Dan Rather, the former anchor of the CBS Evening News, once authored a book titled, “The Camera Never Blinks.” If I ever decide to write a book I think I’ll have to title it, “The camera never cries,” and thank God for that because heaven knows reporters do enough of that while covering tragedies such as the death of Long County Deputy, Sheldon Whiteman, Ludowici Police Chief Frank McClleand and Navy recruit Cameron Walters and many others who have passed while doing their job.
Let me begin by saying as I was growing up I was taught by my parents boys and men don’t cry. In the era I was raised it was interpreted as a sign of weakness when tears would fill my eyes for whatever reason, and for many years I believed it was true, men don’t cry, it’s something we just don’t do.
I’ve learned recently that what my parents tried to instill in me by not letting the tears flow freely from my eyes is that they were wrong. Yes wrong, as much as I’d hate to admit it, because I always wanted to believe my parents always had my best interest at heart.
But suppressing tears because of what you feel at a given moment is certainly not the way to go. It doesn’t make me less of a man because tear drops run down my cheeks, as a matter of fact it’s therapeutic and reminds me I’m a human being with the ability to show emotion, granted not at an ideal time, but none the less it shows that I do have a heart even though many don’t think reporters do.
Saturday morning was no different for me as I stood beside Briana Collier of WTOC, and Ariana Mount of WTGS covering the funeral of Deputy Sheldon Whiteman. It was a cold windy morning under gray clouds which at any moment threatened to unleash a downpour on us. I wish it had. We in the media are outsiders, we’re there when things go right, but more often when things go wrong and we’re there to witness a person’s worst day. This morning was no different we stood as outsiders to witness the worst day in the lives of the Whiteman family. I stood quietly within a few feet of the Whiteman family trying to be inconspicuous as possible, something that’s hard to do when you use a camera as your tool to document a scene.
I watched as Alisa Whiteman and her 3 sons Aron, Arion and Shiloh who sat by her side in the front row of chairs as Sheldon Whitman’s flag draped casket was situated before them. One of the sons began to cry uncontrollably as his father’s flag was being folded into the traditional triangle. It was during this moment one of his brothers stood up in front of him, placed his arms around him and for what seemed like an eternity clung to one another for comfort as their mother stared blankly at the casket which bore her husband’s earthly remains.
It was then that my vision began to get out of focus as the tears I fought so hard to fight back got the best of me and I began to wipe them away only to make matters worse. It was then that I thanked God cameras never cry because the images I was recording would have never been documented and eventually would have been relegated to the trash bin, and those in the public for who we do this for would have never seen the devastation a family endures when a law enforcement officer pays the ultimate price while doing their job.
Over the past few years I’ve learned real men do cry and there’s no shame in shedding a tear when the moment calls for it. I’ve watched as Maj Gen. Antonio Aguto fought back tears during a press conference in which 3 of his soldiers died during a training accident. I’ve watched officers break down in sobs at the scene where Ludowici Police Chief, Frank McClleand was killed while trying to stop motorist from crossing an intersection where a high speed chase was destined to pass through. I watched as grown men cried unashamedly at the funeral of Albert Dock early last year. I’ve also watched my fellow reporters become overcome with grief while we stand there as silent witnesses to tragedies we cover for those who can’t attend. Make no mistake I’m going to let my mother know it’s OK to cry and she was wrong. I think she’ll be proud to know the son she raised does have a heart.