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So Here's the thing...

Bill Bilodeau

A small loss of humanity. And we die.

I'm dying.

Oh, I know, we're ALL dying. Dying from the instant we're born; we're living to die. I don't mean from a biological perspective.

I'm dying inside, bit by bit. I'm dying because I have two kids and I'm afraid that maybe, somehow, despite my best efforts, they won't escape the madness, the violence, the callous careless deadened souls that inhabit this planet in ever-increasing numbers.

Okay, I'm a worrier. I used to worry about cosmic tragedy: What if the sun blew up? What if a huge comet hit the Earth? Or, what if there were a nuclear war, or a worldwide plague? Then I realized, there's nothing to worry about there; if it happens, it happens. I can't control it and probably wouldn't even have to consider it for very long. Now I don't sweat the big stuff. It's the small stuff that's killing me, the individual, mindless, heartless deaths.

You know how every few weeks or so, you see a news story about a child missing or being killed? Maybe it was an abduction and rape by a paroled child molester. Maybe it was the father, pissed at the mother, deciding to commit suicide, but hey, why not take the kids with him? (That'll show her!) Maybe it's a 14-year-old who smothers a 6-year-old neighbor to see what that feels like. You hear about these cases, a few times a year, maybe once a month or so. Not me.

My eyes scan the slugs – shorthand titles given by wire service editors to let their clients at newspapers, radio and TV stations know what each story's about. I'm searching the national wire, stories from all over the country on all topics except sports, entertainment, finance and lifestyle. The same slug appears over and over: GIRL MISSING. I pass it by the first time, knowing what it's probably about. It shows up every few days. It's not always the same girl, and the story varies a bit, but I know it by heart. It's about a girl who disappeared, and the search for her, and the dwindling hope she'll be found alive. The parents hold out hope the longest. They must. It's their little girl. Except those times when it turns out the parents, or, at least, one of them, are the monsters behind the crime.
Sometimes the slug changes as the story unfolds. It becomes: BODY FOUND or GIRL FOUND. It's almost always that way. Then, in the follow-up stories about how she was killed and who done it, it's back to GIRL MISSING. Or maybe it was BOY MISSING.

I ignore the slug for as long as I can, but knowing the story is my job, so eventually I read it.
I work at a newspaper. More days than not, I comb the news wires, deciding what stories readers will see that day. Of the hundreds (thousands, even) of possibilities, at least several each day boil down to these examples of how little human life means to some people.

There didn't used to be so many such tales, it seems. One argument is that the hungry media is pushing such stories more, bringing them to our attention in an urgent quest for ratings or readers. People love crime tales, after all. This theory works the same way more drunken drivers appear in arrest logs when the police crack down on drunk-driving laws. No more people are driving drunk; more are simply getting caught. Or, in my example, more media -- cable news, local TV newscasts, Internet sites, competition – means more exposure for the same number of crimes.

I don't buy that. I've been working in and studying the news media for 19 years. There's always death; accidents, illness, crime (and in some states, punishment). I've been at this too long to get worked up about rebels in Argentina, terrorists on the West Bank or a small-plane crash in New York State. Death happens, and it's always tragic to someone. I know this.

And I know death sells. It sells newspapers, it brings ratings, whether to CSI or SkyEyeWitnessCam News. One of the first questions asked in a newsroom when the shit hits the fan somewhere is: How many dead? But there aren't any more plane-crash stories out there than there were ten years ago. There aren't any more botched bank robberies or Third-World famines or derailed trains. There are many more kidnappings, molestations, brutal slayings and murder-suicides in the news. I know, because I read them.

I read them all.

And I die.


I'm not asking for pity. I chose the job and, by and large, I like it. And even if I didn't have such ready access to so many tales of wanton destruction, I would see or hear about enough of them to know what's going on out there.

This spring I took my family to Florida for ten days. The weather was perfect, warm and sunny. But we couldn't escape the cloud.

"Dad, can Delaney and I go to the beach and fly our kites?"
"Why not?"
"Because your mother's busy and I'm not ready yet. You'll have to wait."
"But why. It's RIGHT THERE!"
"Because I can't see you there."

"There" is the beach at our beachfront hotel, fifty yards from the door to our room. But they're small people and they walk or run on the beach and are three buildings over before you know it. I won't take the chance.

My daughter is 10, my son 8. They're smart kids, but not worldly wise. We shield them from much of what people are capable of, but we've told them there are people in this world who would grab them and take them away, do them harm. We didn't want to. We had to. It's relevant. I don't want my children to grow up fearing and mistrusting everyone; I just want them to grow up.
The cloud settled in on Florida before we got there, but I knew it was there. It was formed by three incidents in a span of about two months, all of which involved young girls being kidnapped, raped and killed.

In the last case, the one that happened within a week or so of our trip, a 9-year-old was taken from her bedroom at night by a neighbor. Unsurprisingly, he had a history of molesting children, but this is not about recidivism in sex crimes. It's about the toll life takes on us, or should, and where society is headed. Anyway, after taking this girl from her bed in the middle of the night, this man raped her and buried her. Alive. On her knees in a pit, clutching a purple stuffed bunny.

Yes, these are graphic details. It's important to note them because then you can picture this scene. I know I can. I see this girl in the pit, trembling, crying, whimpering, wondering where her parents are to save her. What I can't picture is the kidnapper/rapist/murderer. What could be going through his mind at that moment? What's in his eyes? What could he possibly be thinking as he throws shovelful after shovelful of dirt on this terrorized girl?

I'm lost for an answer.

And I die.


My kids are fairly sheltered from life. They do not need these details to know there is danger in the world. That much, they're aware of. But they don't know how much. They don't know that every hour of every day, television commercials tout video games in which not only is violence necessary, it's rewarded. They don't know how many movies Hollywood is producing, aimed at the younger audience, in which unrealistic (for now) levels of violence are taken for granted, in which the "heroes" are such because they kill more people than the villains do. And with every death, it gets easier.

They don't know there are people in the world who would slit their throats for walking into the wrong neighborhood or for daring to be white, or American, or brown-eyed, or whatever.

But I know, and it keeps me from saying 'yes' when they want to ride their bikes around the block, even though I rode all around a Boston suburb alone at their age. It keeps me from loosening my grip even as I see them straining for some freedom.

And I die.


I'm no peacenik, no Birkenstock-wearing granola cruncher (although I do have a fondness for trail mix, especially if it contains M&Ms). I grew up watching TV cop shows and reading crime novels. I like action flicks, at least, those in which the action is wrapped around a story and not both the means and the end. But it gives me pause to see children who hit, tackle, kick or otherwise harm others, and seem genuinely bewildered when an adult takes exception to this. It tells me not enough adults are doing so, and it makes me shiver thinking about what these kids will be like if they grow up. My kids fight. They punch and kick and push. But they know it's wrong, and if they really hurt each other, they're sorry about it.

I grew up convinced most people were good-natured at heart. In my world-view, a tiny portion of humanity, regardless of where you went, were exceptions to this rule. They were trouble-makers, criminals, and most often (I figured), they were caught and put in prison. Everyone else, mostly, was nice. Yes, there were wars, but those were waged when someone unbalanced, like Hitler, took control and tried to kill people. In that case, the rest of us took sides and the good guys won. It was a "Batman" world, and we were the good people of Gotham City. All the criminals had a crazy laugh and a faraway look in their eye to show us they weren't normal.

As I got older, I found out about the rest: the perfectly normal people who just happened to be greedy enough to rob or kill for money; the people who flat-out lied to get what they want, regardless of the results; the people who hated others because they looked or talked differently, or thought it was fun to hurt someone who was different or even, just because that person couldn't fight back.

Okay, so maybe people weren't (almost) all nice; maybe there were more jerks and racists and would-be criminals than I'd ever thought. But still, MOST of us …

I see the balance tipping. I see a loss of commonality, of humanity, at every level. And I wonder, what's happening? When did it become so easy to hurt, to kill?

And I die.


A few weeks after we returned from Florida, the next slug appeared on my computer: GIRL FOUND. This time, they didn't even bother with the first part, about her being missing. The news here was, she was found. Alive. A cop searching for the 8-year-old girl found her body in a trash bin. She'd been buried alive after the rape. But she'll live. This time, it was reason for celebration: Hurrah! Girl raped and left to die, but doesn't! Humanity wins?

Little by little, I die inside.

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