I planned to go to the funeral this morning for Madonna Badger’s children. I even went up to the Church. As I stood on the corner of 53rd St, waiting to cross, I heard this frenzied whispering all around me. “That’s Calvin Klein,” a young woman said as she snapped a photo with her iPhone. Then everybody was whispering and snapping photos, including the mob of media in front of the Church. Which is when I turned around and walked home. It wasn’t just that I felt as if I were about to trespass on a stranger’s grief, it was the fact that the funeral had become just another ‘event.’ A spectacle.
I’ve met Ms Badger a handful of times. I’ve worked for her. I know people who know her. But I have no idea who she really is. That’s not to say that I haven’t thought of her once an hour, every day since Christmas. I have. Millions of people around the world have been thinking of her since Christmas day. But for some odd, dysfunctional reason, I am unable to compute; to relate, emotionally, to her loss.
Perhaps, this is because I lack the courage or the capacity to even imagine it. The enormity of it. There is something about the scale of this particular tragedy (and how woefully bereft; how inadequate the word seems) that reminds me of the tsunami in Southeast Asia and the earthquake in Haiti. How utterly strange/surreal. That I should somehow equate the death of five people; of three small children and their grandparents with the death of hundreds of thousands. But like those so-called ‘natural disasters’, these deaths so close to home; so close to where I live, also feel remote. Faraway.
I Googled ‘Madonna Badger’ a few times this afternoon. I read about her defiance; her heroic attempts to maintain control while speaking and sharing the joy and the love that she felt for her ‘girl tribe.’ I cried. But then I also thought of all those emotional rubber neckers, the voyeurs who had come to claim some sort of intimacy with an experience, with a loss, that is for them as it is for me, impossible to compute and/or imagine. People who had come not to pay their respects or to mourn but to watch. To wait and to watch for that moment when Ms. Badger and her husband, Matthew, stumbled; when they wept and cried out in public as their children’s caskets were carried out by the same firemen who had tried, so desperately, to save them. This is when I felt that my turning away; that walking home instead of entering that church might have actually been the only gesture of respect that I was capable of giving Ms. Badger.