The News Today

Recently an article by Oliver Burkeman in the Guardian* made me think about how I spend my time and what takes my attention.  Burkeman quotes Adam Greenfield’s account of a day spent with a friend inside Manhattan’s Old Town Bar in November, 2015 when, while enjoying beer and French fries, their phones started to vibrate. The article explains that:

In Paris, Islamist terrorists had launched a series of coordinated shootings and suicide bombings that would kill 130 people, including 90 attending a concert at the Bataclan theatre. As Greenfield reached for his phone in New York, he recalls, everyone else did the same, and “you could feel the temperature in the room immediately dropping”. Devices throughout the bar buzzed with news alerts from media organisations, as well as notifications from Facebook Safety Check, a new service that used geolocation to identify users in the general vicinity of the Paris attacks, inviting them to inform their friend networks that they were OK. Suddenly, it was as if the walls of the Old Town Bar had become porous – “like a colander, with this high-pressure medium of the outside world spurting through every aperture at once.”

It made me recall a day in Montreal in November, 1963, when I was sitting with friends in a bar that I think was called The Captain’s Locker, just around the corner from Aux Délices on Stanley Street below Ste. Catherine’s. We didn’t have cell phones, of course but suddenly, when the volume on television at the bar was turned up, we heard reports of the assassination of President Kennedy. Whatever we’d been talking about seemed inconsequential, our lives very small and insignificant in contrast to these events in Texas. My friends and I, then in our early twenties, thought of ourselves as bohemians, poets and artists who rejected convention and materialistic values, yet the conversation quickly switched to the tragedy of the American president’s death, international politics, the American nation, the economy. The announcers spoke at length about the grief of the beautiful widow in her blood-spattered, pink Chanel suit.

I knew that, although the news was from another country, it was important for us and for the world at large, yet as I sat with my friends in the Captain’s Locker I found myself thinking of another tragic death. I had no way of explaining my sense of its importance to anyone else, but it was this. Until I was 12 years old, I’d studied piano with a woman I will call Mrs. LeClerc. She was in her late forties at that time, was once a beauty queen and was still strikingly attractive. At my lessons she wore what my mother called “hostess gowns,” long, flowing, low-cut dresses in dark green or wine-coloured velvet. She was kind and encouraging, and I adored her. Mrs. LeClerc had a handsome 24-year-old son, Bill, who occasionally drove me home after my lessons, sometimes bringing along his pretty girlfriend, Linda, a girl whom everyone loved. To me they were an enormously glamorous family and I was thrilled when I was included in an invitation to Bill and Linda’s wedding. Over 60 years later, I can remember the church, the organ music, and Linda’s wedding dress. I also remember her going-away suit which later that night would be splattered with blood after the car they were driving went off the road on the Hope Princeton Highway on their way to Penticton for their honeymoon.  I can still recall how transformed Mrs. Leclerc’s appearance was when I next saw her. Everything in her life had changed, I thought, in the twinkling of an eye. That afternoon in Montreal, it was Mrs. Leclerc for whom I grieved, conscious that the ripples from her tragic loss were minuscule compared to that of the First Lady’s bereavement and that few, if any, would know about her loss. What was it, I wondered back then, that is important in our lives? What was real? What mattered? Who mattered?

As Burkeman says, “We marinate in the news,” and the crises we experience there “can feel more important, even more truly real, than the concrete immediacy of our families, neighbourhoods and workplaces.”

As it happened, just a year after President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, I experienced a tragedy of my own which led to my beginning a period of daily psychoanalysis. Every day, I reported the dreams of the previous night, the way they connected with the activities of my day, and the thoughts and associations they prompted. It was a fascinating process which had the effect of making me view my life in relation to my dreams and what they signified. Daily events became grist for the hourly mills of analysis. It was seductive, and it might have gone on for years. Fortunately, the man I would soon marry had come to Montreal and we began living together. Somehow I knew that I had to make a choice between paying attention to the reality of our new relationship and our life together or to the attraction of the wide, speculative world of psychoanalysis. I chose that man. That life. The everyday reality of it.

I was wise then. I saw the dilemma, and I made the right choice.

And so why, now, do I let the small daily details of my one and only little life be swamped and submerged by the barrage of information that seeps in each day on my cellphone, my computer, my car radio — the omnipotent and ever-present news media?

Of course, in these troubled times, some of the news is important and must be heeded. But now, more than ever, it’s time to pay attention to what is near at hand. And to do what matters. Close to home. The only place where you know you can make a difference.


2 thoughts on “The News Today

  1. Tragedy seems to touch everyone in some form or another, the worst being when they are not aware of it , the absolute worse in my mind being when Christ 'came to His own and they received Him not'…because of world wide and eternal fall out. Touching reflection Carol, Thanks..


  2. Tragedy seems to touch everyone in some form or another, the worst being when they are not aware of it , the absolute worse in my mind being when Christ 'came to His own and they received Him not'…because of world wide and eternal fall out. Touching reflection Carol, Thanks..


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