“In restless dreams I walk alone down the streets of cobblestone. Beneath the halo of a street lamp, I turn my collar to the cold and damp. But the vision that was planted in my brain still remains...”—Paul Simon.
Sometimes I have bad dreams.
I’ve never had PTSD and certainly cannot relate to what its sufferers might endure, but I have practiced newspapering at virtually every level since I was 26 years old and in the course of that have had to view—up close and personal, as they say—a great many terrible scenes. Truly awful scenes. The kind that give you bad dreams.
And throughout all that time, to this day, I have wondered why in the world would other people actually want to, actually go out of their way to witness such things?
From one end of the Mississippi Delta to the other, by necessity of profession I have spent some of the last 37 years going to scenes of graphic human tragedy. There is almost always a great deal of sorrow and personal loss. Sometimes it is the loss of blood or a limb. Sometimes it is the loss of life, itself.
The pictures in newspapers and TV news film are not, regardless of their clarity or vividness, true representations of those scenes. Necessarily absent are the sobs, the wails, the tears, the moans and the almost tactile fears, which form the soundtrack of the moment and punctuate the mini-dramas that make up the human experience.
Not even under the most warped definition of the term could this be considered entertainment.
And yet, consistently, regardless of locale, there is a surprisingly large contingent of human beings that do their best not to “miss out” on a single gory detail. These people listen to emergency scanners and await phone calls in order that they might arrive at the scene of a fire in time to see a firefighter try to rescue one of their fellow men. These same people drop whatever they might be doing to race to the site of that “really bad wreck” so that they might catch even the faintest glimpse of a mangled child or two.
After all these years, I can still remember some of their faces. Their expressions take on a quality of something almost surrealistically macabre. Beneath the chorus of “Oh, my Gods,” and “Oh, how horrible,” can almost be heard the comprehension defying one of “Isn’t this great?”
Why, it’s better than “CSI.”
The veteran firefighter openly cries at that which he has seen. The hardened policeman and deputy bitterly curse and shake their heads. The siren chasers get their kicks.
But whether he be firefighter or law enforcement officer or newspaper reporter, one who deals—even occasionally—with the more brutal aspects of this existence, simply must harden, callous himself as best he can. As a very wise man told me oh, so many years ago following one of my earliest encounters with the sad and sickening, “You can’t let it get all the way down to where you live, boy. It’ll eat you up.”
He was right, of course, that man. If one is forced to experience the grim, the ugly, the tragic, he must discipline himself to distance himself. But when a child screams or a mother sobs in the wee hours of the morning, the desired but slightly naive notion of reportorial objectivity is sometimes not so easy. Never is it pleasant.
I go to places where terrible things have happened to other people, quite often good and decent people. I go because it is my job to go. I go because I have to go. Why in the name of everything holy would anybody, much less so many somebodies, want to go?
Sometimes I have bad dreams. I wonder if they do.
Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.