A matter of perspective

The musings in this post relate to an episode of Bones that I watched recently. I’m told it originally aired on Veterans Day. The post contains minor spoilers about the episode, by which I mean the sort of spoilers that might actually have been in the previews tacked onto the end of the previous episode. (I never get to see those, since I watch online.) But if you haven’t seen the episode yet, and you still intend to do so, just bear in mind that if you read this post, you’ll have one less surprise in the first fifteen or so minutes of the episode.

Here’s some blank space just in case. Scroll down for the rest of the post.

A few nights ago, I watched an episode of Bones that, according to what I am told, originally aired on Veterans Day. In this episode, Bones sends her team of interns off to identify old remains that have been in storage for a while. They find and identify the body of a soldier who died about 10 days after September 11th, 2001. They figured this out based on a piece of shrapnel lodged in his rib, from an injury sustained during the September 11th attacks. It turned out that he was at the Pentagon on September 11th.

The entire thing made perfect sense to me until they got up to the part about where he’d been during the attack.

This is because my memories of September 11th hardly touch on the Pentagon at all. Instead, they are all about the two towers of the World Trade Center, images of the planes punching into them, images of their collapse, images of the site known thereafter as “Ground Zero.” Today, that’s the site of a museum, and of a new tower. I see the partially constructed tower on the horizon nearly every day when I go to work.

On September 11th, 2001, I watched the local news, and there was hardly any mention of the Pentagon. I think maybe this is because, at that moment, the Pentagon wasn’t *our* tragedy. Ours was the towers; the Pentagon was someone else’s.

At that time, I was in college in New Jersey. Our local television stations broadcast from New York City.

Bones, on the other hand, takes place in DC, and so it makes sense that the old remains they were examining would have come from the DC area, not New York City.

The fact that the remains came from the Pentagon rather than the towers threw me, though, and it made me think about how, on that day, maybe the focus of the news coverage in the DC area was reversed. Maybe in DC, they hardly heard about the towers, because their news was focused on the tragedy in their own neighborhood instead.

It made me wonder how the news would have been broadcast in the rest of the country. Did the towers get the bulk of the coverage, or did the Pentagon, along with the fourth plane that never hit its target, get equal time?

When I heard that the episode of Bones I was about to watch was going to touch on September 11th, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the episode as a fictional story, because it would bring back bad memories. Instead, it mostly felt like any other episode for me, because it didn’t focus on the towers; it focused on the Pentagon. For me, it’s still sometimes hard to think about the attack on the World Trade Center, but I don’t react the same way to thinking about the attack on the Pentagon. I think maybe it has to do with the fact that the destruction of the Twin Towers happened to *my* community, while the attack on the Pentagon happened to someone else’s.

It seems to all come down to a matter of perspective. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, or when the London Underground (the Tube) was bombed, I remember reading so many news stories, and seeing so many images on TV. It wasn’t my tragedy, but it was there, something I was very much aware of. But the attack on the Pentagon on September 11th didn’t get that kind of coverage in my life, because there was another, more local tragedy on which the media was focused.

Lately, the New York area has been cleaning up from a more recent local tragedy, this one courtesy of Mother Nature (though humanity may have helped it along a bit) in the form of Hurricane Sandy. For days and weeks, the news was flooded with Sandy stories, mostly about communities in New York City, on Long Island, and along the Jersey shore.

A friend pointed out on Facebook that hardly anyone in the New York area was talking about the damage that Sandy wrought in Cuba and in Haiti before it made landfall in New Jersey. For that matter, no one in New York seemed to be talking about damage in places as nearby as Connecticut. Even that was too far away. Not only that, but the news seemed to focus on a few communities such as Breezy Point and Red Hook. Meanwhile, other local communities – communities within New York City, even – where homes were flooded and destroyed, or where housing projects had no heat or power, either took a while to make it into the headlines, or escaped notice entirely.

I guess the thought that occurred to me while watching Bones is that proximity to a tragedy can skew our perspective on the breadth of it. So can the news coverage of that tragedy. Sometimes, especially when a particular tragedy has affected more than one community, especially when one of those communities is uncomfortably close to home, it can be hard to remember just how wide a net a given tragedy has cast. and that the suffering may have spread further than we realize.


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