Watching

by Ginger on March 11, 2011

in Becoming Myself, I'm a Disaster

I know, even before I turn on the TV, that I’m making a poor decision.

I’ve been on Twitter reading about what’s happening. I know, at least academically, the images that await me on broadcast news. I also know how bad an idea it is for me to look at those images in real time. And yet, as always, I cannot help myself.

As CNN blares to life in my living room, I am reminded of the others: New York, New Orleans, Indonesia, Haiti, Chile…There are more, it’s sad to say, but then, who doesn’t know that?

The images flash on screen. The memories flash through my head. I feel the same dread now that I did then. And then. And then.

Hours later, I’m still watching. The horrifying images play over and over and over. There is almost no new news, no new pictures, but I still watch. I watch until my eyes burn, and my brain can no longer comprehend the devastation I’m witnessing. I watch until my emotions are so numb that the fact that I’m watching death happen LIVE ON TV no longer makes me sick. I watch until my husband says “we have to go to bed.”

I have learned over the past 10 years that I cannot be trusted with a 24 hour news cycle during a mass tragedy like this. It shouldn’t surprise me, I guess. I remember the Challenger explosion and watching for hours as a 6 year old. Then there was the Oklahoma City bombing, watched throughout the day at school–I was 15. Columbine, I was 19. Hours spent watching. Hours.

But then.

September 11, 2001. I don’t know that I’ll ever forget anything about that day. I remember how I found out. I remember sitting on the edge of my bed with wet hair as I got ready for work watching on TV. I remember what the street I drove to work on looked like. I remember trying to get info on my work computer, until we all gave up and started watching the one tv in the building together. I remember heading to N.C.’s house for lunch. To watch TV.

I also remember that night. I can picture the scene in my head like I’m there. I stayed up until probably 3 am to watch. Watching hope fade to a glimmer and then fade to dark.

And then I watched the next day. And the next night. And the next day. And the next night.And the next day. And the next night.

I watched until one day N.C. said to me “You have to stop.”

Since then every major tragedy that hits the 24 hour news stations, especially those of the natural disaster variety (though not exclusively), has been the same. I dread the TV, and yet I’m pulled there. I know, I KNOW, once it goes on, I will be pulled into a dark vortex of painful emotions–of sorrow and fear and pity and heartbreak and devastation. I’ve become better, over the years, about delaying pressing the POWER button. I’ve found that if I come to it in the aftermath, rather than as it’s happening, I have a little more ability to pull myself away, to turn it off.

It’s taken me a long time to figure out why. It starts as a need to know, to bring facts to reality through pictures. It quickly shifts to horror and awe at what I see. And then? Then it becomes duty. I feel…almost a need to bear witness. A need to acknowledge the destruction, the people, the death through a penance of watching. Watching. Watching.

I know this is ridiculous. I know I hold the power to stop watching in the little silver bar in my hand. And yet, I feel totally impotent. I know I can do nothing for those people, I know I am sitting secure in my nice suburban life, and I feel powerless.

I know, even before I turn on the TV, that I’m making a poor decision.

Jen March 11, 2011 at 10:25 pm

Oh I could have written this myself. I don’t know why I do it. I too, just have to avoid it. I have nightmares if I don’t.

Frelle March 11, 2011 at 10:25 pm

I can relate to this. I have felt exactly like you. After September 11th, I decided I could not bear witness anymore. It was more than I could take. I am sure this post was cathartic, and I love your honesty!

clara March 12, 2011 at 9:14 am

I forced myself to watch the news last night, for just that reason..to see, to witness. But actually I am the opposite way. I avoid. I woke up yesterday to the news, I read an article online and then I looked at some pictures and then I just. Ignored. Watched Oprah, rather than listen to my usual afternoon radio show.

I don’t know. Is that any healthier?

I will give money, I will help if I can. I can’t watch people suffer. Maybe I’m afraid the same thing would happen, that I would be unable to stop.

Sometimes, too, we have to watch because we can’t believe it. Our brains, I don’t think, with what they see in a day – routines, run of the mill irritations – just can’t take in ‘giant tidal wave sweeping away cars’ with just one viewing. It is not a movie. It is real. Holy shit it is real. Are you sure this is real? Yes. It is real.

Hope you’re feeling better.

Katherine March 12, 2011 at 2:37 pm

If you insist on having the tv on, change it to CBS in about 30 minutes.

My growing disdaine for news reporters keeps me from watching such things.

Katherine March 12, 2011 at 5:39 pm

Nevermind. That was depressing as well.

BA March 19, 2011 at 9:57 am

I try not to watch the news. Mostly because I don’t want my children to see it. I was at work on 9/11 (which had a TV ) and just happened to be watching when they aired the atrocity. My girlfriend’s b-day is 9/11. She doesn’t celebrate and she doesn’t tell anyone. The only reason I know is because I’ve known her all my life.

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