I see my children tense before I even know why. We’ve been snuggled up on the couch for the last hour enjoying a family movie night. My youngest has built a nest of blankets so cozy and warm I feel like I could stay snuggled up there forever. Without warning, his body becomes ridged. I notice that my older son has his fists clenched firmly. My daughter has pulled her blanket tighter around her. My hearing seems to be fading in this fourth decade of my life so it takes me a moment to hear the approaching sirens, I too feel my heart skip a beat.
My children never move their eyes from the television. I watch them and realize that they may not even be aware of their involuntary reaction. The lights approach our house and I see one child shrink deeper into the couch while another child rises to pull back the curtains and another begins digging his nails into the skin of his forearm. One of my little ones peers out the window with eyes wide, “Do you think they’re ok, Momma? Are they hurt, sick or in trouble?” I squeeze his little hand, “I don’t know kiddo. I’m glad the police are there to help though.” We shut the curtain and resume our movie. I tuck them in and kiss their little faces. We pray together and just as I’m about to turn out the light my son says, “Don’t forget to pray for the family who needed the police tonight. They are probably having a tough day.”
Later, I sit on the couch, curled up under my favorite blanket. Mike and I have one of our favorite shows on and we are both scrolling through social media. That’s when a post catches my attention, and then another and then another. Many of my neighbors are posting questions and comments about the event from earlier in the day. Some have even taken pictures of the police attending to their business. They are sharing details of all that has occurred. Some people rumor that a person has threatened suicide. Others share that the police have already been called multiple times to this same home for domestic violence. These people share the name of the neighborhood and even the street where all of this is taking place. They tell details of the family who live in the home. Under the guise of sympathy, they throw around phrases like, “I hope the children are ok.” And “Thank God no one was hurt tonight.” The children. I begin shaking as tears stream down my cheeks. The children. I cry harder until Mike looks at me with concern.
I turn my computer screen toward him as I display the thread of comments. His reaction is quite similar. We both wonder out loud how anyone could mistake a family’s tragedy for entertainment. If the rumor is true and this person is struggling with suicidal thoughts, it is a mental illness not an amusement. If the rumor is true and the family has had issues with domestic violence, that is not a juicy tale for our enjoyment. If there are children involved, they are living with the reality of what those police sirens really mean. They are not a side show they are people. Broken people just like you and me. Those children peered through their own windows as the police arrived, they watched the neighbors snap photos with their iPhones. They knew that everyone else would know their darkest secret even before the entire drama unfolded. They are people who deserve at least a shred of dignity as they wait at the bus stop tomorrow morning with the same children whose parents shared a juicy morsel of their private struggle with the entire world of social media just the night before.
They are not a side show they are people. Broken people just like you and me.
How do I know this is what the children are feeling? I suppose I don’t. What I do know is this. Involvement with the police has been a part of my family too. My family was created from 8 separate families and 8 separate backgrounds. The police have been a thread throughout the larger tapestry that is my family. For us, they represent many different scenarios. A time when a child was removed from his first family. A visit with a family friend. A time when someone was caught making a bad choice. A time when a missing puppy was returned. A time when someone was declared deceased. Most recently, the police represent a mental illness that is out of our control. The lights, sirens and handcuffs are not a spectacle for our neighbors to enjoy, they are a means to safety for a child and a family that cannot find the answers alone.
If you see a family struggling, please don’t take pictures of their darkest time. Please don’t speculate. Please don’t post your assumptions on social media. At the very least, give some privacy. If you are inclined to give more, extend a hand, a hug, a warm meal, a heartfelt prayer. If you are standing in your front yard and the sirens are wailing past you have some choices to make. If you are a person who truly cares for others, put your smart phone down. Imagine yourself on the other side of the crisis and ask yourself what you would want your neighbors to do and then do it.
Have you been the recipient of gossip? How did it feel? Share your story with us in the comment section below…