Va. Tech: The Desperate, Futile Quest for Meaning
Students, children really, captured the sounds of gunfire on their cellphones, and in minutes, the blasts were on radio and television. Professors, substitute parents of a sort, listened to the gunshots, some grabbing students off the sidewalks, others trapped inside their offices, unable to help.
The firing continued for half an hour.
As their friends died, college students, some of them not long removed from being tucked into bed each night, leaped from windows, and took off their sweat shirts to press them against bleeding wounds, and carried the injured out into the open, searching for safety.
But there was no safety to be found yesterday morning on the campus of Virginia Tech. In a society that floats on an ocean of information, the tools of technology kept spewing data, but the bits added up to no meaning. There was only an endless loop of unanswerable questions.
Hours after so many lives had been shattered, there was no motive, no name, nothing but an assurance that the bad man was dead and that he had acted alone.
So we were left with random images and sounds from a morning of random terror. Kids living on their own for the first time received only this guidance, an official e-mail, hours too late: "A gunman is loose on campus. Stay in buildings until further notice."
Over and over, we saw the video shot by a student who had not yet been warned to stay inside, and students, parents and the rest of us demanded to know why the first e-mail from the college did not arrive until two hours after the first shootings. This in Blacksburg, the place Reader's Digest called the most wired town in the nation.
Over and over, we heard the recording of the shots. Students reached in their dorm rooms told us they were spending the day searching the Web for good information.
There was none to be had. Instead, we recycled the same expressions of horror and anger and sympathy.
Immediately, too many people tried to tie thin strands of information together to use in support of their particular causes and beliefs -- for gun control, for campus security.
But although we're good at measuring horrors against one another -- this is the deadliest shooting by one person in U.S. history -- we're too hungry to ascribe meaning where there is only something far more unnerving: No meaning, no message, just random rage.
As a soldier in Germany during World War II, Kurt Vonnegut, the great American writer who died last week, witnessed horrors even worse than the Virginia Tech killings. He reported what he'd seen, applied his intelligence and imagination to those incomprehensible human acts and came up with this: "So it goes."
If we could only understand, we could feel safer. It's the random that terrifies. The terrorists know that. In 2002, the snipers fed on that.
The mad act of a solitary killer -- a dead one who carried no identification -- randomly slaughtering innocents in the most optimistic phase of their lives, at a place that is entirely about creating possibilities, creates vastly more victims than the murderer managed to shoot.
Months, years from now, the pain and fear this man caused will diminish the lives of a generation of young people, just as the Columbine shootings did: Adults who grew up free to become masters of their surroundings, plotting their own innocent childhood adventures, will once again tighten the screws on their own offspring.
Security will be ratcheted up yet again. Schools and parents will assert ever-more constant surveillance and control over kids. And the freedoms that children enjoyed virtually throughout the history of civilization will seem ever more like something out of a distant work of fiction -- the backwoods rambles in Mark Twain's stories, the revelatory misadventures that J.D. Salinger's Holden Caulfield grabbed for himself, the road to places unknown celebrated by Jack Kerouac.
The relative handful of losers who emerge from some noxious soup of dysfunction with unchecked rage will be with us always. The question for the rest of us is whether to let their insane acts so diminish the lives of young people that the only frontiers left for them to explore are the virtual ones they travel through by click and scroll.
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: Anonymous | April 17, 2007 9:19 AM
Posted by: Fee | April 17, 2007 9:25 AM
Posted by: Dennis Moore | April 17, 2007 9:28 AM
Posted by: Dagpotter | April 17, 2007 9:49 AM
Posted by: Mike Licht | April 17, 2007 10:11 AM
Posted by: gf | April 17, 2007 10:21 AM
Posted by: Jay Dell | April 17, 2007 10:37 AM
Posted by: JoeBleux | April 17, 2007 11:03 AM
Posted by: Anonymous | April 17, 2007 11:04 AM
Posted by: Peter Samuel | April 17, 2007 11:18 AM
Posted by: Laura | April 17, 2007 11:20 AM
Posted by: Loudounian | April 17, 2007 11:36 AM
Posted by: To Dagpotter | April 17, 2007 11:37 AM
Posted by: SoMD | April 17, 2007 11:44 AM
Posted by: vajent | April 17, 2007 11:52 AM
Posted by: James | April 17, 2007 12:45 PM
Posted by: Shelly | April 17, 2007 12:53 PM
Posted by: karilyn | April 17, 2007 12:54 PM
Posted by: Playa Brotha | April 17, 2007 12:55 PM
Posted by: First-person Shooter | April 17, 2007 1:44 PM
Posted by: Jeff | April 17, 2007 1:48 PM
Posted by: Anna Ernst | April 17, 2007 1:55 PM
Posted by: Andrew | April 17, 2007 2:09 PM
Posted by: oldhonky | April 17, 2007 2:12 PM
Posted by: kurt | April 17, 2007 2:35 PM
Posted by: Cecelia Cox | April 17, 2007 3:07 PM
Posted by: Old Geaser | April 17, 2007 3:17 PM
Posted by: old geaser | April 17, 2007 3:27 PM
Posted by: sad world | April 17, 2007 3:45 PM
Posted by: Bill | April 17, 2007 4:05 PM
Posted by: Anonymous | April 17, 2007 4:11 PM
Posted by: J Oldfield | April 17, 2007 4:22 PM
Posted by: Joseph | April 17, 2007 4:30 PM
Posted by: David | April 17, 2007 4:33 PM
Posted by: Annandale | April 17, 2007 4:47 PM
Posted by: Bugless | April 17, 2007 5:31 PM
Posted by: Jean G. | April 17, 2007 5:46 PM
Posted by: H.Meltzer | April 17, 2007 5:49 PM
Posted by: Anna Ernst | April 17, 2007 5:54 PM
Posted by: AE, for the last time | April 17, 2007 5:56 PM
Posted by: Phil | April 17, 2007 6:15 PM
Posted by: Phil | April 17, 2007 6:18 PM
Posted by: Andy | April 17, 2007 7:09 PM
Posted by: Vincent | April 18, 2007 2:43 AM
Posted by: SoMD | April 18, 2007 7:26 AM
Posted by: Anonymous | April 18, 2007 1:41 PM
Posted by: Rebecca RN | April 18, 2007 10:29 PM
The comments to this entry are closed.