There’s something to be said for those stark moments in life when tragedy strikes somewhere far away, or, awfully, disturbingly close to you. It’s the price of the modern age, both the blessing and the curse of the news cycle, that we are informed immediately of the world’s most awful actions, and too often slide past the world’s most beautiful. Re-connecting the moment where I heard about Boston today to the moment I heard about the Connecticut school shootings or the 9/11 attacks serves two purposes. Firstly, it means that my memories surrounding these tragedies are strengthened and remembered. Secondly, perhaps the most oddly, they carve shards of light into pieces of my life that I would’ve otherwise forgotten were it not for the illumination of tragedy.
- September 12th, 2001. I’m in year nine. 14 years old. I’m watching Third Rock From The Sun on cable television. It’s morning. I always wake up around six and watch at least two sitcoms before I go to school. Third Rock From The Sun is my regular choice at the moment. A banner scrolls across the bottom of the page. Two buildings I’ve never heard of have been attacked in New York. A word I don’t fully understand, terrorism, is mentioned. I turn to channel nine and see the two buildings in flames. There’s been a second explosion, I’m told. I run to my father, who is shaving in the bathroom, and tell him. He doesn’t believe me. Soon my parents and I are round the television. It takes us an hour or so to figure out that it’s not missiles or a bomb inside the building. It’s planes. I go to school and it’s all anyone talks about. The television doesn’t play anything but American news for days afterwards. I’m quite taken with it all, and confused at my own internal reaction. Fascination. Horror. An attempt to become a political expert. I remember a piece of footage from someone on the ground floor, and the tremendous thud it recorded of a human body hitting the ground. People jumped because they couldn’t escape the flames.
- December 14th, 2012. It’s the morning, again, and I turn on ABC News 24 to hear about the school shooting. My wife isn’t awake when I start to hear the numbers. Twenty children dead. Six staff members. I don’t listen to the details because I don’t really want to know. The image of Obama wiping away a tear is enough. We sit with it for the morning before we shake it off and resume the Summer cleaning of our entire house.
- April 16th, 2013. Morning. Home alone. Turn on the radio as I’m getting ready for work. I hear a few sparse details in headline news, but the situations barely developed. When I get to work I find myself looking at pictures online. It took me that minute, that time when you’re trying to work out what has happened, to realise that people had actually died. Charitable citizens. Then I went back to work. We all muttered sympathetic noises at the office. What else can we do? (It’s also worth mentioning that 31 people have died in Iraq in the last few days due to a series of car explosions. I won’t remember that three months from now.)
I could make all kinds of political inferences here about terrorism and violence. There’s something about the fact that all three of these incidents are American. I’ve also left out others – the 2006 tsunami, not nearly as clear in my mind. Or the 2011 floods, which take up a separate part of my brain because I was inevitably a part of it all.
Instead, I think it pays to remember that there are other moments that happened today, ones that you don’t hear about:
- People gave to charity today. A lot of people. Billions of dollars are given every year by all kinds of people all over the world to help each other out.
- Somewhere, not too far away, are acts of mundane noble courage that are the essence of life. A son or daughter cares for their elderly parent. A sibling or friend stops their mate driving home drunk. Someone who used to be afraid of themselves stands on a set of scales and beams with pride. These things happen all of the time.
- I don’t understand why there’s no statistics for it, but a certain number of people urinated because they laughed so hard today. And they do everyday.
- Friends were reconciled today.
- Someone found out they beat cancer today.
- A kid opened up a book for the first time today.
- You had fun today. Somewhere, somehow – admit it.
I hope we hold on to those moments as much as we hold onto the tragic.