Sometimes you have to step away and you get so used to seeing, hearing and reporting terrible stories and tragedies and separating yourself from them that you become almost calloused.
You learn to see situations as stories. Sad stories that need to be dealt with delicately, but stories. Sometimes you lose touch, forgetting they're not stories. They're people. I was reminded of that today when working on a tribute story for a local family of three that died in a fire. When my editor first told me about the story, a big one since our community hasn't seen a multiple-fatality fire in decades.
I said "Oh, that's sad," and moved on to the next part. What did I have to do, how could I help get it to the paper, etc. My coworker wrote the fire piece. I edited it. Then today I was assigned to do a tribute, biography sketching story on the family.
I had to contact family and friends. I had to go to the scene and interview the neighbors.
Reading and hearing the descriptions were honestly very sad. They sound like amazing people.
But it was still just a story. But when I pulled up to house and I saw the missing roof, with just black, charred pieces remaining, the wood boards with spray paint over the bay windows, the side of the house blown out from the fire, I was overwhelmed. I was reminded there were people inside that house. They weren't just names on a printed page and computer screen.
They were a mother, father and son that had lived their days with some joy, some grief I'm sure, and had died in a terrible fire in probably one of the worst deaths you can possibly experience.
Sometimes we can be so bombarded by the tragedies around us, the pain and suffering becomes so common when we see, heard, read and even sometimes experience it ourselves everyday. We become desensitized.
Our senses are overloaded and we become numb to empathy. We need to fight that and remember each name, each story (whether we're writing or reading it) is more than that. They're people. With feelings. We cannot lose empathy, or we lose what makes us human.
My prayers and thoughts have and continue to go out to the suffering family.
Zoe Greszler is a Reflector Staff Writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.