I know that sounds strange coming from a journalist, but bear with me as I start at the beginning.
Growing up, my mom never watched the news. She didn’t read the paper, either, except for the announcements section to see the weddings, which I came to love doing as well. My dad, on the other hand, watched the news and read the paper every day.
Early on, I took after my dad. I don’t really remember watching the news, but I know I must have, and I also enjoyed true crime shows like he did. Remember the creepy host on Unsolved Mysteries? I watched that show All. The. Time. There’s no way I could watch it now. I also distinctly remember watching, with my dad, the documentary or re-enactment of Colin Thatcher’s murder of his wife, JoAnn. I would have been in elementary school. I remember my mom coming in and ushering me out before they actually showed anything, but I got the drift.
It would make sense, then, to become a journalist, so that’s what I did. And to her credit, when I worked at CBC Saskatchewan, MBC Radio, and now Eagle Feather News, my mom listened to and read every one of my stories if she was able. Even the awful ones.
In the beginning, the awful ones didn’t phase me. And in addition to covering them, I’d read mostly non-fiction books and watch documentaries about war. I remember watching Shooting Dogs with a friend at the Broadway Theatre. There’s a scene where a mom is hiding in the grass with her tiny baby. Her baby cries, so the Hutu militia find them and kill them. My friend (who is a mother) bawled. I did not. Now there is no way I could watch that film.
I hit a turning point at MBC. I covered three stories in one week about residential schools. One particular event was a screening of survivors telling their stories. An elderly man recounted being so scared at the school and soiling himself, and how he was held upside down out of a two-story window as punishment. I called my mom as soon as I got to my car, bawling, asking, How could we do this to people?
That week created a crack in my former steely resolve. It cracked further when I covered two murder trials, one where a man was convicted of raping and killing an Aboriginal woman, and the other of Curt Dagenais, the man convicted of killing two RCMP officers and trying to kill a third. The survivor’s testimony was haunting.
After that, I had to go to counselling.
Fast forward to now, and I’m done. When every newspaper and news outlet was showing the photo of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler who drowned as he and his family tried to escape to find a better life, my heart broke, as I’m sure yours did. I hugged my little guy closer. My husband, APB, said he refused to look. But how could you miss the photo? It was EVERYWHERE.
And now we hear a 2-year-old girl and her father have been murdered. APB told me, “Don’t read the story, don’t read the details.” And I haven’t, and I won’t. I don’t need, nor do I want, to know. I knew it had happened because I went to Facebook to unwind and do something mindless like look at your photos, and instead I saw the headline shared 20 times.
And so now I understand. I totally get it. I used to say to my mom she was burying her head in the sand by not watching the news and not knowing what was going on in the world (although I would say my mom somehow did know what was going on anyway), and she said she was fine with that. And guess what? I’m fine with it, too. It only serves to break my heart into a million pieces.
The only positive that comes out of these awful stories is it forces us, in the case of Syria, to do something, which has always been my argument for watching/reading/telling the news. The only positive to come out of reading a story about someone murdering a 2-year-old is it makes us feel so grateful for our own lives, but we shouldn’t need such a horrible tragedy to practice gratitude.
Last night, and tonight, and nights moving forward, I told myself I would not complain or be upset no matter how many times my baby woke, needing to be comforted. At least he is with me and I can hold him in my arms, rather than only in my heart. May we all be grateful for what we have and practice love, patience, and empathy as much as we can each day…with our children, our partners, our friends, ourselves, and with strangers. That is how we will make a difference in the world. It’s not burying our heads in the sand, as I once thought, either. It’s making your immediate world, and therefore the rest of the world, a better place.