If you’ve never been to Blacksburg in the spring, you should.
Yards from million-dollar research enterprises, the grass is a deep, exuberant green, and I walked past a noisy stream on my way back home, past cows and horses grazing in rolling fields, birds yelling at each other rudely from tree to tree. I looked on rolling hills, not quite the downs of my youth, but reminiscent enough. The grass has been growing vigorously for the past few weeks, doing its best before the summer heat slows it down.
The sun shone in a sky with a few small clouds to break up the boredom and the wind was strong. It was a day and a time to not stop walking, when you didn’t want to, even when the wind blew a little harder than you really wished it would.
We are sad today and we will be sad for quite awhile. WE are not moving on, we are embracing our mourning.
I took a bus to the meeting. I was the only one on it as there was another just in front. We passed perhaps fifty TV trucks. Everywhere I looked there were cameras. I was dropped off at the coliseum, which was full and closed, so I joined the line to get in the stadium. We waited, held up until the president was delivered to the building. I saw some people in Scientology t-shirts, but didn’t have enough in me to be angry at them.
I looked at the different news cameras, wondering where they were from, with their sticker slogans on their trucks, and wondered where they would be tomorrow, or next week.
We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly, we are brave enough to bend to cry, and we are sad enough to know that we must laugh again.
And then I found my way to wherever we felt was best. I sat in the bleachers looking straight down the fifty yard line, satisfying my inner symmetry. Many were sitting on the field. More were in the stands. Some found a lonely spot high, high in the stands. Some were in the executive boxes with nothing to see. Most sat quietly.
We are Virginia Tech
We watched the big screen at one end. At first there was no sound, none except a groan that swept across the crowd when the silence began, and then it slowly came, and was barely audible. It was never great, but it didn’t need to be that good.
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.
During the president’s speech, some people silently turned their backs. I wanted Nikki Giovanni to talk about children in Iraq, or Sudan, but she has more class than I do, and her silence, the not mentioning, was louder to me than anything. She could have. I knew it. I think everyone knew it, perhaps even the people in the front row.
We are Virginia Tech
Sitting in the stadium, we were part of it, but we were not. Watching on a TV screen. You know more about it all than I do. I haven’t watched TV in months. I know as much as anyone with an internet connection. But I was there. I hardly spoke to anyone, but I was there. A witness. A statement.
The Hokie Nation embraces our own and reaches out with open heart and hands to those who offer their hearts and minds. We are strong, and brave, and innocent, and unafraid. We are better than we think and not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imaginations and the possibilities. We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears and through all our sadness.
There is something intangible that connects us across continents, whether our mutual love for an institution, or a place, or people. We don’t all feel this loss the same way, but our fear during those moments, waiting for a phone call, is shared. We know. We’ve looked down that path, seen where it leads, and felt the relief of not taking the first step.
We are the Hokies
I waited all through for someone to say this. To say, that we are each other’s keeper. We share something, and we are stronger for it. We belong to each other and every word we say, every moment of compassion or kindness, counts. They matter.
It was the relief of being reminded of our shared strength. We are not to be spectators watching the performances of politicians. We must embrace and commit to support each other in a thousand small daily kindnesses.
We will prevail, we will prevail, we will prevail
We have a voice, and we shared it. We shouted it, because this is our grief, our loss. In the stadium, we started our own chant. After the polite applause inside the coliseum they had theirs.
We are Virginia Tech
And we left, when we were ready. And I walked home across parking lots, besides green fields with cows and horses and birds and squirrels and streams.
And on the way, cars stopped to let me cross.
It’s a start.