If you’ve never been part of a public tragic event, then you might have the same reaction to watching the news that I used to have. Maybe you watch all those people who look excited to be talking to the news and wonder how they can take advantage of tragedy like that.
I used to think that, until I was riding a commuter train from San Francisco to San Jose. (Trigger warning, highlight to read suicide)
I was in San Francisco to work at APA’s annual convention, but the convention was over and I was heading down to meet my hubby at his brother’s house in San Jose, for a little vacation. I took a cab ride to the train station and hopped on the commuter train, noting the similarities and differences to the MARC commuter train I rode to work every day back in Maryland.
I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but I think we were about halfway there when the train screeched and there were thumping sounds and then we were stopped right near some tiny little California town. I borrowed a guy’s cell phone to tell my husband I’d be late. Cell reception was terrible, but the message got through.
Everybody sat around for a while until we were finally told that a man had committed suicide by jumping in front of the train. We were taken off the train and warned not to look out the right side of the train. A lot of people did. I didn’t, because I know that you can’t unsee things.
And then the local newspaper reporter showed up and I found myself blabbing at him about the experience with that same appearance of compressed excitement you see on the news. But it’s not glee, it’s not excitement, it’s a need to tell the story, to get it out of you, to figure out how to deal with the uncomfortable fact of what just happened, while you’re still alive.
I remember that I told the reporter that I’d been riding commuter trains in Maryland for years without ever being on the train that hit someone but it happened the one time I was on Caltrain and wasn’t that weird?
I remember that I was almost vibrating with energy that had nowhere to go. I wanted to do something, fix something, run away…something.
I still can’t really watch those ordinary folks on TV, but not because I’m disgusted by them, but because I know a little bit about how they feel. All they can do is tell their story, so that’s what they do.