Getting Shook

MADISON, 2:07 P.M. – ‘Virginia Tech Shooting Kills at Least 31,’ the news is so fresh it’s not even in ink. As it flashes on my screen, I shudder, and attempt in vain to comprehend the absolute madness of this violence, the depth of this loss.

But sitting here in the library, more than 1000 miles away from Blacksburg and the echoes of gunshots, I seem to be the only person visibly shaken by the events, holding my head in my hands. Everyone else is routinely clacking away on their keyboards, as they would on any other day. Perhaps they haven’t seen the news – or maybe they have, but it’s “just another school shooting.”

For me, today’s violence feels very personal. Everyone who went to college in my family went to Virginia Tech – I was the one who broke the line. Even though I’ve never been out to see the campus, the idea of the university stirs in me a certain nostalgia and respect. I did a project in the eighth grade about the history of VT and how it was connected to my family. I wanted to be a Hokie back then, though my life has taken a very different direction.

And so as the horrific details continue to trickle out, I can’t help but wonder, “What if I had been a Hokie? What if I had been on that campus today? What if it were my parents having to cope with my death?”

The problem with living in a society plagued by violence is that from birth we begin to be desensitized, necessarily developing a hard carapace that keeps us from being bleeding hearts every time another person is senselessly killed. This is the only reason we can breathe, let alone eat, night after night as we watch the news – watch as violence ravages Darfur, or as the hatred boils over in bombs and body parts in Iraq.

But then it hits home. And for some of us, this is when the hard exterior shatters, and something within bleeds with empathy. We hold back tears as we talk with relatives at how unbelievable it is, how senseless it is, how we simply can’t understand.

And frankly, I don’t understand either – I don’t understand why in this civilized society we are so prone to violence, or why tragedies on such a massive scale are allowed to continue because we’re so goddamned concerned about our right to own guns. Certainly, eight years after Columbine and over five school-shootings later, you would think we would act.

But we don’t. We get shook up, and for a moment we question everything – but then we just shake it off.

(Edited: 04/19/2007)

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