The official memorial ceremony was held 10 days ago on the first day of Spring. Rebirth, renewal.
Memorial for whom? Have we forgotten already?
Sixteen people, most of them school students, gunned down in classrooms, in the halls, on the street of any town, because it could happen anywhere – Germany, Finland, Norway, Canada… Don’t kid yourself – it’s not just an American thing.
You know, I really wanted to write something about Winnenden the day it happened, but I just couldn’t.
It was just so senseless, so incredibly mindless, and too close to home somehow.
I was working that day – I work in TV news – and as the wires in their ceaseless, droning regularity upped the numbers over six hours first from two, then to five, to nine, to 11, to 14, to 15, to 16, to 17, then back down to 16, I remained, as usual and as is expected, cooly distant to it all. Doing my job without thinking about the people involved, whether it’s a school shooting or another boiler-plate Baghdad bombing, plane crash or 100-storey buildings collapsing into smoke and ash: just chasing after pictures, relaying info to colleagues and staying on top of it all to help make sure our shows were getting out OK.
Until exactly 1455, when about 20 seconds of video came across of a woman – maybe 50, 55 – seen from a long shot, her hands on her face as she’s breaking down in tears, buckling at the knees as a man turns to support her, another beside her at a cellphone perhaps trying to get information, then the next shot from another angle a little later of paramedics escorting the distraught woman to a safe area.
We’re all supposed to remain so professional. So on the job. We have to treat the pictures for their value and their content without being affected by them, but as I was phoning to offer them to the editor of the news exchanges as is my job, for the first time in nine years on the desk my voice was actually breaking.
As I saw those pictures come in I was suddenly flooded with thoughts that I could very easily have been the one standing there, that it could have been my kid in that school, that my wife as a high school teacher could just as easily have been one of the teachers there, that I could one day be the one to get the call that would pretty much destroy the foundation of my life in this foreign outpost.
This in a work culture of passionate indifference, where maintaining a balance between commitment and dedication to the timely distribution of the facts must be balanced by a cool disengagement to their enormity.
I wasn’t the only one to have trouble keeping an iron gaze.
The chief of police talking to reporters in Winnenden that day stood and gave his statements in measured tones, but his eyes flooded wet when he said, “…we’re naturally doing everything we can to support the parents at this time, but I’ve been over there among them and I have to tell you, it’s damn hard to look them straight in the eye.”
I allowed myself to imagine how the parents must be feeling. It was fleeting, but it caught me off guard. We’re all human, we can’t stop feelings, but like a surgeon with Tourette’s Syndrome, we have to be able to keep them switched off or be unable to function.
In the end I posted something frivolous about Obama chicken fingers which received dozens of comments, but somehow regret it.