Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Virginia Tech

People are reeling from Monday's tragic shooting at Virginia. Some are still in shock. Some have begun mourning. I hope that others have begun healing.

I don't have any friends or family immediately affected, but the some-degrees-of-separation reports begin to trickle in. One friend's nephew-in-law checks in safe: he was lazy that day and hung out in town instead of his engineering class. How many people with similar stories are gratefully counting their blessings?

Though man-made tragedy explodes out of the blackest cancers festering in the human spirit, ironically it strengthens and liberates the best we have to offer, often to our own surprise and wonderment. At the edge of the unimaginable, we are faced with two choices: what's best for me vs. what can I do to help.

People's response in the moment to the Tech shooting bear witness to heroism on every level. Consider the Blacksburg Transit bus driver passing by campus who stopped and picked up fleeing students, many of whom were injured from jumping out of windows-- his bus becoming an impromptu ambulance. Give gratitude to Liviu Librescu, a 76 year-old professor and Holocaust survivor who barricaded his classroom door with his own body so his students could jump out the window before the gunman burst in.

As the media stream gains momentum, more of these stories will percolate out to the public. Yet even more heroes will go unnoticed except by the one or two people whose lives they touched and forever changed.

These heroes who chose option B are the people we call selfless
. But the self-seekers who opted for the "me first" route don't get the paradox that we are most ourselves, most fulfilled and most richly rewarded when we are giving. Tragedy shoves unmistakable opportunities to give of ourselves right in front of our faces. We sometimes need a reminder that these opportunities arise countless times in the course of any mundane day, with such subtlety as to pass unnoticed unless we're seeking them. Opportunities to touch a life, to change someone forever, and as cosmic payback, to know that intense gratification and fulfilment.

The seed that births victory from tragedy lies fallow all around us. Even more than heroism in the face of disaster, perhaps the ultimate victory over tragedy is to sow that seed independent of catastrophe.

As I write this, movement outside my window catches my eye. A man in camouflage, rifle over his shoulder, strolling along the front of my house. It's Marty, walking back from the grove--some unsuspecting species must have just come into hunting season. That split-second of confusion before I realize who it is reminds me that both disaster and peace can strike at any time. I have just as much responsibility as heroes on TV to find-- or create-- the blessing in both.


  1. When I heard what Librescu did, I just about cried. Sacrifice always does that to me. My life for another's is a good trade.

    Wonderful post, and wonderful thought.