We live in strange times.
I worked for decades in open settings, big plate glass windows with a view of everyone coming and going.
I worked many late nights (and wee hours of the morning!) in a building where the doors were open to the public until I went home. Coaches, police officers, football contest entrants, the neighbor who liked to keep up with the news before it hit print — they all stopped in.
I also grew up in the country, where we never locked our doors. My country grade school was easy access, yet eight miles away from the closest responding law enforcement agency or fire department or ambulance. We never needed them.
My local church doors were open to any and all, 24/7.
Now, the newspaper office doors are locked after the normal daytime business hours. My son’s schools have security systems and alarms, and visitors have to wait for the buzzer to unlock the door, and sign in and wear a badge and sign out. My church and others institute security measures.
That all stems from acts of violence across our country, from broken people bent on killing.
I was absorbing all of that Friday morning when I got an email from my friend and former publisher. “That could have been us,” he said of Thursday’s mid-afternoon shooting rampage at the Capital Gazette newspaper office that killed five journalists.
Yes, it could have been us, and if it had been, our entire news staff would have been wiped out.
But I think you would still be reading about it in the next edition of your paper, because we don’t stop what we’re doing. Our colleagues would step in and make it happen.
That’s as far as I got before my thoughts on the topic were interrupted by a call from a church employee who asked me to come out and get some photos of kids making giant bubbles in the church parking lot.
When I arrived, the air was filled with iridescent bubbles, kids laughing, a brightly painted pickup outfitted with a bubble machine, the word “Peace” painted prominently on the front hood.
It’s hard to come back from that and be in the same thought pattern.
Journalists live and work in a different climate than when I started my career. I wanted to write about my community, and I still do. I’m so grateful I can.
I have been shouted at, threatened and lied about. But I also have earned trust and respect and made friends.
I work in a profession that is going through a tough time right now. I’ve taken a “fake news” comment or two, and I grit my teeth when people generalize about “the media.” People like me and my co-workers aren’t blathering left or right wing views. We’re writing about potholes, budgets, your anniversary, water quality, zoning, the local economy, community festivals, kids in sports, local courts, local government, train derailments, storms and health alerts. And we go out and get photos of youngsters making bubbles.
That’s what those people were doing when someone blocked their back-door exit, then blasted up their office with a shotgun, ending five lives.
This world is not a safe place, no matter what you’re doing. We learn about mass shootings at movie theaters, college campuses, high schools and elementary schools, outdoor concerts, nightclubs, factories, churches and now a newspaper office.
Journalists are not set apart from what can happen in a society where people are broken. We are a part of our community, just as vulnerable as our child in school, our sibling, our spouse, our parents going about their daily lives.
I am heartbroken for the families of those who died in the office at the newspaper Thursday, and for the fellow journalists traumatized by what happened, just as I was heartbroken when students and worshippers and movie buffs and music lovers were executed in mass shootings.
I value freedom of speech, of the press, of peaceable assembly, freedom to worship. The best way I know to show how much I value those freedoms and to honor anyone deprived of them is to prayerfully keep right on exercising them. No fear, no forfeit, just doubling down.