Americans don’t ask right questions
April 20, 2007
Is it a week to be funny? Some say now more than ever. My gut tells me to make a serious comment on the Virginia Tech. shooting, though I know my words will have no power to hallow this searingly memorable day more than those who have died.
The facts are these: Cho Seung-Hui shot and killed 33 people in two separate incidents at Virginia Tech on April 16. The names of the confirmed deceased are as follows: Ross Alameddine, Jamie Bishop, Brian Bluhm, Ryan Clark, Austin Cloyd, Jocelyne Coutoure-Nowak, Daniel Perez Cuerva, Kevin Granata, Matthew Gwaltney, Caitlin Hammaren, Jeremy Herbstritt, Rachael Hill, Emily Hilscher, Jarrett Lane, Matt La Porte, Henry Lee, Liviu Librescu, G.V. Loganathan, Partahi Lumbantoruan, Lauren McCain, Daniel O’Neil, Juan Ortiz, Minal Panchal, Erin Peterson, Michael Pohle Jr., Julia Pryde, Mary Read, Reema Samaha, Waleed Shaalan, Leslie Sherman, Maxine Turner and Nicole White. This list represents not only lost hopes and dreams, but also the costliest school shooting in U.S. history.
How does America respond to a day that viciously transcends our understanding? We have moments of silence, ask why, provide comfort, discuss over cigarettes, lower the flags, point fingers and seek to absorb the small amount of news and the large amount of speculation that whirls around the void of the information age, a void created by the absence of truth. What is the truth of this tragedy? What can we learn? What are we capable of wrapping our minds around? These aren’t the questions I hear. Most people want to know what kind of gun was used, as if that mattered, or who failed to close down a city-sized university in two hours, as if it were possible. We ask questions about all the mundane little facts because we want something to talk about, a subject we can be in-the-know about. Call it intellectual voyeurism.
When the facts of the situation provide us with no lasting meaning, we begin our search for heroes to the end that we might insert, graft, transplant meaning into a meaningless occurrence. Is it selfish to clutch to the actions of desperate people in the throws of their lives for the sake of allaying our own cynicism? We try to find ways of making their deaths glorious. Some were. And this does fill me with hopes. I hope their families find comfort in their loved one’s bravery. I hope there aren’t one hundred microphones atop the eulogy podium at the funeral service. I hope they won’t have to watch a made-for- TV movie about the day their most cherished person died. I hope we can forfeit our need to tout someone else’s loss for our own selfish needs.
What I’m asking for is reticent dignity. Be silent, even when you want to gossip because you know that making small talk of the deaths of 33 people brings no honor to those who have died, or comprehension to an event that was completely pointless. Carry yourself as you should, in the manner of a mourner who knows neither the victims, nor their killer.
Do not forget the day, or those who died; do not let your memory betray all who are involved. Instead come to an understanding of this event without cheapening it through hollow words and false conjecture about motive and heroism. Approach it quietly, with dignity, and with the honor for those who have passed that only the vociferous void of bowed silence can convey.
Kris Evans is a student at UW-River Falls.