Calm, Collected Chaos

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“There’s been a five car collision just off the 51 and Highland. Expect delays.” I switch off the radio, rolling my car window down. It is a beautiful day. My sister hums in the seat next to me- a snippet of a song I’d only heard once before on the radio. The wind whips my hair about my face to a intricate rhythm, keeping in tune with the soothing sound of car tires against asphalt. I smile. Moments like this, with the wind on my face and my hands on the wheel, give me a sense of freedom, reminding me that I am alive. My hair grips my shoulders once again as I roll the window up and we pull to a stop in front of my house. My sister saunters into the house, shopping bag in hand. I stay behind for a moment, laying my books neatly into the striped blue backpack I’d left in the car the previous night, before following her into the house.
Something is wrong. My father stands near the table, phone still in hand, while my mother sits on the couch, head in her hands, choked sobs escaping through the slits in-between her fingers. Something is wrong. I feel fear bubble in my stomach as my eyes meet my father’s. “Our neighbor, Alona, was killed in a car accident today.” His words pierce through my skin, knotting and twisting within my gut. My backpack lies on the ground, my books scattered about its blue stripes like wounded soldiers. I stare at it, suddenly confused. Did I put it there? Did I drop it? Is it simply another casualty of life? Suddenly, I can’t remember, and the stripes blur together as tears begin to fall from my eyes.
The day continues on, numb and silent. We each surrender hesitant hugs and unsure words of comfort, attempting to reassure those around us even as our minds struggle to untangle the confusion and ache within us. We dial phone call after phone call in an attempt to learn more. I sign my family’s name on a paper next to the names of fellow neighbors and friends, each of us seeking to console ourselves by pledging a day to make the Royce family a dinner; a day to display the support and love words fail to provide.
I lie next to my mom that night, clicking on the television to watch the nightly news. It is a brunette anchorwoman who stumbles through her words, staying afloat with the support of the teleprompt. She informs us that up next is the horrific story of a five car collision that took place earlier that day. She passes the story to a blonde reporter who is “live with the details.” The reporter’s voice rings out over the video of a wrecked car, “Alona Royce died in the crash. Her son survived but is in critical condition.” That is it.
Before a tidal wave hits, there is a certain calm that settles in. The ocean draws back, exposing the land, shells and creatures that had once been hidden within its depths. For a few hours, all is still, and the danger does not seem immediate, but rather distant and unthreatening. I was reminded of a tidal wave as I listened to the voice of that blonde reporter on the television use one single sentence to sum up Alona’s life and death.
As we watch the news, the reporter draws the water back, exposing the stories and catastrophes of the day. These small tidbits of information draw us in, allowing us to feel connected and in-tune with the daily mishaps of life on the most basic of levels. “An SUV was twisted into unrecognizable shapes following the deadly crash in central Phoenix over the weekend.” For many, headlines like these become shells, scattered across a beach that is often unreachable from the depths of their daily routine. They may explore the beach, examining some of the shells, maybe even picking some up, but the danger of the tidal wave presses down on them, and they drop the shells, retreating to the safety of higher land. Treating the events on the news in this way- as another source of entertainment rather than the reality they are- is a sad actuality in today’s society. Often, reporters will present the story in a numb voice, reciting the names of those who were raped, killed, or murdered with as much emotion as if they were recounting the person’s trip to the supermarket. The statement of their death forms the wall of water, concealing all of the person’s past, present and future with a simple sentence that barely dips into the surface of the person’s life. Watching from a distance, one sees the water: tall, strong, powerful, but they cannot see behind it. For as the day draws to a close, it is not the tidal wave itself that matters, but rather the destruction it causes.
The destruction is worst for those who know the person intimately. I remember arriving at my house that night, opening the door to a crying mother and uneasy father. I remember as each of our aches, fears and sobs joined together when my dad uttered the words “Alona was killed in a car accident today.” I remember listening to Alona’s baby boy screaming in the background for his mother who could no longer hear him as a confident, calm reporter delivered the unfortunate delay in traffic due to the “five car collision just off the 51 and Highland.” I remember the candlelit memorial where Alona’s six year old daughter Brooke talked about how much she loved her mother, and how much she missed her. I remember the cars parked across our street as the hearse drove Alona away for the last time. I remember driving home later that week, listening as the woman on the radio told of a fatal accident on the I-10 westbound. I remember crying for the family and the friends who would never again smile and laugh with their brother, uncle or friend while the calm, confident reporter talked of the unfortunate traffic delays the collision would cause.
Americans everywhere set aside a certain amount of their day to turn on their television sets and watch the news- listening to stories of robbery, car accidents, rape and homicide. These stories can be breathtaking and disturbing, yet often we won’t take them to heart. We rarely find ourselves imagining how the man at the store felt as the crazed drug addict held a gun to his throbbing temple, barely hearing the addicts demand of “bring me the oxycodone” over the sharp beating of his heart. How often do we feel the numbing pain of the broken families who will never again hold each other, laughing over memories from years before, due to the fatal car accident causing a traffic jam on the I-10 westbound? The truth is that we seldom turn our eyes to the television and soak in the pain, truth and reality delivered behind the reporter’s numb words. We listen as the reporter describes only the wall of water, failing to recognize the destruction, pain and suffering that follows close behind it. We are afraid to see the devastation that follows the water, and would much rather allow the reporter’s calm voice to take us by the hand and lead us to higher ground where we can remain disconnected. The events we witness from above are not entertainment, yet so many treat them as such, looking on from higher ground, comfortable and safe, allowing for the life, being, beauty and joy of a person to be swept away in a single breath of a sentence. “Alona Royce died in the crash.” Alona Royce, whose smile lit up a room, love raise three beautiful children, and kindness inspired all she met, died in the crash.





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