I'm sure I was not the only parent in America who listened to the reports from Virginia Tech on Monday afternoon and felt compelled to phone a son or daughter away at school. I got my son's voice mail shortly before three o'clock, and wasn't sure what message to leave. "I know you're alright, but I just had to call," I said. And more stuff, less coherent, with the "love you" closing.
I still think of my twenty-year-old, college sophomore son as one of my three teenagers. Yet he is the age of those college kids in the videos, the Virginia Tech students being interviewed, the roommates of the killer, the friends of the dead. They don't seem as young to me anymore. They have earned the right to be called adults. So many, so suddenly must no longer feel safe in the world. This is life-changing knowledge, the kind you wish they could absorb slowly, in small sips. Drinking such icy water all at once and way too fast can cause paralyzing brain-freeze, even life-freeze.
As they seek healing, the Virginia Tech students gather in community. One young woman on the radio, when asked if she wanted to go back home to her family, said, No, I need to be with my friends and share this with them.
Oh, the Facebook and My Space pages as twenty-year olds mourn other twenty-year-olds.
How can such violence be redeemed? Better "gun-safety" laws? Better counseling centers on campus? Discard civil liberties and lock up potential madmen? So that these dead shall not have died in vain? You don't have to be a cynic, just a realist, to feel that not much will change in the long run.
But today's college students will carry this week and its sad, horrific news in their hearts for a long time. To honor the dead, some may try a little harder to give their own lives meaning, to enjoy the sunshine and love and appreciate family and friends. Some will struggle with fear and uncertainty, trying to keep their balance inside a world where you can't always protect yourself from serious harm. Some day, there will be another shooting, some other terrible news, and they will be shaken by memories of April 2007.
Young adults this age go to war. They are kidnapped in Iraq. They are the brutalizers and the victims in parts of Africa and Asia, and in the cities of North America and Europe. But yet a steady, hopeful light burns in them, shining out
from their youth, from the way they do not shirk from bullies and danger, from the way they stand by their friends..
Dear Lord, watch with all who grieve and protect them with your everlasting love. .