On a morning when I thought we’d be getting ready to watch Virginia and Virginia Tech play football, I find myself instead thinking of a time back in 2007.
It was a day when the television trucks had finally left Blacksburg after round-the-clock coverage of the shootings on the Virginia Tech campus. The dead had been buried. The memorials had been planned. The who, what, when and where’s of the situation had been fleshed out.
No one, however, ever answered the why. And because of that, as people were saying it’s time to move on and start healing, many of us didn’t.
Those next couple of months, I recall, is when it really got tough. The lives of both young and old were gone, including the shooter. The warning signs that went unheeded were identified. Each day bought more information, but all the data did was add to the grief and recognition that this was a senseless tragedy that could have possibly been averted.
I found myself postponing chances on several occasions to go back to the campus after that. Visiting Virginia Tech for decades had been like going to visit an old friend. The times were always fun, the memories were warm, and it reminded me of younger days when you could have fun in the safety of the cocoon of a college campus, far, far away from the pressures of going to work, paying a mortgage and being an adult.
A thief in the night robbed us of that.
When I finally did return – for the first football game the next season – I found myself highly emotional. As I passed through the entrance to the campus, I found myself softly saying out loud “what have they done to you, old friend?” I’m sure I was not alone in thinking that on the day a lot of others came back to campus for the first time since the shootings.
I tell this story because early this week, I was talking to a friend who graduated from UVA, and she’s been crushed by the similar tragedy that has occurred in Charlottesville. She said she couldn’t stop crying the first couple of days after it happened, and what made it worse was her family kept saying they just couldn’t understand why she was so upset.
Unfortunately, a lot of us Hokies do understand. If our experience is any indication, it’s also probably going to be just as tough for a while before the grief clears and there are any feelings of normalcy. Those wonderful young lives are gone, just as the 32 at Virginia Tech are, and while at first it may have seemed like a really awful bad dream, now the cold reality of all that sinks in.
It hurts. Badly. And all you can do is remember them, celebrate them, love them…and grieve for them.
Which takes time.
So on this morning when I normally would call several UVA friends and say things like “you know we’re going to kick your ass today…again,” instead, I’ll probably still call, but instead ask “how are you doing?” and encourage them to say what’s in their heart and on their mind. Sometimes just being available and listening is the greatest salve you can apply to any wound.
I'm absolutely sure, my UVA friends, that some time off in the future, we'll resume the days of talking trash, good-natured needling, and be fans in a rivalry. In fact, I look forward to it.
But today, football is the farthest thing from my mind. The only thing I’m thinking about is you, hoping the grief soon stops, the pain one day turns to warm memories, and all of you can find some semblance of peace in trying to get through this awful tragedy….
Still too soon for major trash talk. I'll just say 78-68 to thaw things a bit with my gracious Hokie friends.