Monday, January 12, 2009

Disclaimer: This post includes graphic details

My job really gets to me sometimes.

The work itself.

When putting together a page filled with particularly grim news, I often joke that we should hand out straight razors and nooses with the next day's paper, but the truth is, it doesn't always seem like it would be that inappropriate.

Some nights I lay awake unable to sleep thinking of the horrific injustices going on around the globe. Some of the images of war that never make print haunt me. Stories of people I'll never meet, whose language I'll never speak, will stick with me for months, maybe longer.

Just last week, for example, I was scrolling through images of Israeli and Palestinian fighting, searching for something to go with a story on the war in Gaza, when I found one that literally caught my breath.

It was a picture of a little girl buried up to her neck in rubble, just her bloodied head exposed, drained of color, covered in dust. She was dead. Just one more child civilian casualty in a war I'll never understand. A rescuer's hands were poised in a nearly pointless attempt to free her.

She couldn't have been older than 3.

My thoughts immediately jumped to her mother. If she survived, I'll bet she begged for death.

It took everything I had not to cry or vomit.

Moments later, I edited the war story that included details of a toddler who was waiting for help in a hospital, her left arm blown off to the shoulder. The reporter described her as "wide-eyed in shock and fear."

A little farther east, in Afghanistan, a 14-year-old rape victim was near death because her older brother had performed a forced abortion on her in the family's barn while her mother held her arms down.

He explained that he did it to avoid the scorn that comes with premarital sex. Even rape is considered the victim's fault in that country and is hardly ever prosecuted.

He had cut her open to perform the operation and sewed her up with heavy string used for closing burlap potato sacks. She blacked out, but told police she remembers him holding the baby above her.

A little closer to home, a Texas death row inmate dug out his last remaining eye and ingested it in his jail cell. Apparently he ate the first one awaiting trial.

The event prompted his lawyer to ask for a retrial, explaining his client should've been deemed mentally incompetent and, therefore, never would've been sentenced to death.

For killing his wife and children and carving their hearts out and carrying them around in his pockets.

That night I found it particularly hard to fall asleep. Maybe that's why I like to indulge in a few chapters of a mindless novel or stupid YouTube videos before laying down.

I've struggled with the existence of God all my life. It's hard not to question a higher power when you know such travesties are taking place.

Even still, I pray for them.

I pray the bombs stop. I pray the little girl's mother finds peace. I pray that the toddler without an arm can escape to a country where her injury won't cripple her right to marry and have children. I pray that the teenager survives, shares her story and becomes an agent of change in her country.

Then I pray that my little girl will never know pain like that.

And that the memories and images will fade quickly for me.

Sometimes ignorance really is bliss.


Suzanne said...

the world is a sick sick place. It's a sad thing, more than sad. Selfishly, I'm just thankful that we only see the pictures of what is going on, that we don't have to witness it firsthand. Really makes me just want to put my little girl in a bubble.

LeslieAnn said...

Last week I had to contact the family of a man who died in a car accident at about midnight on New Year's Eve. The stories I hate doing the most are the ones when I'm talking to the distraught family and friends of someone who died. The more complicated part of this story was that the man who died had many felonies, had been arrested many times and incarcerated. It was so hard to find a balance between saying who he really was and the sorrow his family was going through. It's tough and it's sad.

So I read things like Twilight. :)

Anonymous said...

As a Christian, I believe that Jesus' heart breaks for the very things that break ours. And though we'll never understand why God allows certain things to happen, we have to trust that He has a greater purpose. In a world that's filled with uncertainty, injustice and sin, He promises that He'll remain steadfast and faithful.
I think it's awesome that you pray as you do. God hears you. The more you keep at it, the more He'll reveal His heart to you.

Chelsea said...

That is the very reason I am caustic of getting my journalism degree,I only write for sports and avoid hard news. Its hard to handle.

Seeing those horrific images and hearing heart-breaking stories really do make us more thankful for what we have.

the plainsman said...

Yes, I saw most of those stories, seems to be more of them seeing ink now, since the campaign has ended, freeing up space.

The down side of the news business is very much like what police, social workers and even teachers experience. The key, much easier said than done, is to not let these horrific examples of inhumanity outweigh the majority of what is good.

I'm not sure myself exactly how to do that, but the prayers that you said for the victims are a good beginning, and something that you can do, besides telling their stories.

Amanda said...

Something my sister's friend whose husband died suddenly said has stuck with me. She said God did not let him die, but was there when he went.
I like to think when God saw that baby suffering in the rubble he wrapped her up and whisked her away.

Ray said...

GOD is real Kelly. And I don't say that to be an annoyance to you, since you say you've struggled with it your whole life, but that's how I see things.

It really is sad about all the horrific things happening around the world. And it's sad because like you said, "Ignorance is bliss." We can read about it and forget about it the next day. In your case though since you hear stories of this all the time you can't. And I'm sorry that these stories haunt you (however inevitable it is), but I hope that hearing these stories strengthens you. And I know it will having Allison as your daugther. And being the great woman that you are, on your own.

Take, care.

theedithr said...

I read this post from my newsroom in Martinsburg. I nearly cried at my desk.

At 22, starting out in this field, sometimes I wonder if I can keep doing this the rest of my life but regardless of whether we write about it or place it on a page, it still happens.

It just reminds me that Jesus is mighty to save and I know he is real.


Lily said...

God is real and God is at work...

even in this evil world, just like a person above said, Jesus' heart breaks just as much as your heart did! his love is one that is incomprehensible. and as a Christian as well, I can say, without a shadow of a doubt that God always has a plan... every single thing happens for a reason.

keep praying, Kelly--God hears you and he fully understands your broken heart. also, cling to the fact that there IS goodness in this world... and this goodness will prevail one day, through Jesus!

praying for you!

Sarahh said...

Don't miss the point. You guys talk about god and excuse the real purpose of what she wrote. She wrote about tragedy. If everyone attempted to confront these feelings with reality and not wishful thinking, perhaps less tragedy would happen. The irony of it all. Religion is going to continue to kill and blind people of the fierce reality that no one person can be correct on a planet of billions of thoughts. No one god is perfect, and I say this very well knowing I am only one of the billion. Yet, I feel someone must say it here and there. I want better for our future and we are smarter than the foolishness that people have created on this planet that our choices have real consequenes to them. Sorry if this mildly makes sense, typing on my phone.

In my world god would never want his people to do this, he'd never want us to discriminTe against others, or for toddlers to have arms blown off. I cannot believe in it that way. So I'm not sure what is left but being real about life and seeing it as today is the day and may be my only day left. No do overs. No heaven no hell. Just the cold ground. Now that to me has been more powerful at living a good life than anything Iwas told in Sunday school.

I hope the lives of all those people who suffer are not in vain. Never would I think my life is more blessed or important than theirs. They deserve what we all have, and they don't get it. So damn the time when people say they die for a purpose. Shame to think that it can quickly all be patched up by saying... But oh, it was with purpose.

I pray too Kelly, but I pray to nothing in particular because even if the moon hears me my heart still breaks too.

jane said...

"So damn the time when people say they die for a purpose. Shame to think that it can quickly all be patched up by saying... But oh, it was with purpose."

To not think or believe that their deaths were part of a greater purpose, is to essentially say that their suffering was in vain. Furthermore, to say this is definitely not to simply or flippantly sum up or "patch up" whatever has happened. It's about believing in a sovereign God who loves ALL of His children so much that He sacrificed His own son on our behalf.

"In my world god would never want his people to do this, he'd never want us to discriminTe against others, or for toddlers to have arms blown off."

This is the same in my world too and with the God that I know and love. God doesn't want to see hate - He despises it - it's bc of our sinfulness and brokenness that there's so much of it in this world. But it's also bc of the hope that we have in Jesus, that in His perfection and grace, we can see the good in people, offer forgiveness where it's needed, strive to follow His example, and in knowing that our time on Earth is temporary, look forward to the day when everything will be restored as He originally intended.

And lastly, when one's heart is breaking, there's a vast difference b/w praying to something inanimate vs. praying to someone who you know is holding you close to His heart and who promises to heal all wounds.

Kelly, as difficult as it at times, maybe God called you to the work that you do bc He needed someone with compassion to not simply write stories, but to tell of the lives of others in the way that you do, in a way that spurs others to want change, a way that encourages others to share that compassion.

bc of Him,
Jane (aka "anonymous" / 3rd commenter)

the plainsman said...

Once again some interesting comments here as well and dealing with much larger issues of the universe than I'm getting into right now...

But I just realized, Kelly, when I happend to find a couple old newspapers that someone had saved from the early 1960's and left at our town museum after a meeting last night.

The style of news coverage has changed. The nature of the stories is still often as horific. But they were not described so graphically. During those times, that graphic type reporting was left to the less reputable papers, "the rags" like the NY Daily Mirror, which would have made today's Ruppert Murdock NY Post look almost tame.

I think journalistic style has taken a back seat to the shock-jocks of the publishing world, in an attempt to hold on to diminshing ad revenue in a changed workd that demands the biggest story. (No different from the networks).

No idea what the answer is, but I bet each of those reporters filing those original stories could have written better, but less graphic first hand accounts of what happened, without sacrificing any journalistic integrity. Reading that a child was irreparably maimed by a rocket attack is enough to convey the message. Anything else is excess and gets in the way.

hannah said...

i did HIV/AIDS work in africa this past year and witnessed births, deaths and everything in between. it's certainly hard to sleep at night having witnessed those things first-hand, let alone if you're reading about them. i wrote a about it if you're interested

Tink said...

Hang in there and eventually some good news will come your way.

erica said...

I want to first of all say that I loved Sarahh's comment was beautiful. I know that to some it may seem a bit cynical but it felt honest and lovely to me. I especially loved the last bit

"I pray too Kelly, but I pray to nothing in particular because even if the moon hears me my heart still breaks too."

Sometimes I debate what I want to do with my life because I often find myself unable to leave work at the workplace. Friends would confide their problems to me and I would carry it with me for a very long time. I know I would have a very difficult time with journalism because I know I would react in exactly the same way you do.

I like to look at the New York Times photos of the day every once in a while. There was one image that I found that will remain with me, and whenever I think back to the Iraq war I will likely think of this image. There had been an explosion in a marketplace in Iraq and a father had recovered the body of his two year old son. The image was of the father kissing the body in his arms... a sort of goodbye I suppose. It occurred to me that not only had this father lost his son but this kid was only two years old, meaning his entire life he had lived in the midst of war. That broke my heart as well. I actually cried for quite sometime after seeing that image. It made it all real for me.

Anonymous said...

I have also questioned the possibility of God when horrible things happen to good people. But I've realized that maybe those of us who are lucky enough not to face these tragedies are put here to help those who do. God works through us.

sarahhh said...

yeah, sorry if my comment sounded kinda harsh but i appreciate your ability to put that aside and see what i was saying erica. if you met me you'd never think i could be such a punk. i too look at those pictures and have to sometimes stop doing it for weeks at a time. where do these people find air to breathe? they live it and will continue to know it everyday of their life. i could not imagine it any worse.

i crave for people to reason and exercise their mind's ability to think beyond what feels comfortable.

our world is the opposite of comfortable.

erica i too find that work goes home with me in my mind. being a nurse i see and feel a lot. empathy is a great quality to have, but it can also be very consuming. i believe you are a better person for it though, and thank you for it.

jane - i get what you are saying. i said the same stuff too when i was sixteen. i was ms preteen holy. then i started living and saw some things that just did not add up. instead of ignoring them, i thought about them. what gets me is by saying "it's god's destiny" or "fate" to have wars or for circumstances to happen as they do, then you are excusing the acts. if we excused everything that happened in life, we'd get what we have today! (a god's war etc) perfect example, suicide bombers. they think they're going to flippin heaven. it's their fate. god's destiny for them. i know you're probably not so cruel to say that, but you are saying it. everyone who excuses someone's misfortune plays into that type of bull. everyone who says "it's god's way or purpose" is making an excuse for the maddness, and everyone who calls themselves blessed is calling themself special. the hungry children though, they must not be so special or blessed. god had it out for them, it's fate. (ugh!) that's just the down and dirty of it.

sorry for turning your blog comments into a place where i vent kelly. you're a great writer who inspires people to react and think. good job! haha.

Anonymous said...

How dumb to cling to your bronze age epic to describe how and why random events happen and then reduce all their complexity to the will of some deranged creator. We now live in a world where we have the knowledge to know that the the probability of a creator is, as Dawkins puts it, the same as a hurricane moving through a dump yard and leaving in its wake an intact 747. If you want to do something good for the world, try to find the root of a problem and refrain from dismissing it as some god's will...The latter may have seemed logical in the dark ages but it is now not only stupid but dangerous

novelle360 said...

Thank you for all of your thoughts on this issue. Like some of you said, I'm grateful that I'm only experiencing these things from a distance and not first-hand. And as for the new journalists, if it's work you love, like me, I'm sure you couldn't imagine doing anything else -- even when it's upsetting.

As for God? I appreciate what everyone said. I like the thought of believing. If nothing else, it provides comfort.

And praying to the moon? I absolutely relate to that too.

Thank you for the different perspectives.