For the person or for the story?

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(Photo by Monica Lopossay) R.J. Voigt praying

How far do you go to get enough information for your story? It was as if I could almost feel what The Baltimore Sun reporter, Diana Sugg felt as she poured out her story about the sweet young boy R.J. Voigt.  As I read through her article, “Angels and Ghosts: Anatomy of a Story”, I asked myself, how did she do it? As she sat there, watched and wrote about this dying boy, how did she manage to fight off the feeling of being a predator prying into R.J’s life? It was because she could see something in R.J’s life that other people couldn’t.

Do you know how people would typically ask, “Do you want to hear the good news or the bad news first?” When asked that, I usually opt for the good news first, and then brace myself for the worst. For some unknown reason, I didn’t do that for this assignment. It’s a bit crazy to relate that analogy to reading this article. I clicked on the link that led to the Baltimore series of R.J.’s story. I skimmed through the pictures that were taken by the photographer, Monica Lopossay and it was emotionally overwhelming to look at R.J’s swollen face or the pictures of his worried mom sitting beneath the statue of Jesus. I decided that I wasn’t going to read that version and closed the tab.

The image of R.J.’s picture flashed in my head as I read what I hoped would’ve been the easier version, Sugg’s anatomy of the story.  “When R.J. cried out for someone to hold his hand during a medical procedure, and I was the only person who could help, I thought for just a second before dropping my notebook and pen.” I could only feel even more overwhelmed as I imagined the whole scene. My thoughts echoed, “How could she? He needed help!” But then I realized how honest Sugg was being throughout her article. She was being a journalist.

As I read, I often wondered whether Diana Sugg ever cared more for R.J or for the story she was writing.  I couldn’t picture myself writing the same story about R.J without reaching this level of sadness and pity that would drive me to give up on everything.  Mixed emotions are what I felt as I read.  At one point, I can picture myself in the same room, watching R.J. lie there in pain. My face warms up when my eyes swell with tears because that scene reminds me of my mom. I feel the goosebumps trek down my skin when she mentions R.J. seeing angels. Everything that Sugg mentions about R.J. is so emotionally overwhelming, but yet she was able to get it out on paper and I admire her for that.  At least most of it, since some of it were “more powerful than my flimsy words could ever capture,” Sugg says.

When I read about R.J., all I could see was a story that made me pity this young boy so much. Diana Sugg saw something different. She saw a boy suffering who had a story to be told. Like all other dying children with cancer, Diana Sugg understood that these people aren’t ordinary kids. They deserved more than just pity.  I admire Sugg for her courage and strength to cross limits in order to write a story that will touch the hearts of others.  When I see a crowd of annoying reporters chasing down celebrities, I get easily irritated. “To get a story and tell the world about these people. Invade their personal lives.” I’d often find myself saying these types of things. Diana Sugg’s work is a symbol of a journalist’s genuine purpose. I’m very grateful for her work.

My last thought hit me as I finished reading Sugg’s article. I love writing, but I don’t think I have the drive or the capacity to cross the same limits that reporters are usually called to do. I want to write stories too, stories about my people and my home.  As an undeclared major, I’m still exploring my potential. “The best policy is to follow your heart.” That is what Sugg would say.

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