Last week I received an email from Mark. Mark is a loyal blog reader and he always has something kind and wise to contribute to the conversation. I've never met Mark in person, but he's part of the family. This little blog family.
And right now, Mark, like so many others, is feeling brokenhearted:
Mark gave me permission to share his email. And Mark's words (along with my husband's encouragement) prompted me to write this blog post, one that initially I didn't have the heart to write.
When I was a local television news reporter, it was a thrill to cover the big story, like hurricanes and elections and the opening of the local fair. But the absolute hardest part of the job for me was covering tragedy. I have countless memories of riding in the news truck to the scene of the accident or the scene of the crime, feeling sick. Wishing someone else was covering the story. Like that New Year's Eve when children died in a house fire. Or that time when two girls were shot and killed, right outside their home. Or the small plane crash in the forest in the middle of the night.
Or that time I was assigned to cover a fatal car crash, not knowing that my cousin's boyfriend was one of the victims. I found out on the way to the scene, and looking back I wish I'd asked to be reassigned, but I was too young/too scared/trying too hard to prove that I was cut out for the job.
Or that year, the day after Christmas, when rescue workers and volunteers searched the woods for a little boy who'd gotten lost. He'd been missing for nearly 24 hours. I thought for sure they'd find the young child dead, until I heard someone yell, "They found him!" I especially remember how the videographer and I scrambled to set up, just in time to show the boy live on the air—alive and well—being carried out of the woods. And how I, and everyone there, cried tears of relief and joy.
Sometimes the stories I covered restored my faith. They reminded me that good things—even miracles—happen. Sometimes, being a TV journalist felt like the thing I'd do forever. There were times I couldn't imagine doing anything else.
The absolute best part of the job for me—the thing that made it hard for me to eventually leave that career—even though I knew in my gut it was time—was the people. Being a TV journalist allowed me to develop a connection with my community. My newsroom was my second home. My coworkers were my family.
I'm sure that's the case for many of those who work for WDBJ-TV in Roanoke, Virginia. Especially for reporter Alison Parker and videographer Adam Ward, who worked together as a team each day. And, they were each in a relationship with a coworker, a detail that wasn't surprising to me.
My husband and I met in a journalism class in college. When we graduated, we had the opportunity to work together at three different television stations. We never imagined we'd get so lucky. Our work life blended with our social life. When we welcomed the new millennium and the whole station worked past midnight, Shawn and I invited our coworkers back to our apartment. Our friend Frank played the guitar until dawn, until the newspaper hit the front door.
And so, when I learned that Alison and Adam were targeted and murdered, live on air while doing a good news story for their station's morning show, I felt, once again, sick. Penn and Kim Holderness expressed it best on their blog, "We didn't know Alison and Adam. But we feel like we do."
In the eight years I worked in local TV news, I might have had moments where I felt nervous or unsafe, but I never really ever thought that something bad would happen to me. Even that time a heckler ran through my live shot. I kept my composure. Didn't skip a beat. But I'll tell you that I never saw that guy coming. When you're live on the air, that's where your focus is. On the camera. On the story.
So Mark, our friend, you're right. There is a great sadness everywhere. I feel it. My former colleagues, my friends who've also gotten out of the TV news business, and my friends still in the business feel it. People, like you, who love their hometown news personalities feel it, too.
It's true that unless you truly knew Alison and Adam, you don't really know. We can imagine. But we don't know.
And, it's hard not to look out and see what has happened: in Roanoke, here in Charleston, in churches, in movie theaters, in elementary schools and not feel the ripple effects of grief. And anger. And fear.
What's happening? We all ask this question. And the answer is a lot of really terrible, scary, unsettling things.
When tragedies hit uncomfortably close to home, it opens our eyes. It helps us acknowledge all the subtle ways we've separated ourselves, creating invisible but obvious dividing walls. Separating us from them.
There is no us and them. It's only us. We're all in this together. There will always be extremes. People so full of anger and hate that they'll do things that are hard for us to comprehend. Some of us won't ever recover.
So my prayer is that those of us who feel the ripple effects of these murders make a renewed effort to be kind. Love others. And live with intention, like we truly understand the thing that is absolutely true: We are never guaranteed tomorrow.
In this common bond of heartbreak, we recognize that we're part of a community much larger than we think.