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Posts Tagged ‘murder’

For some reason, it had never occurred to me that today would be anything more than just another day. I had a couple of extra hours in the morning — campus offices didn’t open until 10 AM — and I had hoped to use that time to catch up on a couple of things around the house. Yet almost immediately, I felt a bit off my game — aggravated and unsettled by the smallest things. My daughter’s breakfast dishes in the sink. The house painters showing up. The dog barking, barking, barking. For some reason, I just felt incredibly frustrated, and inexplicably sad.

Even as I write that, I’m struck by how foolish it seems. Today is, of course, April 16th.

Here’s something you have to understand — most of the time, I do a pretty good job at refusing to think much about that time two years ago when so many lives were lost, and so many, many more were changed. For better or worse, it’s what I’ve learned to do with those troubling memories of the days spent in the trenches with my colleagues  — wrangling the press, trying to stay on top of the constant flow of information, writing and rewriting and re-rewriting talking points, answering the incessantly clattering phones in the “war room.” It just went on and on and on, and all of it was being played out against a backdrop of unspeakable, unimaginable tragedy.

It was, frankly, more than I could process at the time, so I did what many others did. I focused on the job at hand. I did the work. And I let that whole processing thing run its course.

Over the last two years, I’ve put a lot behind me. I no longer feel the need to walk around the semi-circle of engraved HokieStones on the Drillfield whenever I happen to be nearby. I’m able to walk comfortably through the conference center without bristling at the memory of the crush of hundreds of reporters, hungry for the slightest shred of news. And I’m able to talk to those who lost children or spouses without trying to imagine the depth of their profound grief.

In my own way, I guess I’d managed to convince myself that I had it licked. That no matter how that experience may have changed me and no matter how permanent those changes may be, it was all behind me. So when I woke up this morning, I fully imagined it would be just another day.

So wrong. So very very wrong.

All across campus today, people are gathering in remembrance, and while all those events have their origins in tragedy, they are marked on this day with hope — hope for peace, hope for resolution, hope for redemption. But even though I share that hope, I don’t think I’ll be joining in at any of the ceremonies. Remembrance is easy enough for me.

It’s forgetting I have such a hard time with.

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I’ve written a fair amount about words here, and about their power, but last night I was reminded of how much weight language can carry. Two words, the subject line of a text message to my cell phone at 8:17 PM. Two words that simultaneously alerted me to a current tragedy, and dredged up memories of an experience that no amount of words could adequately describe. Two words, as blunt and straightforward as the act which necessitated their use: campus murder.

No reasonable person would assume that, for those of us who lived through and with the tragedy of April 16, 2007, life would ever be the same. Yet, day in and day out, I’ve learned to perpetuate that illusion. I’ve become adept at the graceful sidestep. I taught myself to avoid the slippery slope that remembering those events forces me to traverse. There are, of course, moments when I must remember — when I visit with my friends who lost a daughter, when I have a casual conversation with the woman from my daughter’s Girl Scout troop who lost a husband, when I have a meeting in the alumni conference center, a beautiful facility that was overrun by more than 700 journalists during those days.

At other moments, I reflect more deliberately, walking slowly around the semi-circle of Hokie Stone markers outside the main administrative building on campus, each engraved with the name of one now gone. Or, as I did this morning, browsing through the memorial pages on the university’s web site. But these are moments I seek out, moments that I’ve learned to take in small doses the way one builds up an immunity to a pathogen by deliberate, controlled exposure.

The most troubling thing about last night was the chain reaction those two simple words triggered, a reaction both unwelcome and unbidden. And, of all the vestiges of April 16th, this is perhaps the one that plagues me the most. Those events marked me. They changed my psyche, permanently and indelibly, and changed it in such a way that even these two unrelated and vastly different events are linked. They changed me in such a way that those two words, texted to my cell phone last night, pulled past events forward into the present, and invested present events with a weight and sadness far beyond their measure.

A few moments ago, an emergency vehicle sped through the intersection just outside my office window, sirens blaring, and my attention was drawn from my own here-and-now to what might have happened somewhere else. And in those moments, I began to imagine, again, the worst. It’s a foolish reaction, and one that, thankfully, passes quickly. But it’s one that I’ve come to recognize, one that I would gladly never have again, and one that brings to mind two more words that I hope one day to use with conviction.

Enough. Already.

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