's how i would want people to react if i died tragically. i already told my mom if i ever die and the media comes, TALK. i don't want my death to become just another statistic or unremarked upon event.

cnel... EXACTLY!! EXACTLY. that last line sums it up perfectly.