Coping with war on the home front
For two weeks now, Americans have huddled around their television sets, hungry for news of the war in Iraq. Images on the small screen have formed a visual bridge of sorts from here to the desert. And the cacophony of war has drowned out many of the more normal sounds of home.Skip to next paragraph
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But now, as the newness of the war begins to wane, many people are looking around their living rooms and coming to one conclusion: It's time to build a bridge back to a more normal life. Time to spend less time with the folks talking on the tube and more with the people in the next room.
Jacqui Valerio of Melrose, Mass., has always found comfort in her large extended family. But now, she and her five siblings, who are very close, get together for dinner more often. "My mom is really trying to make an effort to have us over once during the week," she says.
Ms. Valerio's younger sister is also helping to strengthen the connections among them. She recently faxed or e-mailed phone lists to all family members. "We're making sure everyone can get in touch," Valerio says. And at the end of phone calls, "there are a lot more 'I love you's' when we hang up."
For Christine Jerome, her bridge back home began almost two years ago. Ms. Jerome, a Boston native, was living in Washington, D.C., at the time of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"I didn't have any friends or family there, and I thought, I want to be home," she says.
Now, back on familiar territory and contemplating a career change, Jerome is spending more time with her parents. She is also making an effort to strengthen and maintain all of her relationships.
"I have been starting to reach out to friends and family I'm not as close to. I'm sending an e-mail or a card saying, 'Hey, it's been a while. I hope everything is OK.' "
Jerome continues to closely follow the war, and like many other civilians these days, finds herself with renewed appreciation for the safety and comfort of home. "I'm not thinking, 'Oh, I'm by myself,' "she says. "Relatively speaking, I've got it pretty easy."
Not everyone can say that, however. Many people are still connected to the TV as if by an umbilical cord. And that, says Glenn Sparks, a professor and media effects researcher at Purdue University in Indiana, is not healthy.
"In America, we have moved away from each other," he says. "We're moving away from our network of relationships. [But] there's a mountain of research that shows that we are healthier - physically, emotionally, spiritually - when we are closer to other people."
It's no accident, he says, that after 9/11 people formed bonds with strangers, "because we were compelled to do that."
Sparks advises that if people want to watch the war coverage, that they not do so alone. Find someone to watch it with because, he says, TV has addictive properties and can profoundly affect people's moods.
"I would be tempted to plant myself in front of the TV set and watch and keep watching," he admits. But when people overindulge in the media - as he thinks many have done - their behavior may become dysfunctional. Their social and family activities can be interrupted, and they could become desensitized to human suffering.
It's important not to let TV "disrupt our whole social structure," he adds.
For some, a changed relationship with the TV leads to introspection or changed relationships with others.
John Petrocelli of Los Angeles has had the war coverage humming in the background almost nonstop. Yet, instead of cutting him off from reality, the TV has provided a gateway to deeper reflection - of both the world and his own life.
"I'm not going through the day just thinking, How am I going to make more money?" says Mr. Petrocelli, director of business development for a streaming media provider. "A month ago I was thinking about how am I going to get better at my job and how am I going to close a deal?"