Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Shock of the Real

Cross-posted at Harrumph!

The Virginia Tech massacre has folk scrambling to identify. Of course, for those who loved or at least knew the dead or injured, we risk the worst sort of pretension.

I have my own minor connections and I sense the drive to claim this as a touchstone. Perhaps that need is more empathy than undeserving ownership.

As a nation and larger world, we certainly live in the post-tragic era. The calliopes of TV and cable and now internet news blare and blur real and imagined horror. For their purposes, every death is a tragedy, whether from predictable drug overdose or genocidal slaughter. There’s no need to distinguish if it fills time or space and brings in advertising.

When we do confront an event of true tragic proportion and nature, we can fail to grok and honor it. Such with the dozens of dead in Blacksburg.

I ended up turning off the local news as it cranked up its own cynical calliope. One station, for example, scrambled to pull B.U. students off the rainy streets. The reporter was actually asking the stupidest of provincial questions — What did it mean to them? Could it happen here? Us…us…us.

Well, it wasn’t about Boston or Boston University or who texted a friend at another Southern college to get likewise trivial comments.

My own pause-generating moments were only a little less trivial. I don’t know anyone who attends Tech, but my oldest son was flying and driving there on the evening of the murders. He has a new job that uses Tech facilities for its training.

A parent does not want to know that his son is heading into the mouth of hell, even if the day’s murders have finished, almost certainly. Yes, parents are like that.

My frame of reference on Blacksburg is now totally tarnished and skewed. I spent much of my childhood in Southern Virginia, not far from there. We spent time there and went to Methodist Youth Fellowship retreats on the campus. About the ages of my two youngest, I recall the beauty of the campus and the area. The students seemed huge and very confident to a teen.

Those visions are of another time in that place.

So, my eldest did send email to let me know that he would arrive late in the evening and did not anticipate any problems related to the massacre and its aftermath. That is partial reassurance.

I can only project what it must be like to have a child headed into a combat zone for more than a year.

Let us accept and reflect that the murders in Blacksburg are tragic. No matter how often and how badly the news outlets have misused that word, it is apt here.

This may lead to the level and kind of introspection and other examination that can do two things: 1) Help those dealing directly with the effects, and 2) Lead to decisions that may prevent another such tragedy.

We can never know what the young people murdered yesterday might have done. Some may have brought happiness or healing to many. Given the school, some may have become inventors or entrepreneurs bringing ease or creating wealth and jobs. Some may have become humanitarians. We can never know and the surmising is is yet another aspect of this tragedy.

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