Monday, April 16, 2007

32 people

A gunman has killed 32 people on the campus of Virginia Tech.

Listening to the radio, I heard terrified people speaking in accents I haven't heard since I moved up North. I saw pictures of locals on the Internet who have the sorts of haircuts you don't see anywhere in New York state. I started yearning for barbecued chicken and felt guilty.

I've been to Blacksburg any number of times in my life. Friends of mine from High School went for college. It's a small Virginia town not unlike the one where I went to school. At night, in the summer, the staticy din of crickets drones all night. The fields around those Virginia colleges look like a golden crewcut with jagged fence posts jutting up like jack-o-lantern teeth. In the fall, a pox of dead leaves turns the Mountains maroon and dead leaves bristle, irritated, underfoot.

And now a gunman has killed 32 people on the campus of Virginia Tech.

Such an odd sentence. A young man who was probably so many different things in his life, like all of us in this vertigo of multiple identities, and who could have been so many different things. Now he will forever be remembered as a gunman. A murderer. He killed 32 people, but people who weren't even old enough to be anything but children. Consider this- they're too young to remember Soviet Communism. When the Berlin Wall fell, they were three or four years old. Like my students, the don't even know who they are yet. Killed on the campus- this is the most painful part for me, and for all of us who imagine a campus to be a separate and a sacred place- a place of solitude where children of the world can go placidly, think patiently, and become the adults they deserve to be. A place that's not only safe physically- the least important sort of safety- but psychologically, intellectually, and emotionally. Students don't realize it, but the reason that we teach- all of us- is because this the way we share our love for the world with the world. Love cannot happen in an environment polluted by fear and pain. I hope the word 'campus' retains its older associations.

When these things happen, when the logical world seems to fracture and a void opens up swallowing the innocent- the mind scrambles to make sense of the events. The most sensible thing in the world is to want to explain these things to each other. See? Here's what was going on in his mind. Here's the explanation for the inexplicable. It is the most human of needs- the need to make sense out of a seemingly random and cruel universe.

And yet...

I simply don't want to hear the first person to say that this happened because of loose gun laws. I also don't want to hear the first person to say it wasn't ended more quickly because of restrictive gun laws. I don't want to hear the first person to mention 'the media', or 'violent video games', or 'the collapse of the traditional family'. I don't want to hear the first preacher to blame 'our sick culture'. I don't want to hear the inevitable passive-aggressive variations on 'the chickens have come home to roost', or 'well, I guess you reap what you sow.' I don't want to hear one single person use this tragedy to further their own agenda. To do so is evil. At one time, to do so was considered Phariseeism.

Because we are alone in this universe. And it can be cruel and random. And we cannot ever really know what goes on in the hearts of others. And maybe the mentally disturbed are even more alone than the rest of us. But, in the end, we will never have a legitimate explanation for this. You will never, ever know why this happened, why 32 people were killed on the campus of Virginia Tech today. And as you get older, you will come to understand how many things make no sense to you, and how very few things will ever make sense to you. And this, ironically, is wisdom.

But the world will keep turning, and the sun will keep setting, and this summer the fields in Virginia will have a golden crewcut, and in the fall the leaves will dry up and bristle underfoot.


Jill said...

Thank you for putting this so eloquently.

The Pagan Temple said...

Damn well put. I don't even want to post about this, precisely because it's way too easy to try to use it as an excuse to further or oppose an agenda. But you can count on that happening, and it will be hard to keep from being sucked into it.

People do that without even thinking about it, you will be hearing about it in all the churches, all the demagogues in politics and punditry, and in all the greasy spoons all over the country.

I think it's a natural reaction, people are so horrified, the only way they can deal with something like this is to talk about ways that things can be done about it, just because they think they ought to be able to do something about it.

Otherwise it's just another senseless tragedy they were helpless to prevent, so they have to do something to help prevent the next occurrence. Which if it happens is probably unpreventable.

Also a way they can give those lives more value than as just being random crime statistics that will otherwise be eventually forgotten by all but their families and friends.

Rufus said...

jill & Patrick: Thanks for the kind words.

Hiromi said...

A part of me says, At least these Pharisees give a damn. What I find more disturbing are people who deliberately adopt a pose of disaffected elan as if that were a virtue.

Rufus said...

You know, it's a hard call, isn't it? Because, at least, some of them are asking what we can do to prevent this from happening again, and that's a really understandable question.

I did notice that the professors at our university are deeply shaken by the event while the students seem largely indifferent, which unnerves me a bit. On the other hand, I suppose that people grieve in their own ways.

Maybe we need a one-week-moratorium on all attempts to explain what happened. What I was thinking about- and the reason I haven't been watching the news at all- was someone like Michelle Malkin, who, if I'm not mistaken, didn't even wait until the final death toll was in to say that this is what happens when a campus bans concealed handguns. Something about that just strikes me as ghoulish. But I do think that the debate over gun control is inevitable and will be healthy. Let's just take time to mourn first.

Hiromi said...

And then there's the "If SPIDEY were there..." contingent. IOW, "if there had been an armed and well-trained gunman *in* the room, then no one would have died!"

Someone made such a comment on my blog, and I like that person, so I can't rip her a new one. So I'll rip one here, if you don't mind.

Rufus said...

That's fine. Rant away.

I will say that I can't imagine anyone, in the end, will be more devoid of human decency, or even basic self-awareness than the posters at Free Republic who had this debate about whether the young men who got shot and killed were 'cowards', 'pussies', or just 'sissified' by our feminist culture-;page=51

Hiromi said...

Preeze don't ever redirect me to that site again. I had to stop reading quickly, since my brain cells were committing suicide in order to stop processing that information.

On second thought...I don't suppose it's parody? They *must* be having us on. Surely no one can be that vilely stupid;.

Rufus said...

I did consider including a warning. No, they're quite serious. In general, I think I need to end my morbid fascination with the 'freepers'. They're really quite bizarre.