Monday morning in Blacksburg, Virginia, 32 students and staff at Virginia Tech were killed in the largest single shooting in modern American history. The shooter, an angry and disturbed young man, then killed himself.
Looking at the profiles of the dead, I am struck by their diversity. They ranged in age from 18 to 76; they came from nine states, along with Puerto Rico, Egypt, India, Indonesia, and Romania. They were male and female, African-American, Asian, Middle Eastern and Caucasian. They were all people who began Monday little knowing it would suddenly end their lives.
This is not a time to seek easy answers or to assign blame. It is, rather, a time to pray, mourn, and reflect. While this tragedy can perhaps be partially explained by the easy accessibility of guns in our society, by the saturation of violence in our popular culture, by the fact that the visible signs of Cho Seung Hui’s troubled life could have been taken more seriously, by concerns about university security, or by any number of other things, ultimately there is no simple explanation. And there are generally no single causes for such horrible events. In the Virginia Tech memorial convocation Tuesday evening, Professor and poet Nikki Giovanni said:
We are sad today, and we will be sad for quite a while. We are not moving on, we are embracing our mourning. … We do not understand this tragedy. We know we did nothing to deserve it, but neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS, neither do the invisible children walking the night away to avoid being captured by the rogue army, neither does the baby elephant watching his community being devastated for ivory, neither does the Mexican child looking for fresh water, neither does the Appalachian infant killed in the middle of the night in his crib in the home his father built with his own hands being run over by a boulder because the land was destabilized. No one deserves a tragedy.
All of us at Sojourners/Call to Renewal join in the national mourning. We offer our prayers and send our condolences to the families and friends of those who died, those who were injured, and to the entire Virginia Tech community. We pray that the comforting presence of God will be felt in the midst of such deep heartache. Sorrow can sometimes prove redemptive in ways no one could have imagined beforehand. It’s time to let sorrow do its reflective and redemptive work, to hold the hands that need to be held, to let our tears open our hearts to change those things that lead to such tragedy, and to trust our pain to the loving arms of God.