One of my New Year's resolutions was to get back into the blogging thing. I had planned last week to write about what I hoped 2011 would bring. I had spent New Year's and a few days after in Los Angeles. I had a wonderful time simply catching up with old college friends, going back to cool L.A. neighborhoods and eating vegan donuts at BabyCakes NYC in downtown. Boy, that all was a little over a week ago. Now it feels like another lifetime.
I returned to work on Wednesday, Jan. 5. It would be my first week working on a Saturday schedule. Everybody kept telling me Saturdays would be suuuuper sloooow and I would have a chance to play catch-up. And it was slow. Then around lunchtime, our office started getting a couple phone calls about some kind of shooting in Tucson. Well, by luck of my being the only reporter-type around, I was suddenly dispatched to drive down to Tucson. I have NEVER been the one who got sent to a breaking news story outside of Phoenix. I felt anything but prepared, journalism-wise and travel-wise. But I left...speeding eastward on the 10 as fast as I could without a speeding ticket. No toiletries. No change of clothes. No food. No clue where to go first. Just myself, my wallet, and an office laptop that I still wasn't sure would work.
Anyone reading this knows about the terrible shooting that happened Saturday, Jan. 8. Even standing in the parking lot the next day in front of the Safeway where the gunman opened fire, I couldn't quite believe it had really happened. On Saturday, I mostly spent the day and night stationed in front of University Medical Center, in case anything changed with Congresswoman Gabby Giffords' condition. I had to park myself on a hard cement ground until 2 a.m. with literally only a short-sleeve shirt, jeans and a new polyester-wool coat (which I'm now thinking about retiring) _ the same clothes I wore until Tuesday afternoon.
I've never covered anything like a mass shooting, and certainly not one that has been the top headline for so many days. It's been sad to chat with people in Tucson who have, understandably, taken this incident so hard. But it's also been humble and uplifting to meet people like Daniel Hernandez, the intern who helped Giffords in those first crucial moments after she was shot. He is just as poised and articulate in person as he is on TV. He definitely has the makings of a charismatic politician/public servant. His phone is probably ringing off the hook now. When I was done interviewing him, I couldn't help but gush and tell him that I thought he was an amazing young man.
A reporter in our Denver bureau mentioned to me today that she covered Columbine on the day it happened and for a few days after that. She said you really do need time to stop and reflect in your own way. The three-and-a-half days of Tucson were like living in some kind of weird vacuum. Running on little sleep, each day stretched into feeling like two at times. If I wasn't driving from the shooting scene to the gunman's home and back to the hospital, I was trying to get people to interview on the phone or in person. I have to say, I just don't know if there's a way to ever get better at approaching people who have barely had time to grieve the loss of a loved one. And you feel like a major asshole no matter what.
Being in "reporter mode," I didn't have a chance to read any stories or see any photos related to the shooting until Sunday morning in my hotel room. That is when it really hit me the lives that were lost and the families affected. I started to tear up at times. Especially at the loss of the 9-year-old girl. She was the same age as the daughter of a family down the street I've become quite close to. For a moment, I wish I could have teleported my 9-year-old so I could give her a hug.
Times like this, you wish you could give something, do something to bring these people their loved ones back. Unfortunately, no punishment, no amount of debate is going to do that.
I'm writing about this because I don't want to sound like a reporter. I want to sound like someone who tries to balance being a reporter with being someone who has respect and compassion. If someone wants to lump me in with the "lamestream media," I can't stop them. But I know that I'm someone who aspires to be a reporter who is always trying to empathize with the people she encounters. And I carry that empathy with me at all times. Everywhere.