Tag Archives: death

First Thoughts on the Shooting at Sandy Hook


I am, like most of us today, heart heavy and sad—the death of any child is a calamity, but to have so large a group so senselessly ripped from life makes one feel like getting drunk and howling at the moon.

The murder of multiple children at Sandy Hook Elementary certainly makes you realize none of your problems amount to a hill of beans.  And it makes you want to hug your loved ones every time they head out the door.

What else do I think?

We’re going to have to jump into the gun control/Second Amendment debate again.  For now, let’s not.  It’s just not time, yet.  Let’s not try to score political points or get defensive before the families even bury their dead.  Hold back a bit, MSNBC.

I understand the discomfort many have with media coverage of the event.  The witnesses were children, and questioning children requires greater care—and I’m disturbed when kids are asked to recite (and thus recall) what they saw or heard so soon after this event.  I don’t mind asking adults some of those questions.  I would prefer a more hands-off approach to kids, and while I think it’s OK to interview them, it’s only after they are with their parents and only with parental supervision and approval.

On the other hand, some of the comments I’ve seen are in the “blame the messenger” category.  Some Facebook commentators object to the intense media coverage of this event.  Disturbing as this story is, it is big news and deserves coverage.  Journalists are called upon to bear witness and help others bear witness in situations like this—so, no, it’s not only not wrong for journalists to cover this, it would be wrong of them not to.

Having said that, I am also a big disconcerted by the national need to weep together.  I don’t fault President Obama for issuing a statement or chocking up during it, but I feel a bit squeamish about the personalization of others’ misfortune that is a part of any modern sad event.  A president, these days, must be a crier-in-chief.  There is genuine emotion in situations like this, and some of that emotional leaking into the coverage is inevitable—but the emotional tone of some of what we’ve seen in the media puts me off, a bit.  I may choke up thinking of those dead children and their heart-burdened parents—but I am not one of them.  I am removed from the events in Connecticut.  I think, if called upon, I could talk about it without a catch in my voice.  And I just don’t think we should feel it always necessary to show that we’re all equally sad because we are not.  Our sadness is nothing compared to the suffering of those who are close to the event are experiencing.  It feels a little out of place to me, a little disrespectful, for those of us who don’t know anybody in Newton to carry on too much.

It’s a fine line, I’m sure.  You can’t hear news like this and not have a human “oh my God” reaction.  And it’s not wrong to say a quick prayer for the suffering families.  But some reserve is not a bad thing.

According to my quick and not necessarily accurate Google consult, in a world with 7 billion souls, approximately 300,000 of us exit the planet every day.  Thankfully, many of those exits are not so young or unexpected as the almost 30–20 kids and several adults–who had their young live snuffed out in a horrifying crime today.  But almost all of those 300,000 exits involve pain and loss for somebody, and many more than 30 seem unfair, too young or tragic.

Think of how people in Pakistan feel when an American drone kills children along with the Taliban rebels that were targeted.  Think of how the widowers and widows have the wind knocked out their bodies when an officer shows up and says “I am sorry to tell you that there has been a horrible auto accident.”

But don’t think about it too much.  First, don’t pass by without a thought for others’ tragedy.  Second, recall that life does have joy to counter the pain, beauty to counter what is ugly.

In an average day, it is also true that a few more than 300,000 souls enter the Earth.  We want to ensure that those souls aren’t taken too soon by random, reckless acts.  But we also have to meet life every day with courage, knowing that in the end, for each of u,s the race will come to a conclusion but in the meantime we are meant to enjoy the journey.

Too many families in Newton are hurting.  Christmas 2012 won’t be cheerful at too many hearths.  That is awful, awful, awful.  For now I want to pause and let it be awful.  I’ll sort out what it means, if anything, later.

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Up A Ladder and Other Death-Defying Tricks


The gutter

Sure, I can climb the ladder and snap a photo. Just don’t ask me to get on the roof. The results of my labor, note how as you look more towards the chimney, there are more seeds. My foot sweep did not clear much.

As I age, there are some things that just change. Last year, I did RAGBRAI for the first time, and will repeat that feat this year. But, even as I do more new feats, some feats I leave behind as I learn to accept a few new limits.

There are things I have just given up. I used to donate blood regularly at the local Red Cross, for example, but don’t now simply because the physical effects are too unpleasant—I used to get a little lightheaded; in more recent blood donating sessions, I got an upset stomach and came too close to passing out. The recovery takes too long—and although I would encourage anybody who reads this to at least try donating blood, and I know the side effects I suffer are more psychological that physical—it’s just something I can’t do.

Today, I encountered another life limit that has changed in recent years.

I’ve always been a bit afraid of heights, but not so afraid that it prevents me from doing much. This morning, I planned to clean my gutters. They have a mesh guard on them to prevent leaves from piling up, but maples seeds, which are plentiful from a large tree in my back yard, often get stuck in the mesh, and the house has an unsightly fringe as a result.

So, up the ladder I climbed, with Audrey holding it stable. It took me a few minutes to get the courage to put my knee up on the roof, but then I screwed my courage to the sticking point. I wish I had not.

Almost immediately, I started to feel as if I had given blood—rather blah and lightheaded. My first act upon reaching the roof was to lie down on it and say a few Hail Marys. I knew I was being silly, and summoned courage again so I could begin cleaning the gutter, and off I went.

The other way

Looking east at gutter I did not clear. And never will.

For a while. I cleared the gutter over the deck, but when I reached the roof that overhangs the yard, I was like Ameilia at the top of stairs. My little granddaughter, who turns 1 this weekend, has an aversion to “edges.” So does her grandfather. I had been plucking the seeds with my left hand (It turns out I could not orient my body the other way and use my right hand), but when I came to the Big Drop, I lay down on the roof and ran my foot back and forth over the gutter.

Did it work? Heck no.

I gamely carried on until I reached the chimney, and then rounded the corner. Not sure why I was even trying at this point, since my foot method was so ineffective, but heck, I had a job to do. When I rounded the corner to the west end of the house, I noted with great alarm that the pitch of the roof changed. The hip ends have more of a slant to them.

Not dramatically more pitch, mind you, but enough so that I had some sort of nervous reaction. I could not go on. I even thought briefly about demanding that Audrey call the Fire Department, since then CR police no longer have an air force and could not rescue me by plucking me off the roof via helicopter. I was lying down for a brief time, again, and then sitting behind the chimney, which felt better. I called to Audrey (it took some time, it seems, for me to get her attention—we had arranged that she would be doing outside chores to short of keep an eye on me, but the watcher wasn’t watching all that closely) and told her I was bailing on my job.

My daughter-in-law Nalena held the ladder as Audrey directed me. I should have turned over on my stomach, as it would make the next part much easier, but could not bear to do so, so I inched over the edge of the roof on my back, foot feeling for the top of the ladder.

Which it found. I was worried about several points—such as possibly bringing down the gutter by snagging my belt, missing the top rung after finding the top of the ladder, tumbling forward off the roof—the list of imagined disasters was getting pretty long, blog fans.

In the end, as you know because you’re reading this and I’m not typing in Heaven or Hell, just Iowa, I made it down.

This is why I know that I am aging. In years gone by, especially before we had the mesh guard installed two years ago, I’ve done numerous chores that involved clambering around on my roof. It’s a modestly pitched roof, and in the past, I’ve been able to walk on it. I once shoved a garden hose down the downspouts while crouching on the roof—don’t ask me how. Now, there is no way I would be that active, that close to the void. Today, I could not bear the thought of more than sitting on my roof, and as a few prone Hail Marys proved, sometimes could not do even that.

Well, I’m a professor, not a roofer. If I can’t climb on a roof, it’s not exactly in my job description, anyway. Still, it’s a bit uncomfortable to recognize that time has changed me into that guy, the one who can’t get on his own roof.

There is, buried in here somewhere, some sort of life lesson. You can’t give up on new experiences as you age, or you’ll stagnate, and I’m usually willing to try new things.

Not, it appears now, if they involve any heights greater than a stepladder. My personal rule now is, if it’s on the roof, somebody else can fix it.

The ladder.

The ladder that I foolishly used to get on the roof. Not doing that anymore.

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The Power of Images and Image Control


9/11 attacks

From History.com: Planes Hitting the Towers: A series of images showing the planes hitting the towers on September 11, 2001. (Photo Credit: Sean Adair/Reuters/CORBIS)

When President Bush decreed that flag-draped coffins of U.S. war dead would no longer be photographed, it sparked consternation.

When President Obama decreed that photos of Osama bin Laden would be withheld, the reaction was a bit more muted.

But, sooner or later, it’s likely that the images will be seen. Already, lots of fake versions are readily available on the internet—grim, faked photos of violently dead corpses, doctored with the famous bin Laden beard.

I’m of two minds on the question of releasing the images. By training and inclination, I would rather let information out than hold it back. Government works best in the light of day, and information should not be withheld.

On the other hand, I don’t relish the reaction—any kind of reaction. Neither the triumphalism of those patriots who would parade the bloody trophy of the dead terrorist nor the use of a mass-murderer’s final image as a martyr icon, both of which I think would happen, appeal to me.

I didn’t cheer when I heard bin Laden was dead. I didn’t shed a tear, either. Still, on the whole, I’m glad the Seals got their man.

Do we need to see it? As a journalist, and as a journalism professor, it’s always interesting to me how powerful still images are. As a writer, I believe in the power of words, but sometimes an image will bring a more visceral, emotional reaction.

In my journalism courses, the famous photo of the man falling from the twin towers on 9/11 provokes long and intense discussion, as does the equally famous image of the toddler and young woman falling from a Boston fire escape.

Note the image I copied from History.com. Most of us will pause and be taken back to that awful day–not by the death of the terrorist who planned this murderous deed, but by the familiar images first burned into our memories that day.  Like an unexpected smell–the scene of bread like your mom used to make–images are a sensory portal to our souls that hits our core more quickly than words.

With controversial images in my journalism classes, we always discuss the same questions: If you were an editor, would you use these? How? If you were the photographer, would you shoot these? Why? As a journalism professor, I always try to get my students to understand that the journalistic ethos of bearing witness and reporting the facts doesn’t always lead to easy or pleasant conclusions—and a photo journalist usually must shoot first, question later.

Osama? I don’t look forward to seeing his bullet-damaged corpse. I find the parade of Congressional reps looking at CIA photo scrapbooks—particularly the stories where these politicians offer “expert” opinion on the authenticity of the photos and whether they prove bin Laden’s death—more than a bit weird.

Would I look if offered the chance? Probably. But I’m not happy about it. Sudden, violent death, even when well deserved, doesn’t appeal to me.

Glad he’s gone. Not so sure that withholding his death photos makes any sense. But glad I’m not looking at those images, either.

Nurse being kissed

A happier image, one I react to even if I'm way too young to recall the original. From http://www.allword-news.co.uk, reporting the death of the woman who said she was the nurse kissed by a sailor in New York the day WWII ended.

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