The “breaking news” announcement from our local newspaper took me by surprise. It announced the death of our veterinarian, Dr. Janet Veit, and her husband, Brian Schumacher. They drowned during a fishing trip in Iceland.
Janet was a compassionate, knowledgeable veterinarian whom I had known for 20 years. My heart broke along with the hearts of her other clients, as well as the staff of Hillside Animal Hospital.
Early news from the Iceland Embassy reported that Janet fell from the boat and Brian jumped in after her. Eyewitnesses told a different story. They said there was no boat involved. Brian was wading. He fell into a dropoff and the current swept him out. Janet died trying to save him.
No matter what happened, this was a tragedy for those who love them. Either way, one spouse risked a life to save the other.
I was surprised to see this story in national headlines. The first article I read gave the original Embassy version of their deaths. It added that there was a different report from the people in their fishing group, and included a link.
I noticed there were almost 1,000 comments on this relatively recent article. My first thought was how great it was that so many cared to offer their condolences. Janet’s death left me emotional and in a state of disbelief. I gladly clicked on the comments, thinking I would find some comfort there.
I realize in retrospect how naive I was. It never occurred to me that an article about the tragic deaths of two good people would receive anything but condolences. I was wrong. The majority were unkind. I left the comments section with the opening lyrics from Three Dog Night’s Easy to Be Hard going around in my head. “How can people be so heartless? How can people be so cruel?”
Many people assumed that Janet and Brian’s own stupidity killed them. They did not read the eyewitness story and presumed that the two were in a boat without life vests, even though the article never stated this. Others commented on the risk-taking behavior of Janet and Brian, as though fishing is a high-risk endeavor.
I wonder if sometimes people feel better casting blame on victims of unfortunate deaths because it makes them feel less vulnerable. In other words, these people like to pretend that they are too smart or savvy for tragic accidents to befall them or their loved ones.
There were a few people who noted the love Janet and Brian shared. Even that could not be left alone. Someone responded that it did not matter that one of them risked their lives for the other; Brian and Janet did not share last names. That was enough to prove that they were not committed to each other.
Astoundingly, at some point, the priest sex abuse scandal found its way into the comments. Note that as far as I know, neither Janet nor Brian were Catholic. In other words, Catholicism was nowhere in the report.
I know these people exist, people who live to criticize. I was just surprised to see so many respond hatefully in the context of the deaths of two good people. It breaks my heart as much as the deaths did.
As time went on, an eyewitness and a friend of an eyewitness entered the comments section. They were trying to help everyone understand the truth, so readers could stop blaming Brian and Janet. These two also seemed astonished at the unkind thoughts people were willing to share. Nobody appeared to be listening to their side of the story.
I have wondered before about why people seem to want to make derogatory or rude remarks about almost anything. We do not have to make public every thought we think. It is easy to just scroll on by. Or, at least, it should be.
After Janet and Brian’s death, this phenomenon has been on my mind even more. I do not know if we are a less kind society than we used to be, or if it just seems that way because of the internet. I realize, of course, that there have always been bullies, and there have always been people who have to state their opinion, regardless of what that opinion is. Yet, it seems that there was a time when the reaction to tragedy was compassion and concern. The unexpected deaths of good people used to draw people together. What has changed?
While pondering this, I read Marty Dybicz’s article, Our Society’s Greatest Addiction. His thinking intrigued me. Dybicz suggested that rather than alcohol, gambling, television, or video games, our greatest addiction is our emotions.
Dybicz makes a lot of good points in his article. He relates emotions, specifically feeling good, with the decline in religion. He states, “Who needs to follow Jesus Christ when I can follow my heart?” Later he discusses God as “The Giver of Good Emotions who can beat the world at its own emotional game.”
Is our pursuit of emotions part of our desire to never let a good article go without insulting comments? I had considered that many people who troll desire attention, but when hundreds comment on an article, those comments get buried. Sure, there will be a few replies to any uncalled-for comment, but is that enough to satisfy the attention-getter?
Maybe it is both. People will say anything because they want attention in a world where we appear to be feeling lonelier than ever and because they want to achieve some kind of emotional reward.
While Dybicz argues that people are addicted to feeling good emotionally, maybe for some people the addiction is to feel anything at all emotionally. In the midst of loneliness and isolation, maybe the answer for some is to find reasons to be upset, to be crude, to place blame, or to try to shock others. In a society that seems to be turning away from God, it would make sense that some would use feelings to replace a relationship with our Creator.
Of course, my concern is far broader than the words people use online. Very few would argue the division we find everywhere. It seems we can no longer discuss or debate differences. We no longer try to persuade. Instead, we either stay quiet (for fear of repercussion) or hurl insults.
I have a Facebook friend named Alan Eason. I do not recall how I first learned of him. His Facebook page says that he is Principal at AE Communications and former webmaster at The Stream. What keeps me following him is his ability to always give me something to think about.
Recently, Alan posted this:
Some people say the nation has lost its moral compass. I tend to believe a lot of people just threw their compass away because somebody convinced them that True North didn’t exist.
As I read those words, I saw the truth of them. As Saint Pope John Paul II wrote in Veritatis Splendor, “Certainly, in order to have a “good conscience” (1 Tim 1:5), man must seek the truth and must make judgments in accordance with that same truth.” Yet we no longer seek the truth. Moral relativism tells us that truth is whatever each individual decides it is.
Marty Dybicz said this:
The preaching of “God loves you just as you are” over the last fifty years has been highly successful in clearing out our churches. If God loves me just as I am, God doesn’t really care about what I think and do. It’s all good!
In other words, bullying is okay because God loves us just as we are. We can be heartless and cruel to others because God loves us no matter what.
In our belief that as long as God loves us all will be well, we forget about loving Him. 1 John 5:3 was pretty clear that to love God, we must keep His commandments. Yet if we lose the concept of True North, we can each decide for ourselves what keeping God’s commandments actually means.
God is truth and love. God is not just the giver of truth and the giver of love, He is truth and love itself. No wonder then that when we lose the concept of True North, we find ourselves further away from love. When a society loses truth and love, we become more bored and lonely, more focused on ourselves, and we look for fulfillment in all the wrong places. We may find ourselves living for emotions and not particularly caring about how we might be harming others.
This is why it is important for Christians to try to bring truth to others; not just to non-Christians, but to Christians who have forgotten that God is so much more than just their best friend. We need to bring truth to those who think that God loves them, yet forget that to return that love means to keep His commandments.
There is a truth, and we can know it. All truth leads to God, who is love. I think Alan Eason is right. People have been persuaded that there is no True North and have thrown away their compasses. If we want a less divided world, a world more in tune with God’s will, it is time for those of us who know better to brush up on our persuasive skills, and through word and example, give those compasses back.