Where do we find that delicate balance between caring and being overwhelmed? Of feeling, but not feeling too much? For a doctor, an emergency worker or a reporter, the answer is pretty simple. Care enough to do the job, but not so much that you can’t. On the other hand, I do feel we have a responsibility to get as close to the edge as possible to be truly effective in our work, even if it does leave us with sleepness nights. Afterall, how are we to move others if we aren’t moved ourselves?
This is a tricky path to walk when covering tragedy. First, you have to convince someone who is suffering to speak on camera. Second, you have to be kind. From my time as a reporter, I learned that the first part was easy. People were surprisingly drawn to the cameras as much as to me, especially after a tragedy. As reluctant as I was to ever ask anyone who had just lost someone for an interview, they rarely said no. The survivors would want to tell me, no, insist on telling me, about their loved one. And that’s where the second part came in. There were so many times when we had already wrapped, we were done and were just making polite small talk as we packed the gear. We had what we needed and were moving on to our next assignment or back to the station. That was usually when someone’s mother or father or partner would take me by the arm and down to the hall closet to pull out pictures. Then it would be on to the victim’s bedroom, where I would listen as they heartbreakingly gave me a detailed tour of the victim’s personal effects, hoping I would better tell their loved one’s story on TV, so I could properly eulogize them.
I gave voice to the victim’s life, elevated them to some strata of celebrityhood they might never have had were it not for the cameras and reporters and their tragic circumstances. But I would be bothered, wondering what had happened to the family after we were gone. Would that minute and a half news story I had done comfort them? I knew the family would watch the story over and over when they were up grieving in the middle of the night. Would it help them? Harm them? What if their loved one had done something bad and died? It became hard for me to just stand there, out of emotional reach. Unprofessional as it might have been, there were times I cried with them and my leaving didn’t come with a handshake, but a hug. That was when I probably did some of my best reporting. When I wanted my work to touch others as much as it had me. When I hoped my story might provide some small measure of comfort for the heartache of someone’s loss, no matter how it had happened.