Every morning I get up early, make a pot of coffee, and read the news (I’m a news junkie, as anyone who meets me will quickly realize.) The Fiancée™ is a late riser, so whatever activity I do in the early mornings has to be quiet, and I’ve come to enjoy having that alone time in the mornings to get myself together. Even on days when I have to go to work, that’s my routine: coffee, internet, get dressed. Sometimes I’ll read something on the news that makes me want to write, so I’ll save a quick first draft to my Dropbox account and then, if I get a few free minutes at the office later in the day I’ll go over it, make whatever changes I have the time for, and post it. My blog only logs the date, not the time of posting, but probably 90% off all my posts get put up around 11:00 in the morning, roughly 20-30 minutes after the morning backlog on my desk gets cleared on the average day.
On Saturday morning I read about the arrest of Howard Richmond, now accused of first degree murder in the death of his wife Melissa. And that caused me to write a blog post about my reaction to the whole terrible situation and the impact I feared it would have on the SCA community here in the province of Ontario. I wrote that post very carefully and deliberately: I knew that people involved in the situation were going to read it, and I knew that some of them were getting very, very frustrated with the media and the way that people outside the situation were trying to interject themselves to get “inside information.” And I knew that, unless I was extremely careful I could end up being one of the “vultures” who have been causing so much resentment in the community.
My intention was to help in the only way I could think of, by airing my concerns about our community holding together in the face of a terrible tragedy. I’m fortunate that I’ve always been able to write well and years of practice have given me confidence in putting my writing out there, but even so I asked The Fiancée™ to go over what I’d written to make sure I was saying what I wanted to say, what I needed to say. She made me clarify a few points, checked it over again, and then I took a deep breath and posted.
In twelve hours that post got more shares and views than everything I’ve ever written — both on this blog and my previous LiveJournal combined. The next day, Sunday, that total was multiplied by a factor of ten. Saturday’s post logged literally thousands of page-views from across the world, from as far away as Japan: it is now the single most successful thing I’ve ever written. I’ve been blogging for years and now a post had gone viral. That’s supposed to be the bloggers’ dream, isn’t it?
I woke up this morning, made a pot of coffee, and checked my blog statistics. And I don’t feel very triumphant about the thousands of page-hits or the hundreds of shares: mostly what I’m feeling is numb. I’m stunned and humbled that what I wrote has reached (and hopefully helped) so many people… but I also feel guilty that this “success” has come from other peoples’ tragedy. I gambled on being able to say something helpful and apparently I rolled twenties. But the thought that keeps coming back is what right did I have to roll those dice in the first place? I took a chance with other people’s grief; what if I’d fucked it up?
I suppose that’s why I never became a professional journalist, despite the fact that I spent a couple of years earning a journalism diploma: I’ve never been able to achieve what one of my instructors referred to as “the necessary emotional distance” from what I’m writing, if only because “the necessary emotional distance” in professional journalism all too often degrades into “callous opportunism.”
I saw a situation where people I knew were hurting and I tried to help with my writing, and apparently I succeeded in doing that: I’ve been getting a steady trickle of notes and thank-yous and compliments; I haven’t received a single negative statement. I was told, over and over, that I had said exactly what people were feeling, that what I had written was helping to ease the shock and pain… and so many people re-affirmed to me their commitment to strengthening our community. Most touchingly, I received a thank you from one of the victim’s closest friends, a SCAdian who was involved in the search from the first day and who’s still deeply, traumatically immersed in the situation.
Now that I’ve had some time to reflect, I think that’s what made the gamble worthwhile: not the thousands of people worldwide with whom I struck a chord, not the notes of praise for how well I managed to articulate people’s feelings, but that contact with a hurting person there in the eye of the storm, carrying their burden of grief and shock. Evidently I managed, however fleetingly, to lighten that burden a bit.
But this morning, despite that success and the people who’ve thanked me, I find myself wishing I never had to write that post. I wish that I didn’t have to watch friends go through this. I wish that Melissa and Howard were home and happy, and that the biggest worry in Skraeling Althing today was getting ready for the camping event on Labour Day weekend. This morning I’m reminded, painfully, of a line Spider Robinson once wrote defining the oldest prayer of humanity: “Make it didn’t happen.”
I suppose prayers like that don’t get answered, do they?