I learned that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her staff and constituents had been shot while I was washing the dishes Saturday morning. I heard my friend Peter Michaels on the radio, and his voice was shaky. He sounded rattled. I believed the news because I believe Peter Michaels. I mention this not because my personal story is important, but because it is universal. We relate to friends in more concrete terms than we relate to strangers. We believe them because we know them, and in knowing them, we know ourselves. We become through reflection and refraction. We are prisms of our basic and daily interactions with the world.
My first reaction when I heard the news was to log on. I checked to see who was reporting what; I told my friends, via Facebook. I reached out to those links for confirmation that my reality was theirs. They also confirmed that I had a task. My role was as social media editor for a Web site that bills itself as the Voice of Tucson, the voice of a city to which now all eyes were turned, a city whose name will long be associated with one of our democracy’s darkest moments. My goal was to make that voice relevant and real and useful with whatever tools I had. I posted updates for more than 12 hours and woke at 3 o’clock the next morning, unable to turn off the stream of questions: What does it mean to be a part of a community where this can happen? What can I do in this situation that matters?
The posts that I and others made about the minutia of the investigation and politicians postulating were useful in the quest for information and I, as a journalist, am not one to downplay information. But in this time, I can’t help think that it’s almost beside the point, perhaps because the attacks did hit so close. In five days of reporting, I have yet to talk to anyone who didn’t at least have a friend who knew one of the shooting victims or a story about how the victims indirectly touched his or her life. Each conversation seems so fragile, each participant so vulnerable, and I remember that it is a conversation, that that’s how we relate to each other, and that those links hold us together. Those links keep us from falling apart.
It is perhaps because I had been musing on the subject of links, networks of “friends” and “fans” and “followers,” that President Obama’s speech hit me so hard. We ought to remember that we live for each other. We owe each other. We depend on each other not only for political or economic or even cultural reasons. We depend on each other to know ourselves. It was when President Obama turned to Daniel Hernandez, the intern whose quick response may have saved the congresswoman’s life, that my nose began to run. Heroes, I think, are the ones for whom the links are closer to the surface. Hernandez surely qualifies. But if we all paid more attention, we might each qualify too.
My belief in journalism, whatever the immediate state of the industry, hinges on the link idea. It is, I think, an ability to appeal to commonality and a baseline decency that makes a good reporter. You have to be someone to whom people want to tell stories, and stories are the link. When Joan Didion wrote, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” it was in all seriousness. Much has been made of social media: that it is a fantastical money-making machine, that it can dismantle disagreeable regimes, that it cements the power of despots, that it increases our alienation from each other and ourselves. We don’t really know yet, but we know the secret’s in the links. May they be real and true.