We could all of us unravel

Published 6:27 am Wednesday, March 9, 2011

It is the feeling of watching a slow-motion train wreck, holding our collective breath as we wait for the impending crash

Maybe, it is that pull to rubberneck when we pass an accident. Perhaps, it is our curiosity at the sight of a police car with flashing lights sitting behind a pulled-over vehicle.

There is something in us that wants to know what is happening, something that wonders about the story taking place while we go on with our lives. Whatever “it” is, it is alive in the swirl going on around Charlie Sheen.

Now, I know some people are reading these words and saying, “No, not a column about Charlie Sheen.” Maybe they are right, Mr. Sheen probably doesn’t need more attention, but this isn’t so much about him as it is about the fact that his story is everywhere from television news to the New York Times.

I wondered what our fascination with such things says about us. All right, I know someone is saying, “I’m not fascinated with Charlie Sheen.” I’ll grant that this particular situation might not be an attention grabber for some, but I’m betting something similar has, at some time, been a “grabber.”

This morning I read comments posted on the New York Times Web site following a story about Sheen. All these folks saying how they are glad the studio fired him. They decried the attention he‘s getting. They ranted about people’s interest in him when there are other more important things going on in the world.

While they might have valid points, their outrage loses some of its power when you consider they are following the story or they wouldn’t be posting a comment. I had to laugh when that thought hit me.

So, what makes us look, listen and discuss what seems to be someone self-destructing? I don’t know if I can answer that question for society at large, but I can do some self-examination and maybe learn something about me.

To begin, I admit I’ve watched the interviews with this actor (it’s that rubbernecking at an accident thing kicking in I guess). And, a bunch of thoughts raced in as I listened to him rant about tiger blood and goddesses.

First, came judgment.

“He’s a nut. He’s a spoiled rich guy who thinks he’s more important than he is, etc.”

Then, a bit of superiority kicked in, a close cousin of judgment.

“He may be a celebrity with lots of money and fame, but my life is sure better than his appears to be. I’m so glad I’m not that crazy.”

Oh, and make room for condemnation, also related to judgment.

“Behaving this way — he deserves whatever he gets. The rest of us can’t go around acting out, why should he get away with it?”

Finally, after patting myself on the back for how much better I am than some nutty celebrity, I looked at the image of this man, really saw him beyond the glare of the cameras and heard him over the noise of sound bites.

I saw wildness in his eyes, a lost empty look, and said to myself, this is a person in trouble who doesn’t even know he’s in deep trouble.

So what is my lesson in this Charlie Sheen madness?

That I, that any of us, have the potential for unraveling; it’s part of being human. What saves us is grace, love and having people who care about us.

Will I stop watching the train wreck that appears to be Charlie Sheen’s life and other future train wrecks that get media attention? Perhaps. Hopefully.

But I am human enough to know, I will feel that desire to look. However, if I listen for compassion in the midst of the judgment and condemnation, I might hear a small voice whisper, “There but for the grace of God go I, go any of us.”