In the midst of this joyous holiday season, I am continuously amazed at how cruel people can be to each other. Perhaps I see more of that cruelty in my business life. Working in journalism, I'm exposed to fires, murders, robberies, wars and plenty of disasters.
At night, I sit in my empty office in Midtown and wait for tragedy. I listen to the heat run through the pipes as my eyes scan the wires for large death tolls. CNN acts as both companionship and competition, for I'm always interested in beating them to the next big breaking story, be it an airplane crash or the latest celebrity obit.
I know I'm a death monger. I recognize that aspect in myself. I've cultivated it into my personality. It requires a certain amount of morbidity to be my friend, because my ears always perk up when I hear a police siren.
I also have a compassionate side, though, and that comes from a background in journalism, too. I've made those calls to grieving friends and family members, asking for a picture of the deceased, or a quote about how wonderful they once were. I've attended candlelight vigils for the victims of drunk drivers and drive-by shootings. And though I still get a rush of adrenaline whenever something terrible happens in the world, my heart aches later, after I've told the world about it.
KEROSENE, WEAPON OF CHOICE FOR ATTACKS ON WIVES IN INDIA
This story absolutely blew me away. I mean, in my heart I understand that different cultures have standards and practices that are strange to me. But to learn that thousands of Indian women are doused in kerosene and set on fire for "failing to satisfy the demands of their husbands' families for gold, cash and consumer goods," was mind-boggling to me.
Fire is a cheap weapon. It can be more painful than a knife or gunshot wound, and certainly more deadly. Yet these men wield it casually and often.
What baffles me the most is the attitude of the victims. They are beaten into submission. They don't speak of their pain, nor do they do anything to change their lives or seek revenge against those who've wronged them.
ANIMAL-TORTURE VIDEO MAKER AVOIDS JAIL
On Tuesday, Thomas Capriola of Long Island, N.Y. received a sentence of 280 hours of community service and three years of probation. His crime? One that turns my stomach -- and if the thought didn't do so, he made videos of the crimes as well.
For years, Capriola would buy small animals and torture them. He'd videotape snakes, guinea pigs and frogs being mutilated and then sell those tapes. When he was arrested, police found 71 videos in his home. One showed a pair of stiletto heels impaling a live frog. Another offered the entertainment value of a mouse being burned by a cigarette.
Is it a matter of power, something that makes him feel like he controls nature? Does he have serial killer tendencies and just hasn't worked up to hurting humans? And what kind of message does our justice system send by giving him such a lenient sentence? I look at the beauty of animals -- the innocence of kittens and the strength of sharks -- and I wonder.
WITH HEAVY HEART
The day after Christmas, I receive an e-mail from one of my writers. She's a talented woman, one I respect and admire. At first glance, I figured the letter was going to announce the end of another publication or dot-com. Instead, she told me that she'd suffered a terrible loss.
Her 19-year-old child had just committed suicide.
When I read that, I didn't know quite how to respond. "I'm sorry" seemed insignificant. "You know the suicide rate always goes up during the holidays," would have been insensitive. And hugs just don't translate well over long distances. Still, I could think of little worse than losing a child.
Man is a cruel creature, and these three stories affected me particularly hard this week. During the holiday season, I want nothing more than for everyone to experience a moment of peace. Yet, I recognize that cruelty and suffering will always exist.
So on New Year's Eve, I will watch the film, "Miracle Mile." It's a tiny little movie about the end of the world. I figure, if you start the new year with that, everything else will be a step up.