I’m proud to be a journalist today.
It’s not like I write about chemical warfare in Syria or Boko Haram raids in Nigeria. Heck no. I was too scared to go into the Haunted House at Walt Disney World. There’s no way I’m putting my life in danger to expose tyranny.
But I respect the hell out of the people who do. People who don’t sit in their comfy houses and just watch brutality on their smartphones. People who seek horrors out, so they can tell the world how much evil exists.
Journalists aren’t drafted. They’re not forced to serve. They choose to be our ears and eyes. Some people are born with a burning desire to make things right. They forge ahead with blinders to find what’s wrong in this world, so they can warn others and let them know.
I can relate, in some small way. Do I think someone is going to crash into my office with an AK47 because I write about inflammatory bowel disease or multiple sclerosis? Of course not. But I can tell you that my proudest moments as a medical writer happen when my words reach people near or far, and I know they are new words that bring knowledge that can help just one person. Like when Norwegians wanted to translate my article on bowel disease and exercise. Or years ago, when I struggled to write an article on MS and cognitive research because there were no sources, and I realized that what I was about to provide was new and important. Or when a mother in Texas reached out to me with a five page letter because her son had endured too many surgeries for bowel disease and she just wanted to tell me because she saw my name in print.
I firmly believe that although journalists can get a bad (and sometimes justified) rap for digging up dirt, there are so many of us who write to help. When James Foley was beheaded by ISIS, I sought out President Obama’s press conference the next day. I wanted to hear him ring the rafters. He didn’t, so I rewrote his speech in my head.
You thought by killing this man, you were winning. How foolish you are. By killing this man, you elevated him to the pinnacle of his field and to a canyon of heroes peopled with thousands of martyred journalists. People who died at the hands of tyrants and whose death proved the evidence of evil beyond a shadow of a doubt. Whose death made us stand up and take new notice. Whose death made us reach for each other to gain comfort and to gain the strength we need to root you out of this world. The ultimate sacrifice. The ultimate warning. And you taped it? What fools you are.
I think of this moment again when I see thousands of people around the globe with “Je Suis Charlie” signs. No, I’m not equating the staff of Charlie Hebdo with journalists who go to the ends of our dangerous earth to expose evil. I’m not saying that their work wasn’t cringe-worthy. But I think of those editors and cartoonists, gathered at an editorial meeting. Making a magazine is like making your own little baby with every issue (minus the labor pains). It can be collaborative or combative, but it’s wonderful. And it’s a freedom to which any of us has the right.
Then I think of the confusion and fear they must have experienced when their names were called and those shots rang out. I believe that souls hover right after they die. I hope those hovering souls are watching now, enjoying the fact that so many groups they offended are now rallying in their memory. I hope they are smiling, knowing that they have some small place in that canyon too.