Tragedy in Virginia

I never should have decided to ignore the news this morning. Or maybe it was all for the best, being a father of two young girls myself, I find news of this kind of tragedy very difficult to sit through, and am usually reduced to a blubbering pile of worthlessness. So for good or for ill, I missed it. That is, until I came into work.

I’m of course talking about the shootings that have occured this morning at Virginia Tech, shootings that, with the number dead reaching 29, mark perhaps the worst school shootings in our nation’s history.

I didn’t think there was tragedy about today. I spent a quiet morning as I sometimes do, reading up on a book I’m supposed to write a review for, and taking breaks from that to solve riddles or play guitar. There was nothing foreboding about the vicious wind that whipped my car relentlessly about the freeway as I sped towards my wife’s work to sign our dreadfully close to late tax filings. Even when I showed up to work, everything seemed well in place; one of my coworkers had just returned from a vacation in Disney World and the rest of us were enjoying the fact that we were no longer having to make up for his absence.

Everything seemed fine until I dragged myself upstairs to see what was going on in other departments. I’m a playful kinda guy, and upon entering the sullen office jumped around and joked, but no one seemed disposed to joining me in my general mood of good cheer. Mistaking this for the typical malaise that inflicts the upstairs offices, I went about my business, looking for support I would need later this evening, and I was about to make my way back down to my office when something stopped me short.

One of the supervisors had her computer locked onto a live feed provided from MSNBC.

“What’s going on?” I asked as I loomed over her shoulder, trying to figure out what exactly she was looking at. I saw police cars with sirens wailing flood the screen, and a dangerous sense of foreboding began to fill me.

“You mean you don’t know?”

“Don’t know what?”

“I thought you were glued to the news…”

“I took the morning off. Marsha, what’s going on?”

“Shooting on campus.”

“Which campus?”

“Virginia Tech.”

“Here?”

She nodded. Virginia Tech isn’t exactly “here” as it is much closer to the Tennessee border than it is to the Atlantic, but given Hampton Roads’ lack of nationally recognized anything, Virginia Tech paraphanelia is about as common as Redskin stuff, and both are considered local.

“Is it still going on?” I continued to prod, somehow not able to make sense of the pixelated images rushing across her computer screen.

“No… He’s dead.”

“Kill himself?”

“They aren’t saying. He could have… Could’ve been the police…” Her voice croaky, her eyes affixed to the images, I tapped her desk as a means of saying good bye, and headed back downstairs to the office I think of as my secondary home.

I immediately logged on, scanning the internet headlines, trying to figure out what the hell was going on, and very few of the headlines actually registering in my head.

Instead, predictably, my thoughts immediately went to my daughters. Kalani is the loud one, the friendly one. The first time she meets you, she may seem shy, but if she sees you after that, it may as well be like you were a close family member. At almost three years old, she jokes, flirts, wrestles, and truly and honestly enjoys life. Camryn, is the quiet one, preferring a studious and reserved approach to the brilliant world around her to the socially engaging approach of her big sister.

They’re both in daipers, but already Kalani is getting pretty good at using the potty, and starting to thin out, losing the giant belly she got from a couple of parents who were very good at feeding her plenty of food. I know that one of these days I’m going to blink, and both of my girls are going to be driving and going out on their first dates, yelling at their mother and me for not letting them go out on a date with a certain boy, and then curling up in my arms in a fit of tears when said boy dumped them or treated them badly.

I know I’ll blink again, and they’ll be gone, sucking money out of my reserves so they can get the education I never had, nor most likely ever will have. It’s a cheerfully sad story, watching your children grow into adulthood, heart wrenching and yet the most worthwhile tale many of us will be apart of. We sit in our emptying nests wishing we could have them back filling our lives with laughter, and at the same time we stare out our windows waiting for them to fly, rooting for them to pick themselves back up and dust themselves off without our help.

It’s a painful story, and yet one we cling to, one we hope to see through to the end, reaching our own final resting place peacefully with the knowledge that the world is now in their hands, and probably better for it too. I go to sleep most nights with my head filled with these thoughts; Kalani running for president (and baby, you know daddy wants on your campaign staff!), or Camryn going on tour for some insanely popular rock band. Both girls making up a kind of unstoppable scientific tag team as they labor away at unlocking the universe’s secrets in some state of the art laboratory. Or maybe one of the girls writing some Nobel winning novel while the other is already working on the film adaptation before the book makes its second week on the New York Times best sellers list.

These are the dreams, grand and small, that we parents hold for our children, and we defend them with ferocity, the mere threatening of which more shattering to one’s soul than the threat of our own immintent death.

These are the dreams that are shaken and stab when something like this occurs.

This will all no doubt be politicized in some way or another. Even as I write this, no doubt there are countless pro gun bloggers pounding away words that scream that had the students been armed, they could have defended themselves, meanwhile proponents of strict gun control are likely out there pointing to this as yet another reason why our nation’s morbid fascination with guns is destroying our society.

We’ll hear arguments from all across the spectrum on any number of topics; guns, child abuse, peer pressure, stress, academic standards, teaching standards, and our own cannibalistic culture that has evolved away from the eating of human flesh in favor of devouring the needs and emotions of our peers.

We’ll hear it all, and forget the important things. We’ll forget that, yes, somehow we did fail someone, that all the right switches closed, and someone who was in need failed to get that need, but succeeded in getting a gun, and putting himself in place to end the dreams of fifty-eight parents, twenty-nine promises to the future. And we’ll also forget that as humans, we will in all likelihood fail again.

We’ll get caught up in the details, and maybe that’s for the best, because to look at the issue itself is so horrific. It’s easier to watch some documentary made a few years down the line, and seek to understand with logical indifference, or to pass judgement down on the parents, the children, the students, the teachers, and the institutions. We’ll get caught up in the story of how this happened, however it happened, whenever the story comes to light…

But we’ll also forget.

We’ll forget there are dreams that have been blown out like candles, private funerals, teary-eyed parents, and televised memorials serving as that final whisp of smoke and scent of ozone that lingers before the flame is forgotten completely, and we learn to move on again.

Or maybe not. I don’t know. Over the next few days and maybe weeks we’ll have scores of pundits and professionals and experts peddling the lessons of this tragedy over the airwaves, on television sets, and splashed across computer monitors. And some will be right, some will be wrong, and most won’t even know which they are, and really it’s all a very important part of the process.

But from me, I really only have a few simple things, and you can take them or leave them, it’s up to you. Cherish your children, take this opportunity to hug them, and to love them, and to share your dreams about them with them, and likewise share the dreams they have for themselves. But don’t take this opportunity to shy from the world. We are flawed. We may never be able to prevent something like this from happening again, or if we do, the cost may be too high. No matter how hard we work to make the world better for our children, it will always be dangerous. And we have to know this, understand this, and send our children out there anyway for only then will they have the chance to become as great as we all hope and dream they can be.

And the parents of the fallen. I think it’s important to not forget them. I think it’s important to know that today twenty-nine dreams died, builders of bridges and buildings and civilizations, translators of the languages of the earth and cosmos, healers of wounds, and leaders of the free world. We should remember what they have lost as we too have the same very thing to lose.

For those parents for whom the worst of tragedies have occured, we, as part of this great national family, should offer our tears and hopes and most importantly dreams. We should offer to them our dreams and promises to the future because they have just lost theirs.

Update: Ayuh, I swear I didn’t see this until after I posted… Madame Malkin makes me look like I’m psychic. Hat tip to those wonderful folks over at Newshog.

Update (2): Current body count is now up to 32, 31 if you don’t count the gunman.

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