Monday, April 16, 2007

The Virginia Tech shootings.

I'm sure we've all read about this by now.

I've been following this news all day (cursed lay-off!). It's kept my stomach in knots. I react this same way to any tragedy (as I'm sure a lot of us do); I internalize it, I imagine what it was like for the victims and survivors, I unconsciously conjur up feelings I had in the closest situations I have been in.

The worst I have personally experienced wasn't all that bad, but at the time I didn't know it. It was a fairly good-sized earthquake on February 28, 2001. I was working on the top (fifth) floor of an old warehouse that had been renovated into an office space - pretty commonplace in the Pioneer Square area of Seattle that I was working in. It only lasted about 45 seconds, but it seemed to go on forever, and as light fixtures were crashing down around us and bricks were falling down in the doorways, I remember thinking "oh my God, I could actually be killed here" and wondering what it was going to feel like when the roof fell on top of me. It was kind of surreal, and I imagine that if the roof really had fallen, I still would have been wondering how whatever was going to happen next was going to feel. There's just a feeling of detachment from what is really happening in a situation like that. Even in the hours following the earthquake, when I slowly realized that everything was okay, that everyone was more or less all right, there's a slow un-numbing period where you have to mentally and emotionally re-process every minute of it so that you can actually FEEL it this time instead of just numbly watching the world happen around you.

I know that story pales in comparison to horrible tragedies that many of you have been witness to. And I'm not trying to say that I have experienced what anyone else has - today, least of all the witnesses to this latest act of domestic massacre. (And, I'm not even going to touch upon the relation of this story to everything going on in the rest of the world - that is the job that is well-covered and much better discussed in other forums).

As I read about the shootings this morning, I tried to imagine how I, twenty-ish years ago, would have reacted, responded, dealt with what occurred. It was a different climate then - I think. No metal detectors in schools, no extensively visible campus security (although yes, it existed), and honestly not the slightest thought going into a classroom that someone could open the door and open fire. Those of you from my same generation (hey, it's not all that old) know what I mean. It wasn't that violence and idiocy and "terrorism" didn't exist - but it was farther away, or at least seemed like it. It wasn't something that we thought about in our everyday existence. Campus massacres such as these existed, but they were such a glaring anomaly - or at least, that's what we thought.

So has the world gotten more violent? Has terrorism (and regardless of the "rationale" behind today's shootings, yes - it is "terrorism" of a sort) really been sprouting up with more veracity around the world? Or are we as Americans only heightened in our awareness after 9/11? Twenty years ago, would we have written this off as a mentally ill person acting crazily? Is it possible to do so today (depending, of course, on what is discovered about the impetus behind it)? Is the world really crazier - or is our sense of judgement?

I know - too many questions, too early on. No one will ever know - or at least, truly understand - what happened this morning.

But all I do know is this ... I imagined today how those students and faculty and staff felt today. While not being able to remotely "know", I still felt terror, and confusion, and shock, and cried a little. The victims and their families, and the witnesses, and everyone touched by this are all in my thoughts and heart. I hope that someone better than me has some idea of how useless crap like this can be addressed and stopped/cured/whatever.


Scott said...

I remember driving one morning and hearing the first reports of the Columbine shootings in Colorado and what a horrible feeling came over me. I think that was the first time that hearing news like that really effected me. I didn't know anyone there, but I think it was the first time it really hit me that these things could happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time.

LSL said...

Hey, thanks for writing about this, Matter. I don't watch the news on television (I'm not nearly well enough to watch the news), but I did see a bit of the story online. It makes me worry for the students and their families, and just wonder how grief that big can ever be . . . healed or something. I was surprised to see somewhere that there's a memorial tomorrow. It just seems so soon. Can anyone even think of memorializing the victims? I think their heads are still swimming, trying to figure out if they're in a nightmare or if it really happened.

I appreciate your comments about internalizing it. It's just helpful to read about your thoughts and feelings.

Lewis said...

These are, indeed, crazy and unpredictable times. I feel so badly for the school, students, and family. It is a shame that this is a way of life for millions around our globe -- every single day of their lives.

john said...

This is a horrid tragedy for all those involved, either directly or remotely.
I can't begin to imagine what those families are going through.
Good post, very thought provoking.
Thanks Matt for expressing something we are all trying to analyze and digest.