We Need More Than 48 Hours to Grieve
After the Highland Park shooting, the news moved on in a couple days. But I can’t.
What is our national news media’s interest in a mass shooting? It’s 48 hours. I know this because at 10:30 a.m. on July 4, 2022 I started searching for information about what I had just experienced firsthand: a mass shooting in downtown Highland Park, Illinois.
As the facts started to trickle in those first minutes on Twitter, in the breaking reports on local stations and the lead on the national evening news, it felt like the world cared about the people and the stories from this little town. By 10:30 a.m. the following day there were dozens of cameras on Central Street and hourly press conferences at the police station. The Vice President of the United States visited, national anchors came to report and a hyperlink for “Highland Park Shooting” sat atop the banner of the New York Times digital edition. As July 5 ticked on, the New York Times banner moved to the right one spot, then one spot more. On July 6 it disappeared altogether. All the national anchors went home. The news cycle was over. One more sad and tragic event.
That is what a mass shooting gets now — 48 hours. But the stories, the tragedy, the impact takes so much longer to come out. Not everyone is ready to talk, ready to process, ready to share right away. I’m one of those people.
I grew up in Highland Park, and it’s the place everyone has described: beautiful, idyllic, peaceful. I had not been back to the parade in three decades but my husband, daughter and I traveled from our downtown Chicago home to join my family in Highland Park. We wanted to offer my five-year-old daughter a dose of tranquility since she has spent half her life in a pandemic reality.
At the start of the parade route she sat on the curb for a prime candy-grabbing spot. I hung back, about eight feet, and leaned on a building. I would have kept her closer in the city, but it was Highland Park, what could happen?
In an instant a wave of people shouted, stumbled, ran and pushed. I couldn’t reach my daughter in her rainbow sundress clutching her newly acquired bag of parade candy. Though less than a minute, it felt like an eternity as I screamed for my brother, who was able to grab her. He and his fiancee got us around a corner, stopped to give us the keys to their house and turned back. They did not pause to consider their own safety; both were downtown Chicago-trained emergency-medicine practitioners and had extensive experience with gunshot victims. They had moved to the suburbs six months before for a calmer way of life, and were now bolting back into chaos.
Unlike those whose families were permanently and horrifically fractured that day, our family was reunited when my brother and his fiancee returned sweaty and scared an hour later. They told of pulse checks on bodies, of walking over the dead to administer fluids and CPR to the living. In putting themselves in harm’s way, my family did not consider their future, only how fast they could administer help to the gunshot victims.
One month ago today, I experienced a life-altering moment; a before and after. When people ask how my summer is going I answer, “it’s been tough, we were at the parade.” I don’t have to say which parade. But mostly, the world has moved on, there is other news to report; well-deserving tragedies to cover. Where I truly struggle is how do we address a problem when society moves so rapidly from one problem to another? When we scroll through headlines and skim for keywords, do we understand the issues, the pain, the long term consequences?
When the Mayor of Highland Park testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 20th, she gave an impassioned plea for help, she is trying to find a solution and looking for change. I searched for the story on the national news outlets, the cable news website pages: nothing. It made the local papers — but barely. The media’s cry for information — their rush to cover the tears and carnage leaves little time for the solution. The solution, and the attempt to find one, doesn’t bleed so it doesn’t lead.
I’m a realist, we can’t un-ring the bell of the supersonic news cycle or social media doom scrolling. But, while I try to quickly move past that awful day, it’s clear to me that fast is not in the cards. As my daughter still clings to me most mornings at camp drop off, instead of trying to detach from her, I slow down and let her process. I ask my therapist when it will be easier to concentrate on work again, she says to slow down, give myself grace. When my instinct is to check in by texting friends who were at the parade, I slow down, dial their numbers instead to hear their voices. My answer each day is to slow down. I try to honor the dead, the living and heroes from that day by finding the time to comprehend a true life-altering moment that exists outside of a 48 hour news cycle.