The moment you hear the news, you feel pressure in your chest, like a lead weight pressing against your heart. Oh no, your mind registers numbly, it's happened again.
A wave of grief runs through you for the innocent victims caught up in something bigger and uglier than anyone could have anticipated, young lives cut tragically short by yet another gun-toting psychopath, families torn apart in a single afternoon.
And then--guiltily--you fervently give thanks that these weren't your children, that your family is intact.
In the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings, we will hear over and over again the same information: the methodical killer, shooting over and over again with a deadly calm as he stalks the campus, the shocked survivors somehow having the sense to "play possum" and go unnoticed in the midst of chaos, students barricading doors and tying make-shift tourniquets around bloody gun-shot wounds to save themselves.
Questions will be raised: did the police and campus security act quickly enough? Should there be sirens, alarms, an early warning system on college campuses? What about gun control? And the most disturbing query of all: What else could the professors who saw in this disturbed individual something frightening, some undefinable and yet somehow threatening quality, have done to keep all this from happening?
We need to ask all these questions. Not because we have a macabre curiousity about the minds of deranged killers, or because we are all sick voyeurs who need to experience vicariously the grief of the survivors and their families.
No, we ask these things to re-assure ourselves that we are immune, that we can't be touched by the same senseless tragedy. "It couldn't happen to me," we insist. "My family will never be threatened in this way. My children are safe."
But deep down inside we know the truth: it could happen to any of us.
We do the dead and injured, the suffering and the survivors a disservice when we suggest that had they simply done this or that, or if the police had just come sooner, or the teachers had just thrown this young man out of college, everything would have been all right.
The reality of the situation, no matter how hard it is to accept, is that we are dealing with a kind of madness here that none of us, not one of us, we who value life and love our families and treasure their lives and happiness above all else, can ever understand. There is no "why" that will explain it all to anyone's satisfaction, no reason that could possibly make sense in this senseless crime, no way to turn back the clock and make empty lives whole once more.
All we can really do is suffer along with those families, sending out to them our compassion and our fervent prayers that they will somehow make it through all this, all the while thanking god that we don't know, and hope we never find out, what it really is they are going through right now.
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