Rolling Fork, Mississippi, mostly to the west of US Highway 61, is just beyond the northern edge of the Delta National Forest. The town is a few miles west of the Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge. Until a few days ago, the town name and its nearby nationally designated preserves, were virtually unknown. But a devastating tornado suddenly focused a national—even global—spotlight on the place.
The same kind of unexpected and unwanted attention is bearing down on the Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee. Though Nashville is widely known—famous, in fact—the Covenant School was not. Until another in a long string of murderous shootings trained the world’s attention on the small, 200-student school.
Until early 1993, Waco, Texas generally avoided the national spotlight. The city was, by and large, a small, conservative, religious, backwater sort of place. But, then, David Koresch and his Branch Davidian cult followers got sideways with Federal law enforcement, culminating in a hail of bullets and a firestorm of black smoke and explosions.
Tragedy regularly rears its head and draws our attention to people and places about whom and which we knew almost nothing. Following ages-old tradition, print and broadcast media know how to take advantage of disaster: if it bleeds, it leads. Who can fault the media, though? Media simply delivers what consumers want: the taste and smell and sight of fresh blood; something simultaneously stunning and frightening and chilling and exciting—something hideous that makes mundane lives seem a little less boring and a little more fortunate. But accompanying that sense of good fortune in the face of bad is the seed of anxiety. Spilled blood provides the necessary nutrients for gnawing anxiety to morph into full-grown, unending terror.
We have grown used to living in unrestrained fear. Terror fits us like a custom-tailored suit. Over time, our constant sense of uneasiness has taken on the mantle of normalcy. Emotional relaxation would feel odd and uncomfortable—probably. We can only imagine what that dream-state would be like, because we have never actually experienced it. The world has become too dangerous, too predictably unpredictable, too treacherous for ease to set in. The constant state of semi-preparedness for horror makes real relaxation impossible. Newspapers and magazines and radio and television news keep us primed for catastrophe.
And off we go. Another Tuesday. Another day of anticipating the next mind-numbing tragedy.
Is it any wonder that isolation appeals to me? Is it any wonder that seclusion, without access to news about the wider world, is deeply alluring? But reality steps in to remind me that external events, alone, cannot take credit for one’s constant sense of unease. Injury and disease can take place without notice and without prompts from the media. Living, by itself, can put a person in the cross-hairs of cataclysmic events. Symptoms that call for anti-anxiety medications and anti-depression pills argue against requiring prescriptions; they are sufficiently common to warrant over-the-counter availability. But if prescriptions are required for them, one can turn to alcohol, the timeless cure for the challenges of living. Except when its consumption is prohibited, thanks to overly-protective doctors who have never experienced the underside of life.
I could go on for days with this litany of life’s offenses. But what value would such an undertaking have? Undertaking. That’s an interesting perspective on the matter.