Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Unthinkable

I was 14 years old in 1966 when the word "sniper" became a part of my lexicon. It was the year that Charles Whitman took a rifle up to the clocktower at the University of Texas, Austin. It was the moment I learned the world was really not as safe as I thought it was. It was a charged and irreversible moment. For some time afterwards, my friend Binnie and I walked around our small town and turned sniper into a verb. We wondered if people would "snipe" us; we were afraid of being sniped. We laughed and cried at our fear. We learned to be afraid.

I feel a very personal connection to Virginia Tech. My brother's stepson is a student in the Engineering Department there. Yes, I held my breath all morning yesterday until I heard that he was safe. My ex-SIL teaches there, as does a friend in the Mechanical Engineering Department. I have had family living in Blacksburg, VA since 1972, and I have spent many summers there on and off for nearly 20 years. I was admitted to Virginia Tech in 1988, after my first marriage ended, to resume my graduate work in literature, but chose to move back to California instead. Still, I have always loved Blacksburg and for many years considered it my second home. I feel very deeply about what has happened. I can hardly believe that such a little bucolic town has now become a place in our common history named for being the site of the worst mass murder (so far) in our country.

Yet, as senseless and horrific as all of these murders are, I see what they are not. They are not political. They are not state-sponsored. They are not acts of terrorism. They are the isolated acts of madmen exercising the randomness of their contempt for humanity. That does not diminish the pain they inflict, only the scope. As an adult, 40 years after Charles Whitman, I recognize that it is our responsbility to know the difference. As citizens we must mourn, but carry on. We should not be afraid to pursue the important work that faces our country today. It is not an insult to these poor victims for Congress to continue their investigations. The Senate Judiciary Committee will question Alberto Gonzales on Thursday, and that is how it should be. Mourn, but carry on.

We extend our deepest sympathies to the families and friends who lost loved ones at Virginia Tech.

No comments:

Post a Comment