More to the story

I live my life away from the headlines in the newspaper and the lead stories on the television news. I’m happy to have it be that way. I have no need for publicity or a larger audience than I have worshipping with my congregation each week. I am frequently present at events that are deemed newsworthy, but when the television cameras arrive, I do my best to find someone else to talk to the press. I’m not one for giving sound bytes to news crews.

I do, however, work in the background. I spent several hours yesterday providing support and assistance to people who were at the heart of the story that was the lead story on the local news and the top headline in the newspaper. Their stories belong to them and I won’t be telling them here. What I do want to say is that there is a great deal more to the story than appears in the newspaper or in the television report. If you think you know what happened or understand the dynamics from having seen the television, checkout the online news feeds, read the newspaper or all of the above, the fact remains that there is more to these stories than what appears in the headlines.

There are real people behind the stories that we read. The effects on real lives are complex and long lasting. The news will report on a death, for example, and then go on to the next story. For those involved, however, life does not move on in the same way. Grief can las for years. The impact of the events of a single day can remain with an individual for the rest of that person’s life. Our news-hungry society moves on from event to event. In each event are those who cannot move on, whose lives are forever changed, who will never get over what has occurred.

One of the things that we do is to assist people with developing long term coping strategies. We connect them with professional counselors. We facilitate support groups. We identify resources. We walk with them through major life readjustments.

It has taught me to read the news at a slower pace and to look for the stories behind the stories.

This morning I read about how suicide bombers have attacked three churches in Indonesia’s second-largest city Surabaya, killing at least 11 people and injuring around 40. Chances are that some of the victims are related and the impact on some families is more widespread than on others, but for each individual there is a family whose lives are forever changed. Imagine having to live with the aftermath of having lost a family member to violence that makes no sense at all. Your loved one was a victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were singled out by events that took place in the midst of a violence-filled world where people cause the deaths of others over ideology and theology and a sense of empowerment. The causes of the militants may have nothing to do with the personal realities of their victims.

Imagine, also, being the parent of one of the suicide bombers. Not only has your child died, but he or she has become involved in the killing of others. Perhaps your child was swept up in a wave of emotional recruitment, his or her brain not fully developed and especially vulnerable to the techniques of manipulative persons who see others as expendable in their cause. How does a parent deal with grief that is coupled with such horror and shame? As this particular story unfolded, the BBC reported that the attackers were all members of one family system. The dynamics of a family that could become so estranged and twisted in their thinking that they would send three family members on suicide missions in attack of innocent victims are beyond imagination. You know that there is much more to this story than can be learned from reading news reports.

There is always a story behind the story and the real human drama lasts a lot longer than the attention of the news reporters.

A 29-year-old passerby died in Paris last night. Four more were injured, though fortunately their injuries are not thought to be life-threatening. The attacker has been arrested. So have his parents. The attackers was born in the Russian republic of Chechnya and the Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility for the attack. From the news reports it seems as if the victims were random. They were not targeted for their political beliefs or their religious affiliations. They were simply innocent people visiting central Paris on a spring evening.

Each of those individuals has a story. Each has family who love them. Each has had their life divided into “before the attack” and “after the attack.” The changes in their lives are permanent and will deeply affect each moment from no own. They won’t walk down crowded sidewalks without fear. They will always be watching their backs. They will be reluctant to engage in normal activities that were routine before the attack.

Having been involved in some small way with people whose stories have made the news headlines has taught me that there is always a story behind the story and that the whole story is much bigger, much more complex, much more emotionally engaging and much longer lasting than the media reports.

It reminds me once again why I shy away from the reporters and the television cameras. My role is not to be in front of an audience, but rather to serve those who have need. I sit with those who grieve, knowing that I don’t have words that will soothe their pain. I visit those who are in jail, knowing that I cannot justify their behavior. I understand that only part of the truth will come out in court proceedings and that there is always more to the story.

Sometimes I just listen to a bit more of the story.

Sometimes I witness the beginning of amazing stories of healing.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!