Scanning the front page of the Wall Street Journal yesterday, I was surprised to notice that news of the bomb blast in Nashville didn’t even warrant a headline. I finally found a reference to the blast in the sideline story summaries, sitting below two COVID articles talking about travel restrictions and potential allergic reactions to vaccines. The blast article itself showed up on page 3.
Curious, I did a quick search of a few other major newspapers:
- New York Times – page 1 photo with article on page 19
- Los Angeles Times – at bottom of front page, smaller version of same photo as New York Times with article on page 6.
- Chicago Tribune – headline page 1.
- Washington Post – same photo again with article midway down page 1.
Scanning front page headlines again today, the only reference I found to the blast was another top of page headline in the Chicago Tribune. Looking at my phone, Apple News presented yesterday’s Washington Post article under a political article about Trump not signing the latest relief bill and next to an article on overwhelmed LA hospitals.
During my news scan, I noticed the following headline: “Health officials brace for a surge in US Covid-19 cases after the holidays.” Hmm, weren’t we already surging? A Google search of “surge headlines 2020” returned 16 pages of results going back to June 2020. Dramatic “surge” headlines have poured forth since June searing the word, and COVID, upon our collective psyche at, quite literally, a fever pitch.
As if to capture our mad fascination with, and simultaneous inability to escape, the inevitability of COVID, the mother of “surge” headlines appeared: “Fauci warns of ‘surge upon a surge’ as COVID-19…” The doomsday flavor of that particular headline adds a darkly diabolical flair to COVID’s reign of terror. What are we to think now that we are living in a “surge upon a surge” world?
As if suspecting that we might be headed toward surge desensitization, headline writers have recently begun to shift: “Experts warn of next wave…” Alas, “wave” does hearken back to March headlines in a rather circular fashion giving the entire situation the feel of a scene from 1993’s “Groundhog Day.” In our ongoing COVID circus, perhaps we’ll see a clever reference to Bill Murray and Punxsutawney Phil as we approach February.
Now we have to ask: what comes after “surge”? Wave is possible but indicates a disturbing lack of imagination. Headline stars of old would surely be disappointed. Besides, we’ve already been “waving” all year in addition to the now ever-present “surge.” Maybe we escalate to “tidal” or extend the theme with “tsunami.” January may present “Tidal Wave of New Cases” as we move toward February and a “Tsunami of COVID Cases.”
Fortunately for us, the English language has a plethora of climactically catastrophic adjectives from which to choose. Clever writers may draw us with a “rush” of cases, though that isn’t nearly as dramatic as surge or tsunami. We’ve moved past “swelling” but “cascading cases” has a certain ring to it. Of course, collective memories could run short and allow the reintroduction of previously dramatic headlines as the epidemic turned pandemic mutates to COVID-21 and beyond.
Returning to the disappearing headlines on the Nashville blast. Does it concern anyone that an RV laden with explosives was parked in front of a downtown building and detonated? Let me remind you of another headline. The date is April 20, 1995 and the headline of The Daily Oklahoman reads: “Morning of Terror. City Struggles With Shock of Deadly Bombing.” It wasn’t an RV but a Ryder rental truck that was parked in front of a Federal building in downtown Oklahoma City. The event wasn’t relegated to one 24 hour news cycle as it dominated headlines and hearts for months. On that day, 168 American men, women, and children were killed in a shocking attack.
Perspective. Have we lost it? Proportion. Do we have any sense of it anymore? I mentioned the Nashville blast yesterday afternoon and some members of my family had not heard anything about it. What else is hiding behind the COVID headlines? What are we missing amid vaccines, contact tracing, mutating strains, proof of immunity, and persistent surges? Perspective and proportion.
Meanwhile, people continue to die in car wrecks, from cancer and other diseases, and from violence. Our politicians continue borrowing upon borrowing to prop up an economy that has been decimated, largely by poor policy decisions, persistent social and economic restrictions, and fear mongering. After ten months, we remain glued to the same headlines amid an ever-escalating sense of dread over an apparently worsening state of affairs. All soon to be answered with miracle vaccines promising a return to normal.
Surely by now we all understand, right? There is no going back. Whatever you did or didn’t like about the world you existed in during December 2019, there is no return to it. There is only forward. There is only what we make of the last 12 months. There is only what we hold ourselves to going forward.
Perspective. Proportion. We need to calm the madness. We need to loosen the grip on our cities. We need to find other news to report. We need to quit expecting our government to fix everything. We need to stop giving our politicians so much power over us. We need to remember that there are far worse things out there than COVID. It can always be worse.
On Christmas Eve, my nephew drove ten hours over snowy mountains and across frozen highways for a 24 hour visit with his family on Christmas Day. Amid all of the craziness, he needed to see them, to hug them, to be with them. Stop hiding. Stop retreating. You want normal? Make your own normal. Write it the way you want it. Stop waiting for someone else to finish your story, you already know what those headlines will be, and believe me, you don’t want to get lost in whatever surge they dream up next.
On the night of April 18, 1995, a group of Oklahomans said goodnight to those they love for the last time. They slept in their beds for the last time. They would all be dead instantly at 9:02am the following morning. Perspective. Proportion.