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Fair warning – this post is a heavy one.
During my short three months at Fox10 I’ve covered the murders of a 5-year-old girl in Gulfport Mississippi and an 8-year-old in Prichard. I’ve seen the white sheets at motorcycle accidents with blood painting the highway around them, interviewed grieving communities, stood in the places where bodies were found lifeless, and probably the worst – listened to the painful sobs of a parent as they mourn the loss of a child.
Death is no stranger in this job.
But for some reason, tonight’s story about two loved Citronelle teens was the story that overwhelmed me. Over the weekend two friends, athletes, and students were killed in a car accident.
Tonight family, friends and community came together to celebrate these boys’ lives in a prayer service and candle light vigil. Volunteers handed out tissues, passed out water and fanned people as they cried. The boys’ fellow teammates fell to the ground in hiccuping sobs. So many people collapsed when the music started that volunteers had to carry them outside. I wish I could describe the weight of emotion in that church as people sang, lifted their hands and testified to God.
I couldn’t keep it together. In the first ten minutes of the service I felt the salty tears in the back of my throat. Before the choir got through the second song, I found myself crying for families I had never met and the boys that I would never know. And then I started to think of my own loved ones. In that moment everyone else’s pain felt so real. Death became real. I was no longer an outsider looking in.
I believe there are different levels of empathy. First you see others’ emotion, then you start to understand it, and finally you feel it…almost as strongly as they do. On nights like tonight empathy transforms from simply understanding other’s heartbreak, to feeling it in your own heart.
I learn a lot on this job every day. In the past few weeks I’ve learned that journalists are not numb. Reporters are not immune to grief and sorrow. On the outside there may be “on” and “off” switches so we can do our job…but on the inside we are (or at least I am) overflowing with emotion.
While we don’t enjoy asking grieving people for interviews or filming their tears, we have to keep in mind that we are there for a purpose….whether it’s to bring closure, pay tribute, raise awareness, or even to help police in an investigation.
I think discovering that reason and remembering it through the entire process of reporting is what makes a journalist real. We’re not just simply covering a story…We are covering a story for greater purpose.
I’m not afraid to end on a cliche. It wouldn’t be right to end a post like this without a call to faith. I’ll say a prayer for this community tonight…And I’ll probably even say a prayer for my own family and friends tonight. Seeing tragedy so often reminds you that life really is fleeting.