My heart is heavy as I read and hear more and more devastating details of the carnage and loss that took place on April 16th at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. I ache for the families who have lost loved ones and for those traumatized by the events that unfolded on that grisly day in the midst of unseasonable, swirling winds and sleet. On a day when students should have been wrapping up final projects and papers, studying for exams, and thinking about finding some boxes to begin packing up their cluttered dorm rooms, they were instead fleeing campus, searching for lost friends, and tearfully calling home.
My own daughter is a college freshman. She attends Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. I called her the moment I heard about the violence at Virginia Tech. I whispered a prayer of thanks for cell phones and shakily pushed the keys of my phone to connect me with my precious girl. I just wanted to hear her sweet voice. "I'm on my way to class, Mom, so I can't talk...but I'm okay and I'm praying for everyone at Virginia Tech too." I pictured her walking to class, among thousands of other beautiful, bright young men and women with their lives ahead of them. And yet how vulnerable they all seemed to me in light of the innocence lost in Virginia. Each student who died at Virginia Tech was someone’s beloved child. Mom or Dad helped them pick out their dorm duvet, bedside lamp, new notebooks, or maybe even stationery to write an occasional letter home.
There is no guide book for letting go of our children. There is no "one size fits all" when it comes to the transition between having our teenagers snug in the cozy nest of home and releasing them to the crazy halls of dorm life. We parents worry a lot when we release these 18- and 19-year-olds to a life on their own, but the thought of them being gunned down while participating in German class is not the first scenario to come to mind. April 16th changed that for many of us. We wonder what strategies the college or university our child attends has in place for crisis. We hope we've told our sons and daughters how much we love them and how proud we are, instead of only sending nagging emails about overspending or our inability to contact them: "But I bought you that cell phone--why aren’t you picking up?"
We give our children so much. We would give our own lives if we could. But that's not the way it works. There is no way to be secure. This is the ultimate truth in letting go.
We foster the fantasy that we have control over our children's safety or well-being. But Virginia Tech's incident shocked us right out of our bubble.
My friends who also have children in college have been calling. We feel better speaking to each other. "How are you? How is Sarah? How is Jackie? How is Rick?" We are assured that our offspring are just fine, no one wants to come home. In fact, they all seem to be finding comfort by pulling closer to their college friends. My daughter's sorority sent a letter to the chapter at Virginia Tech. My friend's son wrote a poem he has posted on his Facebook page about how much his friends mean to him. Their reactions reiterate what we seem to now know, they are finding their solace and nurturing from their friends much more than from us. Then we move onto the really awful terrain – the mothers of these men and women murdered. We pause, we ache, together we as parents feel their pain and are sorry…so very sorry.
I cry as I listen to NPR interview Virginia Tech students who are friends of the deceased. These lost young men and women become multidimensional, vivid, vibrant beings, as I hear of their hobbies and how they shared their light with the community. They deserved to live. They should have had the chance to flourish. I cry for their families who brought them to school, full of hope for their joyful days at college and who will return to collect lifeless objects remaining in what is now a crime scene rather than a typical dorm room.
I pray for my daughters, for their friends, for all college students, for Virginia Tech students, faculty and staff, and most especially for those who have died in this tragedy. May they rest in peace. May their legacies live on. May their families find some measure of comfort.
And may we all let go and let God, trusting that there is beauty and goodness in the world, no matter how it might appear now, and that our children will be moved to love more deeply rather than become fearful as a result of this tragedy. After that…we simply say: Amen.