Wednesday, April 16, 2008

April 16, 2008 - A Prayer For Understanding

Today, I'm breaking with the format that has served this blog so well for two and a half weeks to provide a special poem on the one year anniversary of the massacre at Virginia Tech. April 16, 2007 was the worst day of my life. That last sentence is not hyperbole, it represents stark truth. The ensuing days, weeks, and months of grief continue to change me and many other Hokies. In the year that has passed, I've thought about our school and our community every day. How can I not think about Virginia Tech? I work for a college recruiting students; a natural question at college fairs or in my daily dealings with students is 'where did you go to school?' My pride in Virginia Tech trumps my pride in anything or anyone. Watching our students, alumni, faculty, and staff eloquently articulate their shock and grief in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy was nearly as mind-boggling as watching the breaking news coverage of the tragedy itself. Even now, a year later, I can't utilize the cognitive and analytical skills necessary to fully convey, in words, the depth of my thoughts and emotions. For these students to have been able to complete this task on cameras that were transmitting their images all around the globe mere days after this happened is a miracle. To my understanding, I have not seen any coverage of the tragedy that showed Virginia Tech community members espousing hatred and rage. We love each other, we love our school, and our instincts lead us to heal together, rather than divide. This was not a time for blame or accountability, a time for politics or policy. We invited others outside our community to grieve with us; we needed them to lift us.

I'm beginning to wonder if I will ever be able to quantify what I have learned or what I was supposed to learn from the April 16th tragedy. Living in New England, far from the New River Valley and Blacksburg, I find myself an ambassador for my school. When I drive my jeep with the Virginia Tech Alumni license plate holder, people stop me to ask about my opinions on the tragedy. When I wear my orange Virginia Tech sweatshirt to the grocery store, strangers approach me and say they are sorry. These types of encounters are dwindling now, but I still have them. In these moments, I feel called to represent my school with the integrity and poise others have shown. The current motto in Virginia Tech's marketing campaign, "We are Virginia Tech," borrows heavily from Dr. Giovanni's stirring speech. It is simple and it is true. Maybe I will continue to learn new things, gather new bits of wisdom, from this tragedy for the rest of my life. What I know now, one year later, is this: The greatest compliment someone can give me is that when you think of Virginia Tech you think of me.

In my blog this month I've focused on some poems that masterfully internalize grief and pain to externalize these emotions in art. For a year I've been trying to write about April 16th and for most of that time I couldn't produce anything without getting a few lines in and finding it to be too painful. A few months back I decided to try writing a poem in the format of a prayer asking for understanding on the behalf of the Virginia Tech community. I think each of us wonders why this happened, why it happened to us, and why God let it happen? These are questions without answers, but that doesn't mean our ability to ask them should be stifled. Since I've started working on this poem it's undergone more than 50 drafts and I have the feeling it will probably undergo 50 more. I'm not sure it will ever feel complete to me, but my hope is that it will someday become more than a therapeutic exercise, that it will become a piece of art.

A Prayer For Understanding
for Virginia Tech

I will swallow this tragedy.
It will travel in my blood.
And when I am gone
These words will stir
The chill of that morning
Into the veins of others.
There will be no forgetting.
We could have clenched
Our fists around mercy
And released none.
We could have declared
'If anyone has the right
To be ruthless, it is us.'
We could have succumbed
To questions. Certainly,
This happened for a reason?
I am tired of being told
I must understand
In times like these
There are no answers.
Our pain entitles us
To be heard, to ask
When we will lift
Our eyes to a sunset
Rolling from the Blue Ridges
Upon our stone campus
And in the pink twilight
That could be dawn or dusk,
Speak with their silenced voices
The truth that remains:
This is our home,
These are our people.

---Matthew Kaberline

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