February 25, 2002



Not Noise Now


You've all heard by now about Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and killed in Pakistan. You probably haven't paid the story much attention, or if you did pay attention it was with a passing "Oh, that's too bad, hey what else is on?" reaction. There's just been so much tragedy and conflict and death and insanity coming from that region that it all starts to blend together and melt down to a paste of negativity that smears the details of one event to another. It's so much that it starts to not be real, to be just noise.

It was that way for me, too. I might have paid more attention to the Pearl story than some of you since I started out as a journalist and I always notice journalist stories, but it was still a distant horror that didn't register on my own personal Richter scale. It didn't really hold any special resonance for me until I saw a news report where they interviewed one of Pearl's best friends. At my old high school.

It turns out Daniel Pearl and I were classmates. Birmingham High School, class of '81. I didn't know him and don't remember him, but we were there together. Birmingham's a small school, so it's inevitable that we had some contact somewhere along the line. We probably shared a class at some point, maybe said "hey" in the hall. Hell, he might even have been at the 20th reunion a few months ago. It's a tenuous connection at best, but it makes his story snap into sharp personal focus for me. He's real now.

He was a guy my age who went to my school and lived in my neighborhood, and now he's dead, murdered by animals in a land I only see or hear about on the news, for reasons I only read about in the paper that don't even begin to make sense in a civilized society. His life and mine went in totally different directions, but we share a common beginning. He's real to me. I'm not wondering what else is on. This particular news story has touched me personally and I feel sadness and rage over it.

I struggled with whether or not I should write about this here. It seemed like poaching, like I was using his story as a bid to get attention for myself, celebrity by morbid juxtaposition. I hope it doesn't come across that way; it isn't my intent. It's just that my small connection with him has made it all the more real for me, so maybe your even more tenuous connection with me will make him more real for you.

I can't even articulate what I'm trying to say here, or even why I'm trying to say it. His death matters to me because of our proximity to one another long ago. I'm hoping maybe I can make it matter to you, too.