Monday, May 14, 2007

Virginia Tech - Leave the rest to God

Mother's Day, May 13, 2007, was a day filled with unexpected joy and equally unexpected sorrow - the sorrow that swells the eyes with tears that stream down the face and it matters not because many others are weeping, others are silent draw within themselves from the solemnity and pathos of the scene, of the reality that from a distance is somehow real and not real. Sunday was a beautiful day at Virginia Tech, a cool breeze, a near-cloudless sky, rich green grass filling the Drill Field and then, a long white and blue tent, one of those affairs used for outdoor wedding receptions but there would be no wedding receptions for those memorialized within. And Sunday was my day to grieve for the tragedy and loss of that day nearly a month earlier - April 16, 2007 - a day that should be remembered, not as another in a list of school shootings, but as a day to stand with September 11, 2001. It is true the loss of life was larger in 9/11; our nation was attacked by foreign nationals linked to al Qaeda; and we could retaliate. But in Virginia, just as with the terrorist killings along I-95, the beltway and interstate near Washington, DC, there are no countries to bomb, no Taliban to go after, no al-Qaeda to condemn, and the terrorist attacks are treated as "crimes", not as what they are. But in Virginia, April 16, 2007 is our 9/11. At the site at Virginia Tech, the anger begins to well-up within me again... But anger has no place - not at Virginia Tech - not on this Mother's Day. Not on this hallowed ground of tribute and love. Today there is only grief. Even anger at all in our system that contributed to the senseless murders cannot diminish the grief, the sorrow, the anguish at the memorial to those fallen loved ones at Virginia Tech. Burruss Hall is the place of the memorial, it is the place of the vigils that took place and are still taking place. Dried flowers and fresh mark each memorial. The American flag and a candle in a red holder sits atop a wrought iron spike driven into the ground in a semi-circle at the rise of the knoll fronting Burruss Hall. The Virginia flag, rippling in a good wind, rests at half-staff. And down below, in the bowl of the Drill Field, the sides of the tent that houses the memorials to each man and woman flutters like the sides of battle-field tents of Knights of old. Norris Hall is to the right of Burruss Hall, set back from the road that circles the Drill Field. The hall is approached by a series of steps as the incline of the slight hill is climbed. Today, Norris Hall is a silent stone sentinel of the horror that took place there, now surrounded by tall dark-green mesh panels - it is closed; it is lonely. If one is very quiet and still, it is as if - for fleeting seconds, not hardly there - one can sense or feel the confusion of that day in April, the echoes of startled faculty and students, the shrieks of a maniac - a cowardly terrorist. Make no mistake, the perpetrator was a "terrorist" in any sense of the word. Standing under the shade of large trees 50-60 feet or so from the doors of Norris Hall, I could not help but have compassion for the emergency men and women along with the police and crime scene investigators, the school administrators who entered there and the carnage they faced - the utter shock and trauma - the pain; and the images imprinted upon their minds and hearts forever. Nothing calls your attention to Norris Hall. Your attention is drawn and focused upon the memorial to the men and women whose lives stood before them. A mother and father whose daughter had perished that fateful day were standing at the memorial - the flags, the mementoes, the candles, flowers, cards, poems, graduation caps - the gifts left by fellow students and friends in farewell. As is my way, I went up to them; they welcomed me into their aura of grief and circled me with their arms in a figurative sense. We spoke and I said, "Please know that Americans stand with you; we pray for you every day." The mother - with tears - said, "Oh, pray for us, we need your prayers. You know, I thought it was getting better, the distance and all but," her faced changed as the tears took over, filled her eyes, her features screaming at the depth of the grief, "it is so hard. This is Mother's Day." We talked but a few seconds more; the father shook my hand and thanked me for our prayers - yours and mine. And then, the mother stepped back, said something I don't remember, shook one hand with a firm grip and gripped my upper-arm with her other hand. With power and purpose, she said, "Hug your children. Hug them today." And that is how people move into and out of our lives - to touch us and to be touched in return. Tears ran down my cheeks. Mother's Day was the day to let in the grief that I had withheld in the wake of the murders, to walk across the Drill Field of Virginia Tech. To enter the tent that housed the individual memorials, to walk in silence among the folding boards filled with statements of farewell, of mourning, of honor to fallen friends and loved ones, of humility and love, to run the fingers over the tributes, the Bibles, the picture frames, the tassel from a cap never to be worn. Mother's Day was my day to grieve - we are all Hokies and we are none immune - and my day to say to all young men and women embarking into life who may read these words - with tears streaming down my face: "Don't you see that your parents want only the best for you? Do you see why they worry for you? Can't you sense in Austin's mother's love for her daughter where our enthusiasm and joy comes from? We, parents, pray for your joy and happiness. This is what parents do; it is our job-description! We love you! Can you - as our children - just for a time show some patience and compassion, some maturity, and know that in the shadow of every parent's concern is the knowledge - kept deep, hidden and NEVER spoken - that life is not promised to any of us?" We talk of Hokie pride; we will prevail. And that is all true; laughter will ring out in the halls at Virginia Tech. But, my God, the pain! The power and strength in the pain, agony, and anguish that shone through the eyes of Austin's mother told me she had reared a very fine daughter. Now, I remember the next to last words Austin's mom said to me as we stood in the semi-circle of flowers, mementoes, beads, gifts, "I am glad that so many people are getting to know my girl..." Yes, we are "getting to know her girl." This post is dedicated to the 32 following brothers and sisters of the Virginia Tech family and to all who knew and loved them in life: Daniel Alejandro Perez Cueva; Ryan Christopher Clark; Henh Ly, aka Henry Lee; Emily Jane Hilscher; Matt La Porte; Kevin Granata; Brian Bluhm; Nicole White; Reema Samaha; G. V. Loganathan; Mary Karen Read; Daniel Patrick O'Neil; Parthai Lombantoruan; Juan Ramon Ortiz Ortiz; Ross Abdallah Alameddine; Jocelyne Couture-Nowak; Lauren Ashley McCain; Weleed Mohamad Shaalan; Matthew Gregory Gwaltney; Caitlin Miller Hammaren; Rachael Elizabeth Hill; Jeremy Herbstritt; Liviu Librescu; Jamie Bishop; Julia Pryde; Austin Cloyd; Erin Peterson; Jarrett Lee Lane; Michael S. Pohle, Jr.; Minal Hiralal Panchal; Maxine Shelly Turner; Leslie Geraldine Sherman The names of the students and faculty were gotten from a sticker done by FastSigns, www.oracal.com. On the sticker are these words: Live Simply, Love Graciously, Care Deeply, Speak Kindly, Pray Daily - 4-16-07, "Leave the rest to God." [Note: this post will be modified and up-dated when I have the pictures to add.]

6 Comments:

Blogger Dumb Ox said...

Words to live by. Thanks.

2:21 PM  
Blogger Beach Girl said...

Dumb Ox, thank you and thank you for stopping by. Would you do me a favor and link to this post? Just a short post on your part. I want to see if your post gets linked.

Thank you. Also, this post is not a bad word to get out. Many people should know the dignity that Tech students and faculty + adminstration have shown.

7:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been looking for that Virginia Tech sticker everywhere! Could you please tell me where to find it?

MistakenMind@gmail.com

12:18 AM  
Blogger Beach Girl said...

Mistaken, they can be found at Tech stores in Blacksburg, VA. Beyond that, I don't know where to look.

1:59 PM  
Blogger Norris Hall said...

Please check out the link to this blog
http://norrishall.blogspot.com/

4:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ryan Clark and Erin Peterson are African-Americans. Their last names are not African, and their ancestors took the name Clark and Peterson from landowners.

5:21 PM  

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