Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Tragedy at Virginia Tech

The news came yesterday that 32 people, students and faculty, had been killed and many more wounded at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. It was surreal to grasp that a man could just walk into college dorms and classrooms and kill people at random. A news commentator opined that it would be days and weeks before we start to "understand" this tragedy. I wonder if violence in any form can/should be understood. To understand means it becomes logical, rational, the end product of a human thought processes. This is beyond comprehension.

It falls in the same category as ethnic cleansings in Bosnia, Rwanda, and Sudan, like the Nazi holocaust, the random shootings that occur in Philadelphia and other cities as a result of teen gang violence, terrorists who kill innocent people one bright September morning. It is the human stain, the original sin that moves us toward violence and destruction. Some biologists have said that simians are at their root a destructive species, they seem to enjoy ripping and tearing things up. One need only look at aspects of human history to wonder if our link to our evolutionary predecessors is not this aspect of primates.

As a Christian I stand at the end of Holy Week and Easter where the story of human destructiveness and violence is writ large. Yet it is clear that this is not what the God we claim calls us to. In fact its just the opposite. In Easter God says no to violence and killing, in the Paschal Mystery God allows violence and destructiveness to take its best shot and then shows us another more life-giving and authentic way.

Make sense of this? No. I refuse. What I can do is stand before this massacre in silence with my broken heart lifted to God. To stand in that awe-full silence which is God, to be still enough to hear Divine weeping. To say with all my being Kyrie Elieson, Lord have mercy on us! Its what I experience when I visit the Holocaust museums in Washington and Paris, its what I feel when a man who was shaving in his bathroom getting ready for work is killed by a stray bullet from the street where children have guns, its what I feel when we feel perfectly justified putting people to death in our society for "good" reasons.

I just finished an E-mail to my daughter who is a college student in North Carolina and who is in England studying this semester. I told her about the event and told her that it reminded me of how much I loved her and how unspeakable it would be to me had she been one of the vicitims. Its the natural human response to events like these. To grab and hold those precious to us, to speak our love for them in the midst of our grief for the victims of human violence. To let them know that this is not what life is about and that this is not the way the world is meant to be. It is a call to us to create a better world where the wounds of potential shooters are dealt with.

Its hard to understand the shooter as someone's child who somewhere along the way didn't learn all the life lessons that would equip him to deal responsibly and creatively with disappointment, failure and sadness which is part of all our lives. The wounded usually wound others. The walking dead want others to join them. And shouldn't we once again ask why we allow the walking dead to have access to instruments of destruction?

In the aftermath of this we should all hug our children, our partners, our friends, our family. Let them know how much you love them and how committed you are to their safety and how you would be diminished were they not in your life. If nothing else, perhaps this tragedy can produce an equal and opposite reaction of love. Too often we seek revenge. As a Christian I am called to something quite different.


At 3:05 AM, Blogger Olivia said...

Well put. Though these tragedies are often meant to tear society apart, they inevidibly bind us all together. I will be paying close attention to the aftermath of this disaster.


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