Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Virginia Tech

I thought about writing many things. I ended up writing none of them. At various points yesterday I wanted to smash my head against the TV set or curl into a ball and cry. Instead I prayed. That is, until I talked to my daughter at Kent State last night. She was upset, scared. I don't blame her. I made it halfway through the conversation before I started crying. I missed her, and I was glad that I was talking to her, and I told her so. Events like the ones that transpired at Virginia Tech yesterday leave us all feeling raw and vulnerable. And if you happen to have a kid strolling around on a college campus, those feelings are intensified.

Katryn passed along some thoughts she received in an email yesterday from her friend Ben, who attends college in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I thought they were worth sharing with you. No doubt some will find his thoughts idealistically naive. I will not be one of them.


On April 16 at 1:05pm reports from a shooting at Virginia Tech University are showing 22 dead and 28 wounded. A young Asian man opened fire in a residence hall early this morning. Later he walked into classrooms in the engineering building, taking lives at random with two
9mm hand guns. After leaving one particular room, the students barricaded the door before the shooter returned and tried to shoot more students through the door. Eventually he took his own life. Details are still slowly coming in.

As I sit in the lounge of one of the girls' residence halls, I can't help but consider my surroundings. A student sits on a couch across from me playing a game on his computer. A few girls pass through, both ask 'where did this happen?' before continuing into the hallway. A pair of housekeeping workers gathers trash and vacuums the floor. The two girls who have been sitting with me exchange shocked expressions of disbelief. 'I can't imagine...', 'oh my gosh...', '...this is so horrible', '...how can this be happening?' one calls her boyfriend to pass on the somber news; the other quietly sheds the only tears I see from anyone.

I’m pretty close to joining her. I’m not exactly sure whether it's directly because of these events or because I know that within many college campuses, but especially outside them, people will look on these events, say 'how sad,' realize that it didn’t happen to them, and move on with their lives. This is the nature of our existence. Sad things happen every single day. Horrible, unspeakable things. Babies in Africa have AIDS. A man in Grand Rapids sleeps on the sidewalk. Little boys in Uganda watch the murder of their families and are brainwashed into becoming soldiers themselves. Little girls in Thailand are forced to have sex with rich, American businessmen. There are orphans in India. People can’t eat. Everywhere. Staggering numbers of soldiers, civilians, terrorists, bearers of the image of God, lose their lives on a daily basis in Iraq. Luckily none of those places are where we are. A prayer is said at the beginning of my 2:00 class after I mention the tragedy.

I was in sixth grade when the world learned of the massacre at Columbine. Afterwards there were lots of lectures from adults about school safety and being nice to the weird kids; wouldn’t want to get shot. I don’t recall hearing about true compassion or redemptive
community. As Bill Clinton offered his support to those affected by the Columbine shooting, his troops were finishing one of the largest bombing operations in the Kosovo conflict. People talked about violent videogames and gory movies, German death metal and Marilyn Manson, gun laws and gun rights. No one talked about the bombing of Kosovo.

In the days and weeks to come I expect to hear, and not hear, similar conversations. A new generation of sixth graders will hear them and attempt to figure out for themselves how to put it all together. A new generation of parents in their late 30s will make their kid throw away a nice chunk of his CD collection and bring Grand Theft Auto back to EB Games. I wonder. Will any parents block CSPAN2 on their cable? Will they tell their children that George W. Bush isn’t the kind of thing a good Christian boy or girl should be listening to? Will kids have to get up really early on a Saturday to slip a Harry Truman documentary into the
DVD player, keeping the volume down low so as not to wake their parents and get caught? Or will parents shelter their children from things that are much easier to boycott and publicly blame? Will they continue to condone or at least ignore how the actions they deplore when put into media format, have been put into real-life practice, or policy rather, by the very same government they tell their children to respect, be loyal to, even give their lives for?

Something tells me that the young man at Virginia Tech wouldn’t have described Marilyn Manson, Quentin Tarantino, and Charlton Heston as his role models; people whose behavior or words he should emulate. However, I do not doubt that he grew up in a nation which ultimately glorifies violence, no matter how many games they rate M for mature. Something
tells me he might have learned from his American History textbook, and from every president he was able to remember, that violence is an appropriate way to resolve a problem, expand your borders, or enforce an ideology. It worked against Great Britain, it worked against the Native Americans, it worked against Mexico, it ended slavery (right?) it worked against Spain, it worked in Hawaii, the Philippines, Colombia, Germany, Russia, Germany (again), Japan, Italy, North Korea, Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, Cambodia, Libya, Syria, Grenada, Iran, Panama, Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Serbia, Afghanistan, and Iraq (again), so why
shouldn’t it work in Virginia?

The numbers are now up to 33 dead, at least 15 injured. In a scene of déjà vu, President Bush releases a short statement about the unfortunate incident and offers his condolences to those involved and his help to the university. Like President Clinton, he has no room and no foundation upon which he can speak of healing, forgiveness, compassion, or redemption, having necessarily set aside the teachings of Christ in order to embark on the path of personal, political, economic, and national prosperity.

It is up to us to begin the dialogue our federal government is unwilling and unable to have; a dialogue of understanding, compassion, and harmony between peoples of all nationalities, political leanings, religious sects, economic standings, and worldviews in order to address the real issues behind the countless atrocities that are taking place on this earth as we speak. We have the opportunity to redeem our culture of violence and work for peace and justice across the globe if we would only try.
-- Ben Robertson


John McCollum said...

Damn straight.

KarlandBethany said...

Well-written, Ben.

This is not idealistic musings, rather it is realistic reflections from a man troubled by what he sees and feels. Peace, compassion, and understanding are not born from violence, destruction, hate, and weapons.

These incidents that you list are the results of choices made by men; the answer is in human responsibility and decision-making. Gun control is not the answer. Psychology is not the answer. Campus security is not the answer. Censorship of violent media is not the answer. .

Too often, we play the blame game. We hear/say: "It's his fault", "It's my parents' fault", "It's the teacher's fault", "It's that driver's fault", "It's the other country's fault".

In roads to compassion and understanding come only when we start to take responsibilty and stand up for what is right and just.

The solution lies in the spirit of each human. We each have a "hole" in our heart and we choose how we fill it. If it's not filled with Christ, then it's filled with other crap.

* * *

Thanks for sharing, Andy.