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Sunday, April 22, 2007

VA Tech Shooting - A Tribute

I’ve refrained from blogging on the subject of the VA Tech shooting so far - for one thing, millions of people are already doing it, and I suspect that I have not much to add in terms of useful insight and analysis. For another thing, every time I do try to write something sensible on any aspect of it, I just end up in a tirade. So for now I just want to offer a tribute to the fallen. I’ll tell you right now, this one’s a real downer, so if you’re looking for a light-hearted chuckle, you should probably scroll down past the end of it. Maybe next week we’ll talk some more about the pathetic radio stations in the DC area, or make a list of thing that taste bad after brushing your teeth, but for now, right now, it’s time for mourning.

I’ve got the song “Death Letter Blues” by Delta bluesman Son House on my iPod, and frankly it didn’t mean a whole lot to me before last week. I did listen to it occasionally as it’s a catchy blues tune in the Delta style, which I really enjoy. It basically captures the complex issues of love that are unavoidably dredged to the surface when one side of a relationship ceases to exist. I’m sure the late Mr. House wouldn’t have given it such a pointy-headed explanation, but who’s writing this column, him or me?

I got a letter this mornin’, how do you reckon it read?
It said, "Hurry, hurry, gal you love is dead"
Got a letter this mornin’, how do you reckon it read?
You know it said, "Hurry, hurry, a’cause the gal you love is dead"

I grabbed up my suitcase, took off down the road
When I got there she was layin on a coolin' board
I grabbed up my suitcase, and I said and I took off down the road
I said, but when I got there she was layin on a coolin' board

I cued up Death Letter Blues on my iPod a couple of days ago on my way home from work. When I listened to Son House deliver these lyrics, the realization of the depth of the tragedy that occurred last week hit me like a wrecking ball. To no avail I tried to blink away the tears as I considered the number of lives, mostly young ones, snuffed out so pointlessly, and imagined the “death letters” that had to be delivered by various means that dark day. This was on a crowded commuter train; I was hoping the other riders didn’t notice.

Well, I walked up right close, looked down in her face
Said, the good ol' gal got to lay here 'til the Judgment Day
I walked up right close, and I said I looked down in her face
I said the good ol' gal, got to lay here 'til the Judgment Day

Looked like there was 10,000 people standin' round the buryin' ground
I didn't know I loved her 'til they laid her down
Looked like 10,000 were standin' round the buryin' ground
You know I didn't know I loved her 'til they began to let her down

It brought me back to my own college experience, which was a little more than five years ago. A lot of people think of college as “the best years of your life.” I wouldn’t say that’s the case for me; there were a lot of good times and a lot of bad times. I don’t regret it; I’m just saying I wouldn’t call them my best years.

Bruck, I thought this was going to be a tribute to the VA Tech shooting victims, not your personal pity party! Yes, I know, I know. Here’s what I’m getting at: the thing that kept me going through all the pressure, turbulence, and confusion during that time was hope: hope that all the hard work was going to pay off later with a good job and financial independence; hope that the throes of a turbulent love life was somehow going to lead to a stable, satisfying marriage and family; hope of eventually cashing in one way or another on all the deferred gratification.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m guessing that at least some of the students who were cut down that morning were in the same place I was at that time. So my heart is crushed by the specter of their hope being taken away from them, needlessly, just to satisfy the hideous cravings of a vengeful, hate-filled madman. They only had a few seconds, or perhaps agonizing minutes, to realize that their hopes were in vain.

Well, I folded up my arms, I slowly walked away
I said, "Farewell honey, I'll see you Judgment Day"
Ah, yeah, oh, yes, I walked away
I said, "Farewell, farewell, I'll see you Judgment Day"

You know I didn't feel so bad, 'til the good lawd sun went down
I didn't have a soul to throw my arms around
I didn't feel so bad, 'til the good lawd sun went down

I did not personally know any of the students or faculty who died. The closest I come is knowing people who know people who know people who died. Whatever I know about the victims personally is drawn from the bios in the newspaper and some of the individual stories that have been floating around the news and internet. Aside from the heroic efforts on the part of professor Liviu Lebrescu, not much about them really stands out for me - they were strangers before the shooting and they’re strangers now. It’s not so terribly relevant here which one was studying French and which one aspired to be a veterinarian, and I’m certainly not going to go into a tiresome discourse about how they might have done so much for mankind had they only been allowed to live.

What is important is that these were real people, and now 32 sets of hopes and dreams are shattered; 32 sets of family and friends now have the unenviable chore of holding funerals and burials that absolutely did not need to happen. 32 obituaries will discuss what the victim was studying or teaching, and in most cases, what direction they were planning to sail in their wide-open horizons. 32 sets of family and friends are left with only memories of what their loved ones said and felt and did before their encounter with fate in the cruelest month.

You know, it's hard to love someone don't love you
Ain't no satisfaction, don't care what in you do
Yeah, it's hard, …love someone don't love you
You know it don't look like satisfaction, don't care what you do

Got up this mornin', just about the break of day
A-huggin' the pillow where she used to lay
Got up this mornin', just about the break of day
A-huggin' the pillow where my good gal used to lay

Hush, thought I heard her call my name
If it wasn't so loud and so nice and plain

Bruck, what kind of tribute is this? Personally, I don’t think a tribute comprised of empty words is going to do much for anybody. I think the most fitting tribute that those of us who were spared violence that day can pay to those who weren’t, is to embrace life, and to wholeheartedly pursue the dreams that we are allowed to continue to hold, and appreciate all the more the opportunity to do so.

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