As I write this, a hostage situation is unfolding 3 blocks away from my office. I can hear helicopters (three of them at last check) circling overhead. When I left my office around 1:45 this afternoon to run some errands, I noticed the flashing lights of police cars and a number of people gathered on the street corner. I conducted my business at city hall and the post office (in the opposite direction of the hubbub), then made my way over to the gathered throng at the other end of the block. I asked one of the people who seemed to be paying the most attention what was going on, and learned that there was a hostage situation at the bank building across the tracks. I could see policemen crouched behind vehicles parked askew in the street, rifles at the ready. I saw a sharpshooter in camoflague gear walking down the street with his gun and scope, headed to his post. But mostly I saw ordinary people flocking onto the sidewalks from every direction save the south, which was blocked off, to gawk at the situation unfolding. Restaurant busboys and servers, employees from other banks, retail salespeople, office workers like myself, condo residents, postal service employees, moms with kids in strollers, old people with walkers...all gathering to watch and wonder.
And I found myself asking, Why? What is it about human nature that makes us want to watch? To know what's going on, even when we have no real connection--save conincidental proximity--to the situation at hand? After a few moments I walked back to my office, grabbed my purse, and then headed out to my car to run another errand across town. When I returned to the area about half an hour later, the number of police cars and personnel seemed to have tripled, the streets blocked off doubled, the crowds moved back and out of sight line from the building in question, and there were scores of high school students milling around the garage where I park. School had let out while I was gone, and curiosity and boredom had drawn skaters and cheerleaders alike to the area.
I checked online for news when I got back to the office, and found that NBC5.com is reporting on the situation, and updating it frequently. Apparently also while I was gone, dozens of people were seen running from the bank under police guard. The latest update says that at least one person is still being held hostage, and that while the scene is a bank, the incident is not a robbery or attempted robbery.
Even as I write this, and refresh the news page every few minutes, I wonder, why do we watch? Why am I so hungry to know? The scene will continue to unfold, without my surveillance, and I can just learn about it all on the news tonight when it's all over. And so although it's difficult--for reasons I can't really define--I will turn my attention back to my work, try to tune out the whir of the helicopters, and finish up for the day as I say a prayer for the police and the hostage(s) and the one who felt so desperate that he turned to this.