02 August 2007

Tragedy, from afar

I start off my day with BBC World. I have for years. The result of tuning into disaster-focused coverage means that most days, I push the power button with a sense of apprehension, wondering if this will be the morning the world collapses into catastrophe.

This morning was different. Morbid thoughts far from my mind, I nonetheless awoke to discover my hometown was all over the news. I heard a British accent say "Minneapolis" and I saw the I-35 bridge, a bridge I have crossed hundreds of times, crumbled into the Mississippi. All from the comfort of my Leiden living room, on my favorite international news channel. It was surreal.


In my experience tragedy comes with a variety of emotions. First, there's an almost unconscious relief and a bizarre sense of immortality, especially after having past intimate contact with a disaster zone. But there's also an overwhelming worry for loved ones. I turned on my phone, dreading the beep that would certainly signal terrible news. Nothing. I turned on the computer, checking Gmail with a clenched jaw. Nothing.

Then I began to search the blogs, the photos, the videos and the stories. It's unnerving to hear survivors speaking in the accent most familiar to me and referencing places I have always known to exist. And the distressing feeling that some of those people, even if I don't know them, will be severely affected by the disaster. When it happens close to home, tragedy is no longer just another unfortunate slot on the morning news. It becomes personal.

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