Sometimes we are reminded of our mortality. And invariably it scares us – it scares most people at least. Sometimes the reminder is the death of a family elder or a pet, or simply the coming of winter. Sometimes this reminder is more tragic. We’re impermanent and this is hard to accept, and often terrible to be reminded of.
Yesterday marked the worst campus shooting in American history and the second of the year at Virginia Tech (that’s right, this was not the first shooting this year for this school plagued with devastation). Over 30 students and faculty are dead and the shooter – a 23-year-old student – killed himself.
The situation was already headed straight for my heart. College kids killed in cold blood by a mad man – a fellow student (how do you defend against that?) – at a tech school. This brought me to tears. But ultimately, before yesterday, I don’t think I have ever really met someone from Virginia. But with enough chatter you find a way, whether you like it or not, to make it personal. My roommate’s friend from high school’s RA is one of the kids who jumped from a second story window fleeing for their life. Sure it’s disconnected – but then its not; it’s terrifyingly close to heart.
You read the stories and wonder what you would have done. I do at least. As stated, at least one kid jumped. Others hid under their desk and prayed they wouldn’t be next as they phoned loved ones for more information. Was it over? Where was he now? Others bravely barricaded doors and held them shut even as the gunman riddled their door with holes. Imagine this for a second – one of the students who survived by barricading the classroom door heard the gunman’s ammo-clip drop. After defining gunfire, and over the terrified shouts of his classmates, this student heard the attacker stop and take his time to reload. I can think of no sound more deliberate or more terrifying.
Then today it’s brought to my attention that my best friend’s boyfriend is from Blacksburg. His parents and grandfather are on campus daily. His father is often in the CS and Engineering classrooms. A huge percentage of his friends attend Virginia tech. And now her and I and all his friends simply pray it’s not one of their friends who were a victim.
It’s an odd but sensible prayer – to hope you don’t know someone involved in a tragedy. It’s a wish for disconnect. It’s a selfish wish that no one will ever blame you for having. Someone has to know them, we all know this, but please don’t let it be me. It’s a sensible hope – A tragedy is a tragedy; I wish it was no ones, but I can only hope it’s not mine.
People die senselessly every day and it wouldn’t make sense to mourn them all. The world would be a worse place for such endless grievance. But pay respect. This is not a time for humor. No one, not the campus administration, the victims, or the shooter should be the butt of a joke right now. This is not a time to point blame, or play mr/ms know it all. A human being committed a vile act of his own free will. Know one but him is to blame. If you must have anger and spite, he and only him should be your source. But my hope is when your anger subsides you will join me in my sense of mortality. Only we can give meaning to the incredibly limited time we have. These students – my peers – no longer have this option. We must give meaning to their loss. Life is short; do something with it, value it, cherish it, pray for longevity, and try as hard as you can to never spite this fragile gift.