I have a habit. I compulsively look at the national news headlines dozens of times each day. This habit started on September 11, 2001 when I, along with millions of others across the globe, hit the refresh button on the PC screen every few seconds. This was our only connection to the unspeakable scenes that were unfolding in New York and DC. I needed to know what was happening. I was worried for my family, for my friends, for myself. Eventually, this became generalized worry. The world is a scary, unpredictable place and my surfing confirms that every day.
11 years later, I refresh the national news so often because, first and foremost, I have a dumb phone and no way to automatically set up my life for instant news alerts. The other reason is because I have that nagging feeling every day that something awful could happen in the world, and if it does, I want to know right away. I might have to run. I might have to duck under my desk. I might have to rescue my kids. I might have to save my family.
There is an irrational belief that I can control the randomness of it all if only I could know about the events as soon as they occur. “Information will protect me from the unknown”, I think. As a child, fear of the dark is relieved by turning on the light. So kids combat fear with a click of the light switch.
So I click and click the mouse. I don’t spend much time on the news site, just enough to scan if anything changed since my last click – an earthquake, a tsunami, a bomb, a man dressed in camouflage or all black colors wielding a gun with a high capacity magazine and a mental disorder. I don’t know why I need to know right away but I do. Ever since 9/11.
Today we have all read about the school shooting in Connecticut, and many of us spent part of our afternoons hitting refresh, looking for more information. I sure did. Unfortunately, the information I was looking for was an answer to the question “Why?” When children are killed in this manner, I know in my mind that I could click all day long and never find that answer. CNN can’t tell me. Fox News and MSNBC don’t know. Oprah will never know. I can’t even guess. I’d rather not think about it at all, but I habitually click nonetheless. It’s a habit.
My heart hurts for these people in Connecticut whom I do not know, whom I have never met, whom I will never meet. Their pain is beyond what I can imagine. Mostly my heart hurts because I worry that the more I click, the closer this violence and randomness comes to me, to my family, to my friends.
I click because it could happen to anyone and I want fair warning if it’s coming near me. I click to be reassured that it isn’t me, or my family, or my friends in the headlines this time.
Portland, OR. Aurora, CO. Oak Creek, WI. Newtown, CT.
What a sad, sad day.