A Tweet popped up on my screen early this morning with a link to the photos that captured the moments when journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee stepped off the plane and ran into the arms of their waiting family members. The only words my Twitter friend attached were, "I dare you not to cry."
I did cry. How could you not? The photos embody the relief, the gratitude, the great love, and also the overwhelming fear firmly affixed to the past 140 days when the two were detained in North Korea. [See the amazing slideshow here.]
The journalists were reporting on the trafficking of women for the American cable station co-founded by former vice president Al Gore, Current TV. Ling and Lee were arrested in March, charged with illegally entering the country from China, and sentenced to 12 years hard labor a month later. Former President Bill Clinton met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il this week and secured their release. Clinton accompanied Ling and Lee on a private jet back to the United States early this morning.
Wrapped up in the political negotiations between the nations, the legalities of crossing borders, the debate about freedom of speech, and the importance of investigative journalism into global issues, is the emotional pull of two working women suddenly, frighteningly seized from their freedom, their jobs, and their families.
Although Ling and Lee had not yet been sent to a hard labor camp, the possibility of it loomed over them, they said. Stateside, the families of the women held vigils, sent letters, and spoke out for the release of their loved ones.
"The past 140 days have been the most difficult, heart-wrenching days of our lives," Ling said.
Once off the plane, Laura Ling, 32, was reunited with her husband, parents, and TV journalist sister, Lisa Ling. Euna Lee, 36, wrapped herself up in her husband and 4-year old daughter, Hana. This freeze frame -- the tears and smiles and holding on so tight to each other -- inside the big storm of the situation is what got to me. I am not a reporter on the front lines nor have I ever been in true danger because of my work. But that moment of fear and relief, that spoke right to my heart.
I felt connected to that moment because it made me think about the choices we make as mothers -- as working parents -- that directly impact the rest of our families. It made me ponder the great weight our professional decisions have, how far beyond our own selves or work really goes.
I've personally been questioned about and even criticized for my choices to reveal details of my family life online. I've given careful thought to my boundaries, to what I hold as private for my son and me, and to our safety offline. But what it comes down to for me is that this work is what I do, this is a big part of who I am. It is how I sustain my family and is the passion that I want my son to see.
But what if those well-intended, carefully thought out choices put me in danger? What if my work included putting my life on the line?
I greatly respect the work that Ling and Lee did and I hope will continue to do. As a feminist, I applaud their efforts to find out the truths of women's lives. As a writer, I believe strongly in the right to broadcast those stories.
And still, and still...on the other side of the world, on the other side of this all are husbands and parents and a little girl. My heart aches for what must have been in their minds while Ling and Lee were detained and waiting for what could have been an awful prison term or a miraculous release. My heart is also drawn to the activism and passion and commitment that I can only imagine drove these two journalists across borders and to their story.
Dare or not, I knew I'd cry when I saw those photos. I knew all that emotion would fly off the screen and fill me up, too.
Laura Ling and Euna Lee are home. Their lives and choices are worlds away from my own, but I still feel all of that very close. Maybe that is because I am a working parent and a daughter putting myself out there. Maybe it is because I am a writer and a woman.
Or maybe it is because those photos are a reminder that our lives are much bigger than ourselves, and that our choices and their consequences are cast out to a much wider circle than we even know.
There, in the middle of the people grasping each other in gratitude and fear, is the question that may be too tough for many parents to answer: How much are you willing to put on the line for your work?
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[photos credit: REUTERS/Danny Moloshok via Yahoo! News and REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni via Yahoo! News]