Tuesday, April 17, 2007

My own version of candle-lighting

My heart breaks for the students at Virginia Tech. I got the CNN breaking news email mid-morning yesterday. 21 people dead. Why? No one knew. All day and night at work, between tasks, I listened online to interviews and incoming news of their tragedy. NBCs Brian Williams interviewed two stoic sophomores, one whose arm was in a sling from the gunshot wound he'd received that morning. Their eyes were hallow and shell shocked, and I wondered if they would be able to sleep that night, or if they would lie awake and wonder why, or if they would cry and wish they could be at home with their families.

This morning, getting ready for another day of work, I listened to the latest from NPR. Now there were 33 gone. I stopped dressing and sat on the bed to listen to an interview with a female student who had been taking a test in the building when the shooting began. "We thought it might be construction, like hammers, but then we heard horrible screaming and this terrible laughing." She told how another student herded them into a broom closet to hide, how they listened to the shots coming nearer, how she called her parents on her cell phone and then hung up to pray. Her story ended happily. The man with a gun drawn who burst through the closet door was a police officer. But by the end of the interview, tears were rolling down my cheeks.

In some small way, I recall what it's like when tragedy finds you in a place you thought was invincible. College was an idyllic world for me. The campus was safe, people were friendly. Nothing really bad happened there. Then one night it did. Someone's cigarette fell into the cushions of a common area couch and ignited a fire in one of the dorms. Must have slept through all the sirens because I didn't find out what had happened until my mom called me early the next morning to find out exactly where the fire had been and make sure I was safe. In the end, hundreds of students were "homeless," many had lost all their possessions, laptops with papers due the next day. And one student was gone forever.

My only interaction with Joel had been in the Media center of the library where he'd showed me how to use the Scantron grading machine for my works tudy job. Still, when I heard the news, I burst into tears. He was getting married to another student during the upcoming winter break. I didn't know her either, but I felt a tiny piece of her loss. The whole campus felt it. I remember lying in bed instead of going to class, feeling guilty that I couldn't do something more to help than donate clothes and toiletries. I remember hugging those who were safe when I hadn't even liked some of them much before. I remember standing in the candle lit chapel, holding hands with my roommate on one side and someone I didn't know on the other. Our campus came together in a way that it never had before or since. I know Virginia Tech will too.

People are resillient. We pull together, pull it together, and move on. Eventually we even put the tragedy to the back of our minds. I hadn't thought about the dorm fire in years probably. But for those who lost friends and loved ones, the road will be tougher, the path to let go of the pain will be longer. For them and for those who died, I send my thoughts.

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