As the nightmare in Blacksburg–the shootings at Virginia Tech–starts to fade from the national news scene ever so slightly, I finally feel able to approach it, emotionally. It’s felt like a roaring fire, a huge conflagration that’s made me want to turn away and cover my face with my hands, protecting myself from harm. But in this case, it was hands covering my heart, trying to protect it against feeling too fully a national tragedy that’s affected us all just as surely as 9/11 and Oklahoma City.
What does Blacksburg have to do with breast cancer? Not much, on the surface. But everything, underneath. Thirty-three people lost their lives at Blacksburg, the great majority of them students, young people in the absolute flower of their lives. This probably hits those of us with college-age kids particularly hard; when the Google news flashed on my computer screen: “22 college students killed in campus shooting…” I was gripped with icy fear. “WHERE?” my mind screamed, as I shakily clicked on the link to read the story. Upon learning that the shootings were at Virginia Tech, I experienced an instant of relief (“Thank God, not my son”), followed by a flood of sorrow. Shared pain, for the mothers and fathers who never expected, going about their daily routine that Monday morning, that they were about to get the worst news a parent can get. That the phone would ring, and they’d hear that their son or daughter was gone–just like that, gone from the world–and that their lives would never be the same.
Cho Seung-Hui ended 33 lives that morning, including his own. And in the aftermath of his actions, born of rage and sorrow and probable mental illness, many more lives have ended, for all intents and purposes. Senseless; random; devastating; unexpected death is all of these things. But most of all, it’s pain. Bitter pain, a wound so deep that despite the scar tissue that covers it, it never totally goes away. And with that pain comes regret, something that will live forever in the hearts of those who’ve been touched by the Blacksburg shootings. “What was the last thing I said to her?” “Who would he have grown up to be?” “Did I remember to tell her I loved her?” There’s no turning back the clock; no taking back cold words that shouldn’t have been said, no speaking the words of love and support that should have been spoken. When someone is taken from us suddenly, all we can do is cry our bitter tears into empty space, a space once occupied by warmth and love… now gone, all gone.
Blacksburg’s connection with breast cancer? A heavy reminder that none of us knows the hour or the day. While we could die tomorrow–run down by a car, felled by a heart attack, or a random victim of violence, like the Blacksburg students–cancer, at least, gives us a warning: “I might kill you, but not yet.” What a blessing, when you think about it. Cancer might indeed take our lives, but it’s also given us a chance to stop sleepwalking through our days, and start living in earnest: living with joy, not anger or fear. Filling the world with love, not hatred. Living life as though there were no tomorrow. Because, as we all learned last week, tomorrow may never come.
Published On: April 22, 2007