Last Saturday, I drove to Pittsburgh for my step-brother’s wedding…both as an attendee and as the very lucky photographer. And as that amazingly beautiful blue-sky day unfolded, the details of the most heinous crimes imaginable at Penn State were released to the public. Crimes that were committed by a beloved assistant football coach…a coach who was metaphorically painted as a hero and was a trusted member of our community. And now, we are seeing the very real, very disturbing picture of evil that has lurked in our world for the past several decades.
Each day of this past week was worse than the day before…I began to dread getting out of bed and turning on the morning news. And Facebook…what a nightmare. As if the details of the abuse on these poor innocent children wasn’t bad enough, friendships quickly began to be divided. Insults were thrown…defensiveness ensued. By the end of the week, the media circus had shown our community to be one of rioting extremists who, by the judgment of their actions, can only mean that they are in support of those who perpetrate sexual child abuse.
Those who live here…those who work here…those who are deeply woven into the fabric of this community…we walked around in a haze-like fog all week. For those who managed to actually have a productive week at work…I salute you. For me…I had a very real lack of focus. I found myself feeling confused and distraught…melancholy and grief-stricken. I was brought to tears more times than I can count, and I certainly don’t need to see any scientific reports proving the physical effects of emotional distress. We were rocked to the core, and the punches continued to fly even when we were down for the count.
I don’t expect anyone to understand what it is like to live in ‘Happy Valley’. And how we can have any emotion other than anger at all of the names listed daily in the media reports. But this is our hometown…and they live in it. The Paterno’s, the McQueary’s, the Curley’s…I have worked with them, their children/grandchildren go to school with my children…they have been a part of my life. So I mourn for the victims…I mourn for the familes of the victims…and I also mourn for the families of the accused.
I decided yesterday that I need to ‘get out of Dodge’. The bickering, the judgments, the satellite vans and the heartache was too much for me to handle…so I decided to come back to Pittsburgh, after being here only one week ago. This is my safe-haven, where I come when I need to have my soul soothed a bit. But driving here on THIS sunny Saturday felt very different. As I listened to the reports of how our community has risen…how we’ve all come together in support of the victims and of our community in general, I began to realize how fiercely loyal and proud I am of Penn State. And I regretted leaving my transplant-hometown…because right now, I feel a greater sense of belonging than I have at any point during the past 18 years here. So many people have written over the past week about how we are not defined by one very sick man or by the lapse of moral judgment by any particular individual. Clearly we are not. What we are is a strong support system…a community that has been beaten and battered down, but at the end of the day, we will rise up and dust ourselves off, and we will SURVIVE.