Monday, April 06, 2015
Images and Restraint
I remember that it was a rainy morning in Dublin. I was standing in the busy breakfast area of a buzzing youth hostel, balancing my cup of tea and plate of toast while scanning the area for two seats together where Byron and I might sit.
Glancing up, the 24-hour news cable happened to be giving coverage on the recent terrorist attack at Westgate mall in Nairobi. I had been in Kenya on the day of the attack. I was visiting my daughter at boarding school about an hour's drive from the mall. On the day before, I had jumped into my friend George's taxi and we had calmly discussed where we should stop to pick up the things Heather needed me to bring. We had considered Westgate, but decided another mall was closer to the route we wanted to take.
What happened at Westgate was too close for comfort. As the events unfolded, waves of shock and grief washed over all of us. Too many friends of friends were directly affected. Heather knew people who hid from the gunmen, and others who lost relatives. Someone in our home group had a dear friend who risked her life to help save children of a slain mother.
All of that was 100% real.
What I didn't expect one month later was to look up at a big flat screen TV in the cafeteria of a youth hostel in Ireland and see images of masked men (walking through places where I have walked) randomly killing people and moving casually on.
It was the elephant statue at Nakumatt that got me. How many times had I walked right by it on my way in for some groceries? Someone was obviously crouching behind it because a gunman paused and took a lazy aim, killing, I'm sure, the one who hid there.
I just remember thinking, "I would have hid behind the elephant, too."
Suddenly, the tea and toast lost all appeal. I felt physically sick.
It wasn't that the news was new. It was more that it was out of context and felt out of the blue. With no forewarning, I was confronted with graphic images of violence in a land that, to me, was not far away. Like everyone around me, I just wanted breakfast. But it wasn't their home on the screen above us all.
Tonight, I've been experiencing the same thing. Scrolling through my social media newsfeed, I'm enjoying photos of a friend's new grand baby, some silly cat thing, heartfelt Easter happiness, random comments about all manner of light and cheery things.
Then--BAM!-- a graphic photo of murdered Kenyan students.
I think of the Kenyan high school and university students I have known. I think of the years I spent (forever ago) meeting with different ones, building relationship, praying, laughing, finding fullness of life together. I think of the bright minds, the eager hearts, the depth of respect I still hold for them. I think of my Kenyan friends who, like me, have university age kids today. And I feel sick. I'm hoping no parent or family member of those slain students has to stumble onto FB photos of their loved one lying in death.
I appreciate that social media has, in many instances, brought my attention to things I needed to know. What I don't appreciate is graphic, careless, jarring images. I realize people are linking to pieces about this attack because they care. I'm just wondering if there is a way to be better editors as we put ourselves in this self-appointed newsman roll. I recall early footage from 9/11 showed live images of people falling from the towers as they leapt out of windows to escape engulfing fire, but fall to their deaths. Very quickly, broadcasters realized these images were too horrific and they stopped showing them.
I'm not trying to hide from the truth. I read the news and live with my eyes open. I am, however, interested in protecting my heart from being assaulted more than necessary by the reality of the world I call home. I'm having to block photos that folks who do not live in Africa don't seem to mind having as part of their status update. I believe folks are trying to show they care about this horrific attack in Kenya, but I find it very jarring to come without warning upon photos of the slain.
It makes me want to be more careful in my own posts and re-posts.
What seems distant to one of us, may be very raw to another.
May we all proceed with caution.