Unfortunately, here in this town, many of us know all too well the horror of waking on an average Monday to learn that a gunman has gone on a rampage in the school our child attends. That sick/sinking/panicked/helpless feeling of knowing there isn't a single thing you can do to help your child but pray, pray that the shadow will pass or has already passed over him and then come to the ultimate realization that if it does, it does so on a roll of the dice, a coin toss, the flick of a wrist, a simple twist of fate.
And then there's the media. The unending talking heads, the inevitable attachment of labels: "hero", "victim", "good", "evil". As if it was really all that simple. And then the speculation, the knee-jerk reactions. Blah-blah-blah.
I remember those days as a blur. I remember, intially, having the immediate, visceral heart-hammering adrenalin rush, the almost irresistible urge to actually run toward the school (a good fifteen miles from where I was). Later, I remember just sitting on the couch for a long time. I remember looking at my kids and trying to imagine the pain of those parents, right around the corner, who would never, ever see their child again. And it was then and it still is unimaginable. But, at the same time, so unimaginably close.
I remember the funeral. Three caskets all in a row. A video montage that told the story of each girl, from baby to toddler to tween to teen, with their friends, with their families. Smiling, always smiling. They played the song, "How Do I Live" by LeAnn Rimes. The funeral procession to the graveyard went on forever; the entire town had stopped moving, out of respect, I suppose. But it was just eerie; as if the community had died too. Certainly our innocence was dead. What little we had left.
Eventually, we somehow put our kids back on those buses and sent them back to school. At least the ones lucky enough to have survived, and like Blacksburg now, the majority did. The vast majority. Some wounded, one crippled, all scarred but, still, alive.
And through every difficult experience of my life, I always eventually always ask myself this same question: what have I learned from this? What has this difficult or miserable or exhausting or trying experience taught me? And the answer usually comes, sometimes immediately, sometimes not: patience, perserverance, humility, resilience.
You know what I learned from the Heath School shootings?
Not a damn thing.
And I don't think it will be any different for Blacksburg.