"DADDY, where were you the night before the war started?"
Someday, my kids will ask me that question, just like I asked my parents where they were during the Cuban Missile Crisis and what they were doing when Kennedy was shot.
I'll tell my kids I was not where I was supposed to be--curled up with Shakespeare and Sophocles, studying for a morning exam on tragic drama. I'll tell them I was not where I was expected to be, either--huddled around the television set, watching Ted Koppel count down the minutes to the United Nations deadline for Iraq's pullout from Kuwait.
Instead, I'll tell them, I was at the intersection of Mount Auburn and Dunster Streets, flirting with frostbite and death at the hands of some unsuspecting driver, trying frantically to reach Harvard Square before the clock struck midnight. There was a candlelight vigil for peace there, and all of the sudden, I had decided to go.
I've never been particularly fond of public demonstrations. I'm not a pacifist, a non-interventionist or even an activist. At the time, I didn't even oppose the use of American force to push Saddam out of Kuwait.
But I do remember that I was scared. Real scared. So scared that I ran out of my room wearing only a sweatshirt and windbreaker to ward off the subfreezing wind chill. So scared that the cold didn't do anything to stop the nervous sweat running down the small of my back.
Something terrible was about to happen--something terrible that could very well threaten my life. And there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it.
JOURNALISTS are used to being outsiders. We spend our time watching other people's lives. We thrive on conflict and human suffering, and then, for lack of a better term, exploit it so that fellow outsiders can peer in and gasp with us. Along the way, some of us at least try to impart some lesson about justice, and hope that the lesson isn't lost amid the squawking.
Surprisingly enough, that's the way it's supposed to be. Our editors and journalism professors tell us that we have to remove ourselves from our subjects. We have to be "objective." Our job is scientific, almost mechanical. We are here to tell what happened. We needn't care about it.
And that's always been fine with me. I've always wanted to be a journalist, but--until very recently--only because I liked the art of reporting and writing. It was an experience with my father's photocopy machine--not an exposure to some grave social injustice or a desire to change the world--that sucked me into the trade.
Sure, I've had my opinions. I thought my high school's "values" program taught against everything in which I believed. I thought Harvard's faculty could be doing more to hire minority and women scholars. I thought undergraduates could be a lot more tolerant of their fellow students of different gender, skin color or sexual orientation.
I just never acted on these opinions as an individual, or let them drive my writing as a journalist. I was perfectly content to let other people fight it out while I recorded the story from afar. I figured I was doing my duty. I patted myself on the back for being "open-minded."
I SUPPOSE my proclivity for neutrality--or passivity, if that's a better word--has a lot to do with my personality. On the playground, I was the peace-maker who kept the bullies at bay. At home, I was the diplomat who made sure Mom and Dad always got along. I wouldn't take sides in disputes; I'd just make sure they got resolved so that everyone could be friends again.
When it came to politics, I acted the same way. Sure, I believed government ought to do more to promote economic equality. But, heck, I had a new car when I was 16 and my Ivy League tuition set aside before I even graduated from high school. I was never forced to do anything, so I'd talk endlessly about ideals. Wasn't that enough?
I saw gender discrimination all the time, and it bothered me. But I never had to face this discrimination myself. So when I witnessed it at school or at play, I would turn the other way, confident that I was doing the "right" thing by merely refusing to participate in it.