What the Orlando shooting taught me about how non-journalists deal with tragedy

I live in Orlando.

Today was the first time in my adult life that there’s been a huge breaking news event in my backyard (the shooting was less than two miles from my house) and I haven’t had to cover it.

The only thing I’ve ever done in response to tragedy was work – from 9/11 when I was in DC, to the 2004 hurricanes when I was in Florida, to the Aurora theater shooting and deadly fires and floods when I was in Colorado.

Today, I found out what everybody else does in response to tragedy. They sit. They watch. They feel helpless. They watch some more. And then, they come together.

I sat in my house for ten hours today watching and listening to wall-to-wall coverage, taking notes on press briefings and live Tweeting updates. Because even though I don’t work for a news outlet anymore, that’s all I knew to do.

This evening, I had to decide whether to go to a “Swanky Sixties Cocktail Party” that a group of my good friends had been planning for weeks. The hosts asked the group on Facebook whether people thought it was appropriate to go forward with the event. The group collectively decided that, today more than ever, it was important to celebrate life and love and friendship.

I agreed with them.

I realized I wasn’t doing anybody any good watching rolling coverage in my living room, so, while I felt a little weird about it, I donned a cocktail dress and pearls and headed out. But I still wouldn’t agree to be in this great Facebook photo of everyone in their Swanky Sixties attire.


Swanky SixtiesI felt …what? Guilty? So many friends and colleagues (not to mention my husband) are working hard to cover this terrible event and will be working hard for weeks to come. A few years ago, I would’ve been too. I didn’t want to gloat about having fun.

But then I heard my friends’ laughter floating in from the other room.

Suddenly I realized, this made sense. There was no more appropriate place for me to be. It was good to be in a place where there was laughter.

It turns out, in the face of tragedy, real people, outside the journalistic bubble, get together and support each other and, yes, even laugh a little.

They do normal things too. They walk their dogs. They go jogging. I saw people doing those things this morning, just blocks from where the shooting happened. Nobody reported on that.

Tomorrow, they’ll go back to work. They’ll take their kids to wherever their kids need to go – after they hug them a little more tightly than usual. They’ll go to Publix – maybe they’ll smile at the cashier when they usually don’t. Nobody will report on that either.

Maybe they’ll donate blood or food or water or money too. Maybe they’ll go to a vigil or a prayer service.

Whatever they do, I’ve realized they have to be more creative than I’ve always been.

My “doing something” about tragedy has always been to cover the story, and that’s incredibly hard and grueling and distressing. But it turns out, in the real world, things are actually a little more complicated.

What the Orlando shooting taught me about how non-journalists deal with tragedy

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