“I Said I Was Sorry!!”

Something that has garnered increasing attention over the past few years, for better or for worse, are bullies and their pulpits. In this age of digital media, we’ve made it far too easy for bullies to do their thing, and along with it, people have lost the ability to deliver a sincere and heartfelt apology. Case in point: Recently in Minnesota, we were riveted by the headlines made upon learning that a 27-year old mystery was solved (see my prior post “The Monster Down the Road“) when Danny Heinrich confessed to the abduction and murder of Jacob Wetterling, and led authorities to where he’d hidden Jacob’s remains. Jana Shortal, a reporter with Kare11 in the Twin Cities, came on the air to provide updates on the case. Jana is a seasoned professional, well respected and has been with Kare11 for a number of years.

Unfortunately, Jana became the victim of another local “reporter’s” bullying. A gossip columnist who goes by the initials “CJ” at the StarTribune, Twitter handle @DishCentral, blasted Jana for the pants she was wearing on air. Her pants!  Instead of using her brain and thinking for a moment about what was happening, that perhaps the community was reeling from the shock of the news,  CJ tried to make it about fashion. First off, who cares? Second, and more importantly, Jacob’s mother Patty Wetterling had shared a request with the community the day before. It read:

“Everyone wants to know what they can do to help us.

Say a prayer.

Light a candle.
Be with friends.
Play with your children.
Giggle.
Hold Hands.
Eat ice cream.
Create joy.
Help your neighbor.
That is what will bring me comfort today.” -Patty Wetterling

In spite of those words, a bully used her pulpit to hurt someone in Jacob’s name. But Jana didn’t take it lying down. She fought back and wrote a scathing rebuke on Facebook, (Sept 7) which is going viral and  garnering attention with news outlets everywhere. It’s strong and powerful, and amazing. Reading the responses to it from complete strangers, and the support she has received makes me believe that there is hope for humanity, however.

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From  School Town of Highland, Highland IN

The StarTribune took notice, and not only deleted the offensive post, but offered a public apology to Ms. Shortal, admitting that the column failed to live up to their journalistic standards. While I admit that’s a start, one question I’ve seen asked in comments, and have to agree with, why was no one overseeing this woman’s column? With all of the attention that’s been given to bullying in the last few years, why have they ignored CJ’s brand of misanthropy and downright ugliness toward people in general?

CJ has also offered an apology. As apologies go, I have to say it’s pathetic. It sounds like something that was written a) in haste and b) with just enough minimal effort that her attorney said would suffice to likely keep a lawsuit away. There was nothing in it that sounded remotely like she understands how words hurt,  how the platform that she’s been given shouldn’t be used as a bully pulpit any longer.

What has happened to us that we’re no longer able to offer sincere, genuine apologies that mean something? That as a society, in general we offer this psychobabble bullshit in an attempt to pacify the masses? When you do something wrong, admit it. Own it. Don’t pussyfoot around it. I had to do that recently with a friend. I admitted I had been careless, put my foot squarely in my mouth and was mortified by something I had said that had potential to hurt her and her partner. I admitted stupidity and asked for forgiveness. Fortunately for me, she is a good friend and will stay that way in spite of my foibles. I’m truly blessed.

More often than not, however, it seems apologies are a lost art. People will toss off a “sorry” and walk away, with little or no sincerity to accompany it, as if throwing the word out is adequate. Plopping those 5 letters into a dialog bubble over your head are’t enough folks, they just aren’t. You need to make eye contact when you can, but more importantly be genuine, and acknowledge what was wrong. Good grief. Grow a pair. If you’re old enough to talk, drink from anything other than your mother’s breast, walk, chew gum…you get my drift. Take a deep breathe, take accountability for your self and your actions and do the right thing. In spite of how scary it might feel at first, I promise nothing feels as good as the relief of doing the right thing, even if the person you apologize to won’t accept it. You know you’ve done the right thing, and your conscience is clear. But acting like a brat, playing by toddler rules and yelling “mine!” as you launch into a pout with a lower lip stuck out so far that it’s miracle you don’t trip over it? That has no place in adult, civilized society, yet that’s how so many so-called adults behave. Little wonder their children are worse, showing no remorse, because they see no need to apologize. This attitude of “I’ve done nothing I regret” has to stop.

Folks have called for the StarTribune to remove CJ from the gossip column, stating they don’t think the paper should allow her to remain in that capacity, that her bully pulpit has been used long enough. I don’t know if that’s the right answer, or if that’s just another form of bullying. I do know that she was way of out of line in her reaction, and I’m saddened by her inability or unwillingness to express a sincere mea culpa for the incident. Jana Shortal didn’t deserve to be treated that way, none of us do.

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The Monster Down the Road

The town of St. Joseph wouldn’t stand out from dozens of others like it that dot the Minnesota countryside, if it weren’t for a legacy that no town wants, but it’s borne with quiet dignity and grace. It’s 6,600 citizens live amid bucolic, rolling hills 90 min NW of the Twin Cities. 27 years ago, kids ran around after dark on their bikes, people didn’t lock their houses or cars, if your child wasn’t home right away when they were supposed to be no one worried, they were probably just playing down the street. And suddenly, in the blink of an eye, it all changed.

Three kids riding home from a convenience store where they’d gone to rent a video, two of them brothers, were stopped when a masked gunman came out of a driveway and ordered the boys to throw their bikes into a ditch and lie face down on the ground. He then asked each boy his age. The one brother was told to run toward a nearby wooded area and not look back or else he would be shot. The gunman then demanded to view the faces of the two remaining boys. He picked the other brother, and told his friend to run away and not look back otherwise he would shoot. And with that one senseless act, everything changed for the Wetterling family when 11-year old Jacob was abducted.

For 27 years, his parents and brother have wondered, waited and hoped. Was he alive? Was he dead? What happened? Where was he? Every birthday, holiday, life event that he missed, every dance, date, graduation, wedding that belonged to everyone else was something he wasn’t getting to do. His mother Patty became an accidental advocate for missing and exploited children, starting the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center because she could…because she had to. She was vocal, spoke before congress, in front of celebrities, to the media, anywhere that she could raise awareness and keep Jacob’s face and name in front of people.

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Jacob’s bridge, “The Bridge of Hope”

A bridge in St. Cloud, MN was named after him, The Bridge of Hope, while  #jaccobshope became a familiar hashtag as Twitter entered our social consciousness.

Most of us go through a phase in childhood being fearful of monsters, but we learn that we don’t need to be afraid of them, because monsters aren’t real. Oh it may take time to learn that, our brains need development time to comprehend the logic of this, but eventually we do learn it and they lose their power over us. But with Jacob’s abduction, the monster became all too real, all too close to home for us, and for 27 years, whether you were a parent or not, he was your worst nightmare. With the internet, Jacob became the new “face on the milk carton”. For better or worse, his picture was everywhere, Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 3.05.06 PMand as people prayed for the family, they simultaneously said, “there but for the grace of God…”.  That nameless monster changed how we lived that year – we started locking our doors, demanding our children were home before dark, called us when they left a friend’s house to come home. The phrase “Stranger Danger” took on new meaning and became more sinister than ever before.

The Wetterling family had to endure unimaginable pain through this, during the early days of Jacob’s disappearance when they had to cope with not only the fear of the unknown, but also the suspicion that was cast on them from the media and law enforcement. Could they have had something to do with it? The accusations were, of course, baseless, but to have to try to deal with the loss, not lose your mind, cooperate with law enforcement and the media, and somehow keep your marriage intact, raise your other children, keep running your business successfully and not fall apart? Yet both Patty and Jerry Wetterling did it, always staying strong for their children, and in the hope that they would be a family when Jacob came home.

On September 3, 2016 Jacob Wetterling did come home. Not with the happy, joyful reunion his family had hoped and prayed for, but with tears and sorrow, the location of his remains finally provided to authorities by the one who was for 27 years, faceless and nameless, right before he’s scheduled to start his federal trial on multiple counts of possessing child pornography.

I can’t even begin to imagine what the Wetterling family must be feeling right now. Relief, sadness, grief to extreme for words, anger…I’m sure they must be a roller coaster of emotions. Yes, they have an answer, resolution after all this time. But it’s not the answer they wanted, not the one they hoped and prayed for, not by a long shot. Seeing the age enhanced photos have to be devastating, knowing that he’ll never look like that. And the media onslaught will start all over again, because we all want to know everything, even though we have no right to, because we all felt like Jacob could be our son, our little brother, our nephew, the neighbor kid. And it wrecked us too. On October 22, 1989, the monster changed all of us, and none of us will ever be the same again.

Danny Heinrich.

That’s the name of the monster. He was even tied to another abduction shortly before Jacob’s that same year, to a child that escaped but by the time they could connect him to the crime,  the statute of limitations expired and he couldn’t be charged, even though DNA tied him directly to the victim. But there was never any evidence linking him to Jacob. Now, with his leading authorities to Jacob’s remains, there is. September 6, 2016 he confessed to abducting, molesting, then killing Jacob. I don’t know how he slept nights for 27 years, knowing a family was devastated. Living less than 30 miles away for all those years, he knew. We all knew the impact it had. Maybe had had his own monsters, perhaps they drove him to do what he did, I don’t know if he’ll tell us or not. It won’t matter anyway. Knowing why won’t bring back our innocence, and it won’t bring back Jacob Wetterling to his family.

I’ve included a link to a Facebook event that’s being shared, asking people to leave their front door and porch lights on through Monday night as a tribute to Jacob. Wherever you are around the world, please take a moment to say a prayer for hope and peace for Patty, Jerry,  Trevor, Carmen and Amy Wetterling.

A Moment in Time

Looking back…the moment lost…we forget….

How often do we think back to something and think “I wish I had a picture of that?” Back in the day, we had the convenient excuse of forgetting to bring our camera,  but since most of us now have smart phones, we have a camera all the time . So that old excuse really doesn’t work so much anymore, does it (unless you’re like I was the other day and completely forgot to even bring my phone along)?We have no excuse to miss that moment. So what’s the problem?

I was glancing back through our pictures of our trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota last fall, and a hike we took up to Harney Peak. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s not a hike for the faint of heart. It’s a lot of climbing, some of it over roots, trees, rocks, boulders, sand, and goes from about 6100-7100 feet of elevation. And in the middle, you actually go downhill, just to have to go back uphill again.

At the summit is a stone lookout tower that was used for fires, and the view is incredible. You can see a long distance view of the tower in the photo at the lower right…yep, we had a LONG climb to get there! As you can see, we had cameras along and took pictures. Word to the wise, if you do this hike, do it on a cool day, take snacks and plenty of water, and start early in the day. If you’re in good shape, this is under a 4 hour hike. Shape not so good? Plan on 6 hours. We made it in about 4.5 hours, although I have no idea how. (Sheer stubbornness would be my best guess. )

As we neared the top, we met larger groups of people coming down with what seemed like ridiculously happy grins on their faces – which I would understand a short time later – and they all were saying things like “you can do it” and “you’re almost there”. I can remember I was so tired and feeling like I couldn’t do it, that I wanted to slap that stupid grin right off their faces. Then we started to notice that the boulders were different, more like big smooth slabs, and all of a sudden we were ducking under a big stone archway, before turning and seeing the end, and _MG_3004then there it was, with only about 50 more steps to go. The end. Still steep, but doable.

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I got a lovely little screen shot of my “What’s My Altitude” app too! While it didn’t show the air temperature, I remember it was a bit cooler, and you can see that the boiling point of water was lower.

 

You know, two years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to even do an hour of this climb, let alone the whole thing. I remember going to Scottsdale, AZ, and sitting down partway up the “easy side” of Camelback, waiting for my husband while he climbed to the top, because I was so overweight then, and there was no way I could do it. But this trip, being healthier, thinner and in much better shape, I knew I could make it, and was determined to get to the top, stopping periodically for water breaks and snack breaks, but that was it. When we got there, oh, the view.

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Isn’t that amazing? It looks out over 4 states, and if you walk around the station, you can see the backside of Mt Rushmore. We took photos of that, of some great big bird soaring around, all kinds of stuff. You know what view we don’t have? The one of me standing there, tears in my eyes, being completely overwhelmed with elation that I did it! I think hubby was going to and I seem to recall I didn’t want him to but I don’t remember why not. In retrospect, I wish he would have anyway. I would have loved to have captured that moment of energy and triumph shining through. Particularly because when I think back to that moment, that’s the feeling that I remember having…that my best self, right then, was completely and totally shining through. The tears, messy hair, sweaty skin and red face – those were badges of honor to be worn proudly, not hidden away. Silly me. What a missed Kodak moment, but a lesson learned, nonetheless.

So next time you want to push someone away when they want your picture, think twice about it. So what if you’re all sweaty, hair is a mess, face is covered in dirt. Maybe you don’t have on makeup, or your mascara is running down your cheeks…or your eyes are puffy…or your shirt is torn, or whatever. Who cares? Freeze that moment before it’s gone, because remember you can’t capture lightning in a bottle.