4/16/2007

Tragedy at Virginia Tech provokes reflections

Like many of you, I've been glued to the media today. I first heard about today's horrible tragedy when I got the daily news briefing from WVTF. There was something about a shooting at Virginia Tech. This was just after my news shift, and I was in the process of disconnecting myself from the Internet for a tiny break. I had planned on walking my dog. So, it went to the back of my head.

I don't really consider myself to have much of a connection to Virginia Tech anymore. I graduated with a degree in history and political science in 1995. I made myself leave the summer afterwards, because I had seen so many people just stick around town, caught in the gravity well of a lovely, quiet small town. While I enjoyed Blacksburg, I hadn't had the best of experiences at the school. I always regretted not applying to the University of Virginia, and I had my first career disappointment when the upstart college newspaper I ran went out of business.

I don't know why I chose Virginia Tech. Part of it had something to do with liking a girl who had been admitted there on early decision. I even went out with her once or twice, but it didn't go anywhere.

Of course, I've been back to the school several times since graduation. Various football games, nostalgia trips, and of course, I've been there as a reporter. In October of 2001, I went to a press conference on homeland security issues with then Governor Gilmore. At that time, the nation was reeling in uncertainty, wondering what was going to happen next. And today?

Well. I don't know. I'm kind of numb after scouting around for every single detail I could find, trying to figure out what I would do if I was on the ground as a reporter. I was writing imaginary newscasts, figuring out angles, trying to understand the timeline so that I could ask further questions.

At about 12:00 today, I learned along with the rest of the country just how many people were dead. I couldn't believe it when I saw double digits. The numbers jumped so quickly from one to twenty. I scoured everything I could looking for confirmation. How could this be? Was it real? Was it over?

I've been on the edge of tears several times today, when the enormity of today's proceedings became clear to me. I lived for two years in Pritchard, right across from West Ambler-Johnston, where the first shootings occurred this morning. The girl I liked lived there, on the fourth floor.

I spent so much of today trying to remember which building Norris was, and if I ever had a class there. Rather, if I ever skipped a class there.

The strange thing is, the power of it all was much stronger before I turned on the television. Once I started seeing the same repeating loops on CNN and MSNBC, it became a job of sorts. Trying to figure who who was reporting what, what was wrong. I watch the same footage again and again, one other echo of September 11, 2001, when for the longest time we didn't know anything, and they didn't know anything, and so we all watched the same scenes again and again.

Except this time, it was my school, my university. The farther I get from my time at Tech, the more I fond I get of the place. When I lived in Canada, I managed to watch one game on CBS. This was when Michael Vick was the superstar who took us to a National Championship game. I loved seeing a glimpse of my dorm room in the establishing shots before and after commercials.

This time was not the same experience. This is not how I wanted to see the beauty of the Hokie stone on national television.

My prayers go out to the families of those who lost someone today. That's about all I can say, really. There's nothing that can be done, except maybe for all of us to try to be understanding of everyone else. What prompted the as-yet-unnamed assailant to do this? I don't know. And I got sick of the television people speaking in generalities with school shooting experts.

But you know, they're just doing their jobs, trying to tell people what's going on. If I'm to really live the homily I just wrote in bold, then I have to come to terms with that. At heart, all of us are just people who want to get through our lives with as much happiness and security as possible.

The actions of one man took that right away from 32 other people today. By the time it comes to do the news again in seven hours, that number may be larger. Certainly, people who escaped with their lives are also not going to have an easy time of it.

We live in a mad, uncertain world. We're all bundles of nervous insecurities. Does it have to be this way? I don't know. I do know that it's important to remain optimistic that we can fix the problems of the world, despite the evidence to the contrary. I love being alive. I figure other people around me are as well. I love feeling joy, and feeling connected to other human beings, and feeling that I'm part of something special - existence.

The tears still aren't coming. I've also stopped checking websites. I'll wait until morning, because I don't know if I can do anymore right now.

No comments: