It seems like only yesterday that I was sitting in front of my Western Union teletype in the police press room, a man in his mid-20s trying to make sense of something that made no sense at all – the death of five children in an apartment fire caused by adult carelessness, a mind-numbing indifference to responsibility and accountability.
I was drinking coffee as I wrote – I would have preferred something a little stronger at this point, but at 7:45 PM, it was a little too early in the day. So I had to focus and tell a gruesome story for the 375,000 plus readers who would deal with this horror with unhesitating conviction that a tragedy like this could never happen to them.
There were a lot of these dreadful days if you were a crime reporter in one of the fastest growing major cities in America. In my newspaper career, I probably saw more than 250 dead bodies, men, women and children; someone’s uncle, a bride and groom, an estranged husband who turned around his life, a mom, or someone’s children. They all died suddenly, frequently without much warning. Certainly with no time to say goodbye or I’m sorry.
At the scene of a tragedy, there is no greater cry of anguish than from a mother who learns that her 10-year-old son, who was going to be everything her drug-dealing husband wasn’t, was lying dead in the living room, the unintended victim of a narcotics deal gone bad. Or the poor working mom who returns home to smoldering ruins and the sudden realization that everything she cared about, her children, were now gone. Or the mother and father who learn in an early morning call from a stranger that their beloved only child, a daughter and her new husband died in an accident after only one day as man and wife.
These experiences happened a long time ago. But today they continue to happen across the nation, around the world. There is no question that my newspaper experience, those events, shaped my life. I still enjoy being in the know, telling stories – sharing information with others, a requisite for a reporter. Now I enjoy the challenge, and the reward, of digging into a candidate’s background to understand what makes them tick as a leader and as a person. The aggregate of my experiences helps me do my job better, to appreciate life and to overcome adversity.
Those early days in the newspaper business also helped me understand the importance of appreciating each day we have on earth. The suddenness of a traumatic death is both stunning and shocking. For the survivors, the immediate horror gives way to a sense of loss that is so deep that it is hard to comprehend.
Many people talk about how much they appreciate life, that they live one day at a time. Nice, but for most it is just talk. Our lives are so busy they blend from one day to another. And then they are gone.
Would you scream at your kids, disrespect your wife, or publicly disparage your colleagues or your employees if you knew that this day would be your last?
It could be.
© 2013 John Gregory Self