Thursday, March 18, 2010


What is wrong with our society where we feel the need to always gawk and pry into the lives of those who have just been dealt a tragedy? We see it every day from accidents on the highway to “reality shows”. We are drama (tragedy) junkies to the point that people are desensitized to the REALITY of the circumstances.

My daughter called me at 5:20 yesterday to tell me that a kid was hit and killed by a bus and she wanted to know if she could go with her friends to “look”. I was completely appalled and told her NO! After I hung up I was overwhelmed by a deep feeling of sadness and despair.  As a parent all I could think of was “what if that was my child?” I was completely sick to my stomach and started to tear up.  I immediately began to pray for his family and friends while driving home.

When I got home, she told me more about what happened and I explained to her why I was against her going to site. I told her how I think our society is too addicted to watching other people’s lives, drama and tragedy; that with shows like CSI, Law and Order, Numbers etc. people are numb to seeing crime and disaster and that it doesn’t become REAL until it’s someone you know.  I asked her how she would feel if that was her sister that was under the bus and EVERYONE from the neighborhood came to “see what happened”.  At that point she got it and started to become sad. 

We are so detached from humanity that we don’t feel anymore…. Of course unless it’s YOUR brother, sister, father that was hurt, then it’s a different story. But it shouldn’t be that way. We should ALL hurt for each other and pray for each other.  I would be fine with the crowd if they were all there for a vigil to pray for the family and the friends of this boy but that’s not why most people were there. They were there the same reason why people slow down when passing a car accident, to see what happened. One of Najja’s friends actually took pictures of the scene and posted it on Facebook.  That just confirms to me how disconnected we are to each other.


Tim Pickel said...

Well said Nikkita. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for giving your daughter some heartfelt advice.

We are a society that has been tainted by the garbage that is on TV and the news that is presented to us. We become immune to the realities of horrible accidents like the one that occurred yesterday.

What we should be doing, and you seem to be doing it, is to teach our children that tragedies are not something to be curious or casual about. They are real, life-changing and devastating to the people involved. We need to pray for the family.

noel jones said...

Hi Nikkita--I like that this post had no picture--it captures what your saying in its absence.

I agree that we have become way too desensitized as a community, and that television and movies have contributed to that. I am always so disturbed when looking for movies to rent, that such a high percentage of dramas involve really brutal violence against women, for instance, especially horror movies.

But I have another perspective to toss out there for discussion:

When I got home and told David what had happened and why I was so shaken, he said, "I was wondering why so many people on our street walked down toward Northampton, but I thought that maybe there was a St. Patrick's Day parade that I didn't know about--what is wrong with people and all their rubber-necking!"

I thought about it for a second and then said, "I don't know, maybe its the only time that all of the neighbors feel a sense of community, coming out of their houses and hanging out on the street talking together over a tragedy. It seems like the only time that people of all different demographics in the neighborhood come together and talk to each other."

What do you think?

David Caines said...

Noel, I think you may just be on point with this. I know that the only time we tend to talk to our neighbors in a group is when there is an accident or incident. I've often wondered if it isn't tied to some communal fight or flight instinct rather than just morbid curiosity. I know that when I heard about the tragedy, and tragedy it is, I sent of a prayer for the child's spirit and for the family and what they'll have to go through.
My own curiosity just doesn't run that way, death is a nasty business, with a stench and a feel that having witnessed one doesn't soon forget or look to repeat.
It is also at least in this world an end, gone are any dreams, hopes, fears and chances to do either right or wrong. Everything that person ever was or ever might have been is just done. It is believe me not a condition I wish upon any being and least of all a child.
And Nikita if ever you searched for proof that you are the "Good Mother", the instinct to keep your child from having to experience such a thing for as long as possible is proof positive. Thank you for writting this...

g_whiz said...

I found out about the awful senario yesterday while taking my neice to karate. I've never seen that many people out on the streets here and was naievely assuming it was some sort of St. Patricks day party before I started asking questions... the information I got was fragmented. Detached. "Some kid" this, and the more I asked the more I came away with the idea that it seemed more exciting to some of the people I discussed it with than tragic. When I mentioned it to one of my neighbors she said "I hope its not someone I know", and I just stoped and stared. There were tons of people at the Pub, literally a few yards away from the scene, that had no idea what had happened and...didn't seem hard pressed to care. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it, but find the perspectives and casualness of others about it somewhat chilling.

hopeunseen said...

I decided about a year ago to forsake meetings and conference rooms for the street where, in this densely populated little urban postage stamp, a rich environment for human intimacy is ripe.

Northampton Street is on my regular pray walk route, so this morning, with two other people, like I do all the time, we strolled up the street and stopped on this day, at the two sites bookending each other where a murder and a terrible accident occurred. While in prayer, I felt hands on mine and looked up and saw a man who was just walking by. He felt compelled to join us. A few minutes later, another man, with a Salvation Army tee shirt on, also joined us. Then a car pulled up with ha couple in it, not from Easton, who wanted to pray.

None of us came to gawk or out of need to fill some morbid curiosity. It was simply because we knew that Easton once again had lost her own—and families were grieving.

As I was walking home a young man, one of 'those' kids many of us don't want in our city, engaged me. A few days ago I got in his face about his flirtation with gangs potentially inviting violence. My key message to him was that he as a human being had tremendous worth. The problem was that he didn't believe it. After thinking about what I said, instead doing the bad thing he said he was going to do, he decided that after all he was ‘worth it,’ and rather than the city perhaps weeping over another young person falling, he’ll be out with me next week looking for a job.

I so appreciate your post because it is through deep human experience we heal and reconcile. No form of media can do that.

Thank you Nikkita.

Anonymous said...

I ventured out yesterday afternoon and saw a helicopter hovering in the sky. Usually the only copters that hover like that are covering some horrific incident-a serious fire, accident or multiple shooting.

I could not account for all of my family or neighbors and I worried. I came not to gawk but to see if the tragedy was close.

I appreciate your comment on how you teach your children to appreciate the entirety of what is going on. I would say that we should all go to a scene such as yesterday with an open heart and willingness to help our neighbor. I am sure that many of you good west ward people were thinking that when you came to the accident scene.

Dennis R. Lieb said...

Nikkita, Noel & David,

I wrote my last blog piece on other aspects of public safetey a few days before this tragedy. I have no desire to ever be as topical as this again.

The fascination with death and mayhem may be universal but I don't have much patience for it. I'm one of the people who will drive right past an accident scene without looking because in my mind it's someone else's life on display - not an excuse for voyerism. I've often said that if Easton wanted to have downtown's streets crowded with people everyday they should wish for floods - because that's when they all come out - or cut a permanent canal through downtown.

I think that this voyeristic fixation on tragedy is a replacement for real connections within people's communal and personal lives. I'm happy I don't suffer from it. Maybe it's a common nuerosis of urban America and maybe it always has been, but I think it's something to be fought off. You do that by connecting to your environment - natural, man-made and human. Force yourself to if necessary.

In 2002 I was driving on N 13th Street just north of the Northampton Street intersection. As I glanced to my right at the rear of the building on the NW corner I saw an elderly woman go down. That property had a poorly maintained apartment with a crumbling sidewalk/garage driveway and the potholed surface tripped the woman face-first on the concrete.

I left my car in the middle of the street and went to help her up. She was bloodied around the face and had broken her glasses. I gave whatever help I could, wiped her face and offered her a ride home. She said no and that all she was doing was trying to take a walk around the block on the first nice April day of the year...and then this.

My blood was boiling. I'd passed that crappy sidewalk hundreds of times and no one ever did anything about it. I got her name and address and made a complaint to the city. My mother had been in failing health of late and that weekend my sisters were home to sit with her, but after the incident I had vowed with a friend to go document and photograph every sidewalk code violation I could find around my neighborhood. So off we went to do our thing. Later that afternoon my mom passed away at home. Sometimes I feel guilty I wasn't there when it happened.

Two years earlier, also in April, my dad was dying of cancer and, unbeknownst to me at the time, the last words he would ever say to me were "How's the street doing? Take care of the neighborhood for me". When I had an interview for the West Ward Partnership job earlier this year, someone on the selection committee who should have known better asked the stupid question "Why do you bother to stay in the West Ward?"

It didn't deserve an answer really. Here is mine: My mom and dad would have wanted someone as their son who didn't cut and run.


Donna R. said...

Please join us for an hour of prayer tomorrow, Sat. March 20th, 2pm, @ 9th & Northampton Sts. And please, continue to pray and walk the streets after Saturday. This city needs to know and declare that God is in control of this city both during times of peace and order and in times of tragedy and mayhem.

noel jones said...

Terrence and Donna R., thanks very much for posting on the prayer vigils.

Dennis, thanks for sharing such a personal story of commitment. Easton is lucky to have residents as dedicated as you are to improving the city for the safety and progress of us all.

I agree that there might be some truth to the idea of a communal urge that is lacking an impetus on a regular basis, and has thereby become distorted in times of disaster. Sadly, I think there are very few things that the entire community still feels it shares as a whole, and shock over an incident like this is one of them. On the more positive side, I saw a similar coming together during the snowstorm--all the neighbors were outside laughing and complaining together and comparing how much they had shoveled, sharing news of the storm they had caught on the radio, etc. I used to notice this when I lived in New York--that it seemed that the only time that everyone acknowledged each other in passing, nodded and smiled as if they had something in common, was in a snow storm. The other exceptions, when I saw New York pull together as a community was 911, and the city-wide blackout the next year. Again, strangers that normally wouldn't have any reason to talk to each other, reaching out for a sense of community. So I think that while some people may have acted heartlessly as spectators that some others may have been drawn to the reason to join hundreds of neighbors on the sidewalk for any reason.

In my area of the WW, some of the neighbors know each other, and then many others don't speak to each other at all. Except when there is an incident that brings a firetruck or police cars--then suddenly everyone feels comfortable talking to each other to find out what's going on, and there is a sense that we all are sharing something. So I do think that there is a sense of community that humans long for whether they know it or not, and that in the absence of other commonalities, if a tragedy is the only thing people have in common, they will respond to the urge to draw together in numbers.

Hopefully, one day, we'll all realize that we have more in common than tragedy and natural disasters.