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Through the Eyes of a Child

I got together with my friend, Heath, for dinner on Monday night. We went to his condo which is on the penthouse level of his building. We were sitting on his roof deck chatting and watching the skyline when he noticed black smoke rising from a building down the street. We couldn’t see flames (because the actual burning structure was blocked by another building), but the smoke was intense. Within a few minutes we heard sirens coming from every direction.

And what was our reation? We ran for the elevator then decided to investigate the action. After walking a few blocks, we came upon the fire scene. It was a typical South End building at the corner of Blackstone Square: a brick townhouse about 4 floors tall. All of the windows were blown out (or busted out by firemen). You could see inside the windows that everything was pitch black (charred and smokey). All we could think about was the poor people that lived there.

Witnesses to the actual fire (we saw no flames) said the fire department had to rescue people from the roof. As we watched, there was still smoke filtering out the windows of the neighboring townhouse. Scary.

There were at least 6 fire trucks, numerous ambulances and other “official” vehicles around this corner of the park. In fact, some of the smaller vehicles were actually in the park on the grass. An enormous crowd had gathered and the whole scene felt like a movie set. It was so surreal.

I wonder what it is with human nature that lures us to such umpleasant events? I recall as a child our small village had a volunteer fire department. They were notified of fire by an enormous whistle (actually, it was more of a siren) that was loud enough to be heard throughout the whole community. It also went off every day at noon…hence we called it the noon whistle. But if it ever went off at another time of day, we all had the same reaction: we’d listen for the fire trucks and want to explore.

It’s the same response children have when they hear kids yell “Fight. Fight. Fight” in the cafeteria: they all run and crowd gathers around two boys fighting. Why, as adults, are we still drawn to observe the misery of others? Does it make us feel better about ourselves (“at least it wasn’t me), are we concerned (“oh, the poor people”) or are we just all voyeurs tittilated by something we’re not used to seeing?


  1. Comment by chrispy on May 4, 2005 2:43 pm

    schadenfreude \SHAHD-n-froy-duh\, noun:
    A malicious satisfaction in the misfortunes of others.

  2. Comment by karyn on May 4, 2005 11:47 pm

    Sometimes it’s schadenfreude I guess. And sometimes it’s something else. I know I am drawn to these things because there is some kind of spiritual, elemental, almost magnetic hum to them that seems to call on some part of me that feels like it needs to bear witness to it, like anything that a) awesome or b) terrible or c) monumentally important deserves my attention, be it out of respect or something else. Sometimes I’m just nosy. I admit that. But mostly it’s the humming thing. I have seen bodies at murder scenes, horrible accidents, fires, illness, et al. The entire country was GALVANIZED by the images of 9/11. To some degree I wonder if that sort of deepened the existing human condition and its need to rubberneck and observe, if it kind of catapulted us as a culture into a Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome kind of state where we are more prone to want to experience them with our own senses; smell the smoke, hear the sirens, watch it unfold. Also I wonder about the brain-stem implications; like, OOOH, Loud noise! Imminent threat to me? To cubs? Etc.. I don’t know. (For someone with no answers, I talk a lot, I know; belive me, you are not the first to say so.) xxoo -k

  3. Comment by matt on May 5, 2005 2:25 am

    Death, disaster and mayhem — I think these are things that horrify most of us. So, when something of this nature happens near us we have to look at it. We are looking directly into our fears and that, in itself, is a somewhat exciting act.

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