I openly wept at my computer Tuesday afternoon. Not enough so that my co-workers would hear me, but I wept all the same. I couldn’t let it get the best of me, because I had job to do. Not an ordinary job, either. I had to write the story about the tragedy for a major news outlet here in Oregon. I had to be the person to tell 500,000 people that something awful wasn’t just on the news anymore. It was on the local news.
As I scrolled past the hashtag on Twitter for the shooting, and jumped between major Portland news anchor feeds, I had to choose my words carefully. Speculation is part of journalism, but so too is confirming information. I couldn’t write a story about what we knew, for there was very little of it. I had to write a story based on what was being said. The difficulty of writing a story littered with “sources” and “several outlets” becomes even more difficult when the newsroom is a calamity, rushing to get the right information in. Reporters were running to their spots, producers were re-stacking their entire show. Amidst the mayhem, I sat in a quiet, dimly lit cubicle in the corner of the newsroom trying to conglomerate the information that had been rushing past me in the last twenty minutes.
Before I could finish my story, I had to put something up on social media. The safety of some may be relative to whether they were informed via those platforms, and some kind of information had to go out. One hundred and forty characters doesn’t seem like a lot when you’re trying to write a snarky tweet about sports. It’s brevity is more constricted when you are trying to tell people that a public murder has occurred.
On my second week on the job, we had major local breaking news. A police officer had been shot and killed after a routine traffic stop. The person he had pulled over was a mentally unstable woman, who had happened to chance aim out her window with a .38 caliber revolver. The bullet hit the spot between his ribs where his body armor did not cover, and it hit him in the heart. He died.
Until this point, I had never been one to take serious weight to the tragedy of others. Indeed, life is often cruel and the world can seem an unfair place. “The world is dark” I thought. “Move on.”
Chris’ death got to me.
I knew him from various places around town. First the coffee shop I had worked at, then the motorcycle shop. He was a calm person, with a soothing voice and a happy demeanor. He seemed out of place in his uniform, too nice to be able to have “command presence” over anyone. Chris was the kind of person who made me, a cynical, poorly-adjusted product of an infant divorce feel like I could someday be just a little bit brighter. He was a special human being, one that made anyone who talked to him feel like, for that one moment, your voice was the most important thing as he listened to you. And yet, this was the person — not brooding, angry me — who had to die on the side of the road in his own blood, gasping for air.
It confused me.
I cried for Chris. And I cried for his family. I cried for his widow, in immeasurable pain at his public memorial. And, selfishly, I cried for myself.
As I finished my story and posted it to the website, I tried to tune some of it out. The initial information was the critical piece; the reporting will come over the next few weeks. I tried to re-read what I’d written, as if self-editing wasn’t failing enough. It didn’t seem to make sense. What was this story about? What was the narrative? It was three paragraphs mashed together of barely informational facts of something terrible. Something alien. Something that doesn’t happen here. Not where I live, and not where I’m from. It went out all the same.
When I’d finished, I circled back around with my producers and made sure the course was clear for the rest of the evening. The dust settled and there wouldn’t be much to update for the rest of the evening. I had to go home.
My body made dinner autonomously of my mind. It’s the same almost every night. The dog patiently waiting by my side for a scrap of something. It’s vegetables, buddy. You wouldn’t want them. And as they seared in the pan, I cried on the floor of my kitchen.
I did what I could do. What I still could do. I went to the gym. I spent an hour on the treadmill, mindlessly watching Blake Griffin slam dunk on a helpless Bulls team. I rolled my eyes at Hubie Brown. I smiled at the cute girl at the front desk. I played 3-point-contest with some guys in the gym. I went back to normal.
Because I still can.
When I was younger, I was callous. These types of things seemed so distant. Now, as I experience my own loss, and evaluate my own needs, desires, and routine, I am able to better digest these situations. I’m not afraid to have cried. I think that’s the proper response. In a situation as close as this, with as many people involved, chances are if you live in Oregon, you know someone affected. And whether it’s someone you know, or someone you know of, compassion for your neighbor should never be devalued.
I’m glad I’ll be able to go to Portland Trail Blazers games. That I’ll be able to make jokes on the internet under an assumed handle. To lose Twitter followers and gain all new ones (most of them porn bots). That I get to come home to an idiot dog who just sits there as I hug him and cry. I’m thankful for this life. For this world. And for you. I’m thankful for you. For all that this interaction about a sport that was long ago ruined by CBAs, ESPNs, and TNTs.
It’s nothing profound. But it’s important to me. And I’m thankful for it.