I have been trying to write a post on the awful events at Virginia Tech. Every time I try to talk about the psychological issues involved, I sound horribly intellectualized, so I've left that post for another day.
Instead, I will just express my compassion for the victims and their families. I was in college in Ohio when the Ohio National Guard shot several students at Kent State during a demonstration. So, although it was a long time ago, I can imagine how it feels to students to have their security ripped away from them. I can understand why people living and working at other institutions have been affected. The college campus will never again seem like an idyllic place to them.
As a parent, I can barely imagine the families' grief. Losing a child to violence is a parent's worst nightmare. If it were my children who were shot, I would be experiencing overwhelming rage. If my children hadn't been shot, I don't know if I could let them return to school.
One thought keeps going through my head. I think of Mr. Cho's parents. I cannot imagine the guilt, shame, and grief that they must be feeling. I look for news stories about them, and so far, they are absent, thankfully. When they finally get dragged out in front of the cameras and pontificators, it will be awful.
My heart reaches out to all who have been touched by this awful tragedy. I think of Harold Kushner, in his book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. In it, he grapples with the randomness of tragedy:
Some people will find the hand of God behind everything that happens. I visit a woman in the hospital whose car was run into by a drunken driver running a red light. Her vehicle was totally demolished, but miraculously she escaped with only two cracked ribs and a few superficial cuts from flying glass. She looks up at me from her hospital bed and says, "Now I know there is a God. If I could come out of that alive and in one piece, it must be because He is looking out for me up there." I smile and keep quiet, running the risk of her thinking that I agree with her (what rabbi would be opposed to belief in God?), because it is not the time or place for a theology seminar. But my mind goes back to a funeral I conducted two weeks earlier, for a young husband and father who died in a similar trunk-driver collision; and I remember another case, a child killed by a hit-and-run driver while roller-skating; and all the newspaper accounts of lives cut short in automobile accidents. The woman before me may believe that she is alive because God wanted her to survive, and I'm not inclined to talk her out of it, but what would she or I say to those of the families? That they are less worthy then she, less valuable in God's sight? That God wanted them to die of that particular time and manner, and did not choose to spare them?
Kushner's ultimate answer to this question is that it is the wrong question. The definition of an imperfect world is that bad things happen to people who don't deserve it. So, the more important question is, "What do we do now that bad things have happened?"
For him and for me, it is humanity's job to help all people heal from these terrible wrongs. We need to give up the blaming and finger-pointing and instead give strength to all the survivors. We do that with kindness and understanding.