By Ken Trainor
Now that Jassen Strokosch is safe (we don't really know about "sound"), the rest of us are left with a lot of relief and a whole lot of questions and reactions, judging by the comments flooding OakPark.com after we posted the update Friday evening.
We don't know why he disappeared for two days, but some would like to know, some seem to think they know, and some absolutely do not want to know and don't think the rest of us should either. The back-and-forth online has been emotional and often personal. Some comments fiercely defend the family's right to privacy. Others fiercely defend the right to know since this was a person who had been in the public eye and because taxpayer dollars were expended in the effort to find him. And some are skeptical that this story would have gotten as much attention if the missing person had a lower profile or a different skin color or gender. In the comments, you'll find the usual castigation, speculation, and name-calling, along with those who are just flat-out thrilled he's "alive and OK," as the family's Facebook page put it.
Lots of pressure points, and this is the kind of story that hits them all. We're living in crazy times – crazy weather, crazy politicians, crazy people with guns, a crazy economy. Lots of uncertainty, lots of vulnerability. Everyone's on edge and emotional. Add to that the stresses of raising a family and establishing or maintaining a career.
Behind our well-kept facades and all that curb appeal, families have their turmoil. It can be even more complicated in midlife when internal turbulence is a predictable part of the human development road map. We all want to be the Rock of Gibraltar for our kids, but we're human and subject to emotional tidal swells.
I don't know Jassen Strokosch, but whatever he's going through, I sympathize. Fortunately, he seems to have a broad support system. He's been actively involved in his community, so he has plenty of connections. That should help.
But because of all those connections, and that relatively high public profile, people can't help wondering what happened. To suggest that there's something wrong with wondering is, I think, unreasonable. People are curious. When someone goes missing, it makes sense to publicize it to the max. When that person is found, you can't expect everyone to shutter their curiosity. People are inclined to speculate, and speculation, as we all know, can range pretty far afield.
Part of that speculation, directed at the media, is that we're only interested in someone like Strokosch because he's white, male, and, to some extent, prominent. A few inevitably trot out that horribly stale stereotype that we're only covering the story to "sell more newspapers" (it doesn't). We're interested for the same reasons you were when you read about it. It's a mystery, we fear the worst, the family is horribly worried, and publicity might help resolve the situation. Because we live here as well, and many of us raised families, we also understand the pressure points.
What sells newspapers is community interconnectedness, which happens to be at the heart of this story. Community journalists are not insulated, isolated and removed. We're very much involved, just like most of you are.
For the record, every person in these two communities is "worth" covering if they go missing. Skin color, gender, sexual orientation, mental health, economic status, community involvement – none of that determines our decisions. I covered a story some years back about a kid who took off and was eventually found trying to track down his long-separated father. I'm sure his mother and the police would have appreciated a phone call letting them know, but that didn't nullify the importance of the disappearance. Terry Dean a few years back, covered the story of an African-American kid with mental disabilities who disappeared for a couple of days. He received the same coverage, which generated the same gratifying community response.
When people go missing, it taxes our police force (and those of other communities), but that's what we pay taxes for. Until foul play is ruled out, operating on a worst-case scenario basis is the way to go.
Do I think Jassen Strokosch and his family "owe" us an explanation for his disappearance? No, I do not. If, because of all the concern aroused and resources expended, he and his family choose to release a statement explaining in general terms what motivated the disappearance and how he's doing, many would welcome it. But that's entirely up to the Strokosch family.
These communities are more interconnected than most. It is our strength. It's one of the qualities that benefit families during tough times. But the price of interconnectedness is often a reduction in privacy. They tend to be inversely proportional. Our lives are entwined — for better and for worse. For most, the tradeoff is well worthwhile.
We all hope for strong support should we ever need it. The more actively involved people are in their community, the more support they tend to generate in troubled times.
As the old saying goes, "Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a great battle." Some of those battles happen to go public. Whatever Jassen Strokosch is going through probably would not surprise most of us. We've all experienced meltdowns, pedestal falls, crashes and burns. We can all sympathize.
And we all wish this family well.