The way the world works

Published 8:15 pm Wednesday, May 5, 2010

There are some things journalism school didn’t prepare me for.

Since February, I’ve been working on a series about cancer. Every week, I sit down and talk to a cancer survivor, cancer patient or a caretaker — one who took care of someone battling cancer.

Not too long ago, I covered an event for a vivacious four-year-old boy with the best pitch I’ve seen from a child under five years old in a long time. The event was to send him to Disney World because he had spent most of the last few months in the hospital. He was diagnosed with leukemia when he was 3.

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In January, a 17-year-old boy was shot to death. Last week, the man who had been charged with his murder was released from the Norfolk’s Sheriff’s Department because “evidence at this time prevented the matter from going forward.”

I’ve had to walk up with camera and note-pad in hand to a woman and her husband who were grieving the loss of their home. In the early morning, their chimney caused a fire that burned their house to the ground. Their wedding bands were still inside, and they didn’t have insurance.

As someone who likes to draw reason from a situation, it’s a continual challenge for me to cover these situations, come back to the office and have to make sense of what happened — enough sense to write a story about it.

It doesn’t make sense that a family should lose their house, a boy should die at the hands of another and that anyone should have cancer — especially a four-year-old boy who should be busy playing with his dinosaurs.

After a few months, I’ve had to reconcile that there is little to never any sense to be made of something like a terminal disease, a shooting or a natural disaster. I’ve learned there is nothing more I can do but write what I’ve been told and accept that there are no answers to the “whys” and “what ifs” of many of these situations.

But I have realized for every time I’ve left an interview wondering “why,” I’ve seen a miracle.

For every person affected by cancer, I’ve seen their strength and their fight. I saw that four-year-old boy outside laughing with his family and throwing a ball — despite the fact he just went through chemotherapy. I saw a community raise $4,000 to send him to Disney World. I saw the reality of life and death hit home to an entire auditorium of high school students. I saw a husband and his wife united despite their loss, and remember her telling me that the fire made her thankful for everything she’d taken for granted.

As devastating and inexplicable as so many situations in life are, I’ve learned to walk away and accept there are no answers and focus on the honor I’ve had to witness some of those miracles.