This past week I was transfixed and heartbroken as I watched a tragedy play out. A man went missing in the Mississippi River after a dock collapsed under him and it took the concerted efforts of his family, hundreds of friends, and even more acquaintances to motivate the police to begin looking for him. This was not a tragedy of world-epic proportions. This did not involve thousands of people being washed to sea in a tsunami or the tortures of war or the death of dozens of children. But this tragedy was personal and real and painful to many, many people – myself included. Why did this particular small tragedy consume me, the death of one man, which is repeated around the world so many times a day? Why was I riveted to the news from New Orleans about this tragedy? Jim Dugan and I went to St. John’s College together and since St. John’s is so small, and there are so few students we all feel connected long after we leave and even if we never met. He was friends with my friends. And stories about missing men – good, stable, kind, responsible men with children, parents, siblings, friends, lives – catch my attention. My husband, who is a good, stable, kind, responsible man with a mother, children, brothers, friends, went missing 2 1/2 years ago. It turns out that he was suffering from severe suicidal depression and went into a dissociative fugue state. We were lucky; he came home. Jim Dugan’s family is not so lucky.
We were also lucky that my Jim was missing from Boulder, where the police were helpful, sensitive, and patient with me. Jim Dugan’s family and friends faced an indifferent and seemingly incompetent police force. Read this article for some of the details http://www.myneworleans.com/Blogs/Joie-deve/March-2011/The-Runaround/.
Once the search teams started, using sonar, it wasn’t long before they found what they assume is Jim’s body trapped with debris under the dock. http://www.fox8live.com/news/local/story/Workers-discover-body-of-man-who-fell-into/HQZxSFJIE0GKzfFjV1yc0A.cspx?rss=2085
Today the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/home.php?sk=group_150175915046261&ap=1) set up by his friends, with over 1700 members, has been full of condolences and prayers and sadness. And some anger, mostly directed at the NOPD.
And some more anger, mostly directed at the author of some very insensitive and unkind comments to the article about Jim’s body being found. To those who are angry and want revenge, argument, answers to this kind of comment I want to say this: there are people who are intentionally cruel in the face of real and legitimate sorrow. There are also people who are simply insensitive, ignorant, inept, judgemental, unthinking, crazy, or lazy. And many people who are well-intentioned and caring say accidentally hurtful and amazingly stupid things.
When my husband was missing a woman who was a casual friend called and left a message on my answering machine telling me that she had called her psychic who had “seen” my husband lying, badly injured – hit in the head – in long, cold grass next to a path by the airport. Why, WHY would someone do this to me? My sisters were furious at the level of stupid insensitivity it took to leave that message for me – a woman coping with the fear and pain of a missing husband as well as a toddler and a tiny infant and barely holding it together. (My husband was not there – in the leave-no-stone-unturned camp my brother-in-law and a friend searched the area.) Now when I see her all I can think about is how inept she really is at personal relationships.
A relative who I had not seen in more than 5 years called to tell me, at great length, that clearly my husband had been abducted by aliens. Seriously? Although this wasn’t as hurtful as the other message, it was hardly helpful. And the woman who cornered me at a public event to tell me that she was sure that the body that had been found in the mountains near Boulder that very morning was Jim and she was terrified for me (it wasn’t Jim, I talked to the police about it – twice – that day) was a gabbling, self-absorbed fool who clearly cared very little for my feelings.
And then there were the nasty, vicious, or just narky comments to newspaper and blog articles about us. I was called variously a media-whore, an ego maniac, stupid, gullible, and more. People wrote that Jim was a liar, that he had run away with hookers, that he was on a bender, that he remembered everything, that he didn’t deserve help, and so on. When I first read these comments I felt like I had been sucker-punched. After Jim was back and in the hospital some people actually retreated from their comments, some were worse. But I realized that none of it was really about us. All that ugliness and cruelty was about the people who said it.
For the most part, just like in the case of Jim Dugan, people were kind, generous, caring, sincere, supportive, and helpful. The people who have an ax to grind, or an agenda, or are just misery bags can do nothing to tarnish the memory of a good man. Jim Dugan was greatly loved and will be greatly missed and many, many people are mourning for him and his family. May his name be for a blessing and his family be comforted among the mourners. The good he did in the world will live on long, long after a few cruel words are forgotten.