Monday, April 16, 2007

Two floors below the shooting...

is where the son of one of my neighbors slept while the first of two waves of senseless violence rolled over the Virginia Tech University campus this morning. "He is safe," his mother reported in an email sent to the entire neighborhood. She was grateful for all the calls and emails of concern sent to her by those who knew where he studied. We are all grateful that he is safe and sound.

I was sitting in the customer waiting area of the Town and Country Toyota dealership in Charlotte waiting for my minivan to pass the state inspection when I first heard the news. Yet another campus shooting in this violence-saturated nation of ours. "This is the worst shooting rampage in our nation's history," the reporter said. I scribbled frantically in my journal: why do such statistics even need to be kept?

Jack Cafferty on CNN said that he scrolled back through his mind's databanks and 25 years of reporting and confessed that he couldn't come up with even half a dozen shooting incidents of this nature - on school campuses - anywhere else in the world. He wondered aloud, as do millions of people all around the world, why we Americans have the monopoly on this type of action. Why do we do this to each other and to ourselves? In an Amish one-room school house? In a shopping mall? And far too often, in our large suburban "safe" schools?

What is it that drives men - and it is most often men - to pick up guns, enter schools, classrooms, dorms, and libraries and shoot unarmed people? And why are they so cowardly that they then kill themselves rather than stand up and take credit for their actions? Rather than having to give an explanation for their behavior? What pain does a person have to suffer, what depth of sorrow must he have sunk into, what comprehensive despair must take over a person's psyche that they can gun down other human beings for no apparent reason?

Perhaps this man, whoever he was, left a letter of explanation.
Perhaps he was abused by other students. Or by his parents or other relatives.
Perhaps he was mistreated by professors or the administration.
Perhaps he was angry about an unfair school policy. Or a national policy.
Perhaps he was deranged, insane, and suicidal...
no "perhaps" applies to this guess; he was all that and more.

But still I ask: why? What lessons can we learn from such acts?

More funerals. More memorial services. More caskets. More photo montages.
More discussions about guns, the right to bear them, and why we as Americans are so quick to choose this particularly gruesome way to leave a mark in the record books.

Here's a sobering statistic: One quarter of a million, that is 250,000, 9 millimeter handguns are manufactured in this country every year. Every year. And that's just that one kind of gun. Sure, a portion of them go to the military, but lots of them, far too many of them end up on our streets, in our homes, and in our schools wielded by maniacal killers.

Suicide bombers are no less heinous or random in their destruction.
"Regular bombs," like the one in Oklahoma City, are horrific.
Drive-by shootings claim still more innocent lives.
The anniversary of the Jonestown massacre is upon us...
nearly 1,000 people killed themselves in November of 1978,
almost thirty years ago now.
Man's inhumanity to man, to women, and most often to our defenseless children.

Being the eternal optimist and pacifist, I keep praying for peace.
The peace of God that passes all understanding.
The peace that can rule in our hearts and in our world.
The peace that convinces us to stop choosing guns
as a means for protection or retaliation.
The peace that we choose over and before and after everything else.

And I thank God that Sue's son was on the 2nd floor and not the 4th.
Two floors below the shooting.

Lord, have mercy.

1 comment:

Maya Stein said...

Thank you, Gail, for your thoughts here. It's hard to describe the inexpressible, the unnameable, the unfathomable, and yet you did it with such grace and intelligence. This tragedy is so...confusing and confounding. The attention and focus this event is getting compared to the massacres that are happening daily abroad...our sense of scale is so often skewed when death is happening within our borders. I'm so relieved that your friend's son was spared, by chance or luck, or the powers that be. The preciousness of life, the respect we must have for the gift of it...your writing reminds me to give thanks...

blessings to you,