INK SPOTS

When too much tragedy numbs the heart

RICK NORTON
Posted 7/8/18

“Journalism can never be silent; that is its greatest virtue and its greatest fault. It must speak, and speak immediately, while the echoes of wonder, the claims of triumph and the signs of horror …

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INK SPOTS

When too much tragedy numbs the heart

Posted

In the 10 days since a deranged gunman shot his way into an Annapolis, Marylo, newsroom murdering four journalists and one sales assistant, few people have asked my thoughts.

In casual conversation, you can tell it’s on their minds and it’s a breath away from leaving their lips. They just don’t know what to say, or how to say it.

The look in their eyes shows they want to offer some kind of support; yet, Maryland is far removed from our Bradley County home, and the only connection between the Capital Gazette, and the Cleveland Daily Banner or the Chattanooga Times Free Press or the Daily Post Athenian or the Polk County News, is the like set of people who are there to do the same job.

The silence of those since the newsroom shootings is probably just their way of giving some space at a time when — frankly — most newspaper folks need it.

But if anyone had asked me how I feel, in the wake of yet another senseless massacre, I’d probably answer, “I don’t know.”

And that would be the truth … because I don’t know. If anything, it’s a confusing swirl of emotions, yet one dulled by the pain — and the lessons — of repetition.

I feel sadness.

I feel anger.

I feel sorrow for the victims.

I feel sympathy for their families and friends … the very loved ones who endured late nights and long hours away from their husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, moms and dads, each of whom had chosen a career in print journalism and all of whom knew the lifestyle they were signing up for when they applied for the job.

I feel an odd pity for the suspect: Jarrod W. Ramos believed he was wronged by a newspaper that was just doing its job … reporting on the bad decisions and unthinking transgressions of a misguided soul whose actions were putting others at risk.

I feel violated.

I feel hurt.

I feel torn.

I feel frustration.

I feel vengeful.

I feel victimized.

I feel alone.

I feel dazed.

I feel hopeless.

I feel fueled to take action, yet stymied by the lack of a logical sense of direction.

I feel ignored by a world that keeps on turning, one seemingly unresponsive to pain and dispassionate toward human suffering.

I feel unsafe.

I feel unbalanced in a life that has lost all meaning and on a day that teeters on the brink of total despair.

I feel heartache.

I feel pain.

I feel confusion.

But most of all, I feel numb … blinded by the redundancy of death, stricken by this infectious disease called violence.

On July 18, 1984, when 41-year-old James Huberty killed 21 adults and little children with a pump-action shotgun at a McDonald’s in San Ysidro, Calif., I was a young newspaper reporter still learning the dos and don’ts of journalism. On this day, I cried.

It was only the beginning.

In the years since, psychotic gunmen who should never have been given access to such weaponry have turned the American landscape into a bloodbath no less frightening than the killing fields of Cambodia.

It happened in Edmond, Oklahoma in 1986: Fourteen postal workers killed in 10 minutes by a lone gunman.

It happened in Littleton, Colorado, in 1999: Twelve students murdered by two classmates at Columbine High School.

It happened in Blacksburg, Virginia, in 2007: Thirty-two people died in a killing spree by a lone gunman on the Virginia Tech campus.

It happened in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012: Twenty-seven children (ages 6 and 7) and teachers were gunned down in Sandy Hook Elementary School.

It happened in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015: Nine parishioners were shot to death by a white supremacist inside the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

It happened in Orlando, Florida, in 2016: Forty-nine people murdered by a bigoted gunman in a crowded nightclub.

It happened in Las Vegas in 2017: Fifty-eight concertgoers shot to death in a spray of gunfire from a lone gunman perched atop the 32nd floor of a neighboring resort and casino.

It happened a month later in Sutherland Springs, Texas, also in 2017: Twenty-five churchgoers and an unborn child murdered in a small Baptist church.

It happened in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine’s Day 2018: Seventeen students and staff killed by a solitary gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

And now it has happened again … in a busy newsroom at a beloved newspaper in Annapolis, on June 28, 2018: Three editors, a reporter and a sales assistant … all dead, each the victim of a kind of sociopathic rage that medical professionals still can’t explain, or predict.

I don’t remember how many killings ago I stopped crying. It’s been awhile. There have been so many.

I wish I knew the solution. But I don’t.

Sure, guns are a problem … one of them; guns in the wrong hands … that’s another. 

Mental illness … definitely. 

Stress levels in the lives of some that can’t be imagined by the many; and more importantly the ability, and the inability, to cope with that stress.

A deepened lack of respect for human life; it’s a worsening repercussion of all the above.

A newfangled, and alarming, blur between right and wrong … blame it on everything, or blame it on nothing. Or explain it away using the tired adage, “It is what it is.”

Society isn’t changing. It has already changed. People are different. We think differently. We act differently. We see through different eyes. What used to be vile now dwells in shades of grey.

So what do we do?

We keep on living, that’s what we do. We keep breathing. We keep seeing. We keep hearing. We keep loving. We keep wishing for a better day, yet with an understanding that it starts with us.

Hoping the other guy changes is good. Changing ourselves is better.

Me? I’ll come back to work tomorrow, and then the next day and the next day, and the day after that … until there is no place left to go.

I’ll keep doing my job. I’ll do what editors are supposed to do. I’ll embrace the values of what newspapering is all about.

But in a hidden corner of my heart, a vacuum grows. There, it is dark. There, it is quiet. There, it can be reached by none. There, all is forbidden.

My days of tears are over. My time of crying is gone.

And that’s so very sad. 

It speaks poorly of those who claim to be resilient. Yet, it is the heartbreaking consequence of repeated tragedy. When bad happens over and over and over, something inside us dies just a little more.

So, in the wake of another senseless shooting, that’s how I feel.

I feel numb.

Yet, I will go on ... as will others not unlike myself who still cling to the good in humanity, and who share an undying belief in the power of the printed word.

———

(About the writer: Rick Norton is an associate editor at the Cleveland Daily Banner. Email him at rick.norton@clevelandbanner.com.) 

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