Saturday, April 21, 2007

Blacksburg, Virginia

(Reuters Photo)
I'm just back from Blacksburg and Virginia Tech. I debated whether or not to write anything on this blog about it because it is difficult to comprehend what happened, much less write a blog post about it.

It is a lovely town, with very friendly residents. I stayed at the home of a professor so I had an inside look into what some of the university employees were going through. I felt privileged but also a little guilty, like I was intruding on a tragedy.

We spent one afternoon cooking for a young female professor whose husband was killed. They are vegetarian and we worked up a soup, some potato caserole, and salad. It took many hours longer than it should have, but no one seems able to concentrate on any one thing for very long.

One evening, several professors came over to discuss how to handle students and their pain on Monday, the first day classes resume. Several bottles of wine later they decided they would do plenty of listening that day.

I went to the candlelight vigil on Drill Field, a hushed gathering of hundreds of people. Again on Friday, a few hundred people showed up to release 32 balloons for the victims and observe a moment of silence (although it wasn't clear when that moment was supposed to happen and there was a lot of nervous whispering until we heard the sound of muffled chimes coming from a speaker somewhere and realized the balloons had been released). I stared at the balloons as they floated upwards until I became so dizzy I thought I would faint. They were beautiful against the clouds on a near-perfect day.

I never once saw anyone angry, only some frustration over the lack of warning to the students that day. There was never any animosity toward the shooter. Most people called him "sick".

It is that kind of town, so peaceful that tragedies seem out of place. We had to keep reminding ourselves that it had happened until the release of the gunman's videos and photos, and then it all came rushing back. That's when most everyone, myself included, unravelled a bit.

And then it passed. Most of the students left town. The geese who'd taken up residence on our pond gave birth. Five deer appeared on our lawn. It suddenly warmed up and the trees began blooming. One cherry blossom on Drill Field was a startling pink. At that point, you had to stand and stare at Norris Hall to convince yourself that the nightmare was real.

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