“We are strong, and brave, and innocent, and unafraid. We are better than we think and not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imaginations and the possibilities. We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears and through all our sadness.
We are the Hokies.
We will prevail.
We will prevail.
We will prevail.
We are Virginia Tech.”
– Nikki Giovanni, 4/17/2007
There is much navel-gazing going around about Facebook today, because today was its 10th birthday. Where will it go? What will it become? What has it done to our society?
While I don’t have the answers to any of those questions, I do have one very, very strong memory of Facebook from a very sad time a very long time ago… a memory and a use case I felt compelled to share, because that’s what you do on an important birthday, you share important feelings and memories to mark the occasion. While my feelings about Facebook are many and complex, its servers are the only place on this earth that friends, classmates and professors still exist and I will never, ever, ever forget what they did for us without even knowing it on what was absolutely the worst day and the absolute saddest week of our lives.
tl;dr Dear Facebook, Thank you for turning Maroon and Orange–I’ll never forget it. Love, a Hokie
After yesterday’s bombing during the Boston Marathon, we have another date in April by which to mark a tragedy. April 15th is theirs. April 16th belongs to those who were killed at Virginia Tech. April 19th is for the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing and for Waco, TX. April 20th is for those who were killed at Columbine High.
This is not a very good week for us– a very not good week for us indeed.
Much of yesterday’s media coverage and social media discussion encouraged focusing on the good that prevailed in the face of the terror that has killed three and injured 165+ more. Look to the first responders who immediately ran towards the bombing to help those who had been hurt. Look to those who opened their homes to runners who were unable to make it home because their cars and hotels were inside of the evacuation zone. Look to those who, immediately after running a marathon, gave blood, offered their services as doctors and nurses and as concerned human beings to those who needed it most. Look to the good in the world, it has been said, and in this they are not wrong.
After six years of knowing the pain that comes with senseless tragedy, the only thing I know is that I know nothing at all. I have found in this time, though, that if you look for it, you can find hope and solace in the people around you. There are millions of people who you’ve never met who are thinking of you and who are praying for you, many of whom who want to help and will do so if they find a way. In time, the physical wounds (if you have any) will heal– and so too the other more indiscernible wounds will follow.
And if all else fails, a wonderful little band called Guster sings it best:
When all is shattered
When all your hope is gone
There is a twilight
A nighttime and a dawn
With hand in hand
When hope is gone
Just hang on
I know it is coming, because I can feel it inching closer and closer with every fiber of my being.
“It,” in this case, is the anniversary of the worst day of my life. That day, April 16th, 2007, was a cold and windy Monday. In the early hours of the morning, a gunman shot a student and an RA in West Ambler Johnson. After a brisk walk downtown, where he stopped at the post office to mail a videotape to NBC, the perpetrator of the early morning shooting headed to Norris Hall. There, he chained the doors to the building and, around 9:47am, he began a shooting rampage that lasted for only a few minutes. After taking the lives of 32 students and faculty at my university, the gunman turned the gun on himself and took his own life.
I’ve thought the shooting every day since it happened, for 2, 188 days to be exact. I’ve had time to think about my classmates who died, about the girl I had known since we were five years old in Sunday School at the church down the street from my Grandaddy’s house, about the first responders who had to see the bloodshed and carnage firsthand. I’ve had 2,188 days to grasp what has happened.
The rest of the country, specifically those in charge of it, has had that long to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. And yet…
When I look at the state of things, I’m disgusted because I feel like our loss wasn’t big enough to change things, despite it being the biggest in US history. At times, it feels like the deaths of my classmates were in vain, that any good that could have come out of them never met its full potential, that the suffering and the pain that we’ve all endured weren’t big enough or important enough to ensure that it could never, ever happen again. On average, a mass shooting happens every four months in the United States. How many of those could have been avoided if people took the opportunity six years ago to make sure that something similar could never ever happen again, not just in an educational setting, but anywhere else in our country?
Sure, a commission was formed to answer the questions surrounding the shooting but the report they completed was riddled with factual errors. The $10 million spent in the aftermath of the shootings went to on-campus security measures to ensure that it could never happen there again… but that was for one campus, not all of them. Lots and lots of money was thrown around to cure the ills that were brought about by the shootings (not enough, though, because it was a six month wait to get an appointment with a therapist), but how did writing some laws and installing locks on doors help? Where were the widespread preventative efforts to make sure this didn’t, couldn’t happen again? What does it say about us that we let what happened in the parking lot of a Safeway in Tuscon, AZ., what happened in Aurora, CO, and what happened to those young, innocent children in Sandy Hook, CT come to pass, when surely other courses of action could have been pursued?
It has been six years, and another body of students will spend their lives fighting PTSD, anxiety, and all that comes with a school shooting. More parents, this time of younger, more impressionable little persons will grapple for answers and will search for answers that just don’t come. More communities have been and will be torn apart until something is done.
Ours was the biggest mass shooting in history, and for six Aprils I’ve feared the moment that I turn on the TV to find that another similar tragedy will have overtaken ours, that more people on a larger scale will so intimately know that through which we’ve worked so hard to prevail. We need more than partisan discourse and a few meager laws to change things, we need decisive actions that impart huge obstacles to those attempting to procure the weapons through which such terrible, horrible things can be done. We need to do everything in our power to make swift and strong decisions on gun control and on supporting mental healthcare. We need to do it now, before the other shoe drops and something worse that what we’ve already seen happens. Anything less would be dishonoring the lives of all that we’ve lost to these massacres, absolute folly for a society that is supposed to value life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.