I was sitting in my La-Z-boy, my head bobbing from exhaustion, ready to check out for the evening when I heard the news anchor report that John Travolta’s son, Jett, had died. Suddenly I was awake as if it were morning, scurring to the computer to get more information about this boy that I had never met.
On the way to the computer, I told my husband the news and he winced in that way that you do when you hear such sad information.
Yet yesterday when the same news anchor told me about members of two families that died in a fire, I don’t remember wincing right away. I remember watching a woman literally moan over the loss of her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter. Another women interviewed lost two nephews in the same fire and through tears and gasps for air, tried to explain how she felt to the camera. And then I winced because it hit me how inappropriate it was for the camera man to be filming such pain and agony. Then I really listened to their wails and let them seep inside my bones and I winced again.
But I’ve got to be honest – looking back on these two incidents, I must be more concerned with the Travolta Family as theirs is the one that returns to my memory every few hours. I’m not sure why I’m more concerned about a rich and famous family from California than two non-famous middle-class families from Washington DC.
Maybe because I know “of” John Travolta and Kelly Preston as opposed to never once hearing the names of the families affected by the DC fire.
Maybe because after exploiting the pain of these DC women, the news cameras will never return to their front porches, whereas the Travolta’s will dodge cameras, flashbulbs and idiotic questions while making funeral arrangements.
Maybe because every article ever written about them and the make believe characters that they portray will remind the world that their son Jett, died in real life at the age of 16.
Maybe because out there somewhere is a magazine editor that right after wincing, smiled as he calculated how much money he’ll make from this story.
Maybe because this same editor has probably given his reporters permission to speculate on this boy’s death because a seizure secondary to a medical condition isn’t sexy the way a drug overdose is.
Maybe because it’s only a matter of time before an entertainment show lands the exclusive first interview and uses slow-motion video set against sad music to get me to tune in.
Maybe it’s because these actors that get paid to cry on cue will be acting for the rest of their lives pretending to be happy, normal and okay. Small talk at the breakfast table or the ordering of a cheeseburger from a drive thru window will be a daily academy award winning performance.
Maybe it’s because their fame means that everyone they run into will know about the grief lurking in the background, whereas the DC families will be allowed to mourn anonymously. They won’t have their deepest thoughts interrupted by someone wanting an autograph or a camera phone capturing their anguish without permission from across the room.
Or maybe it’s because in time I will forget all about the family in DC and fall back on the assumption that my kids will outlive me the way they’re supposed to. But the Travoltas and their fame and the media’s need to suck me back into their misery will forever remind me that at any moment I could lose my heart, my soul and ultimately my mind if I bury one of my children.
Maybe that’s what all this wincing is really about.