What is it about the explosive, violent shootings at Virginia Tech that disturb us so much? I know I stopped what I was doing and paid attention to the news when I heard the headlines on the television talking about a school shooting. It isn’t the fact that a person would act out so violently; this should be no surprise to a world bathed in the blood of genocide and ethnic cleansing, two world world wars in one century, the war in Korea, the Vietnam war, Desert Storm, and a current war in Iraq: for the record of human atrocity is long and riddled with violence and bloodshed, from the cruel crucifixions of the Romans to the harsh internment of the gulags. Human violence is not alien to us.
Rather, it is sadly, very human. What makes the Virginia Tech killings so disturbing, however, is that it has been inextricably stripped of meaning — the fact that Cho Seung-Hui, acting alone, walked through a university dormitory and classroom building without visual affect, as one witness commented, his face was stoic and numb and unleashed round after round of bullets with a Glock 19 handgun into his former girlfriend, her boyfriend, and 29 other people, wounding dozens more and leaving thousands and thousands of people terrified.
The killer, apparently in a psychotic state because of the breakup with his girlfriend, leaves us bereft with a way to make sense of this violence. The act is stripped of meaning and we ourselves are devoid of a way to absorb it, much less understand it. We are left unable to situate this kind of senseless atrocity into any form of meaningful dialogue because the killer has left us with nothing, killing himself, erasing his own history and closing off any hope of restoration. Despite his own personal past, left as a series of clues to help us understand, he himself has left us nothing, except, as one person commented after hearing about the shootings, undulations in a vacuum.
Sure, people will begin to put pieces together, as is being done, to begin to explain what happened, he himself, at the moment he began to shoot without anger or fear, without hatred or even angst, not even speaking to his victims, as he mowed them down, at the moment of carnage there was absolutely no reasonable sense, nothing to trace one’s finger to an origin that would be explicable or tangible, only an overwhelming grief and desolation for those who survived and all of us, drawn together by family and friends and concern for one another.
We may never have an adequate explanation for these shootings, no matter how much can be gleaned from the evidence, just as the shootings at Columbine and the terrorists attack on September 11th, have left a wound our nation’s consciousness, there is something irrevocably lost in our ability to make sense of this tragedy.
So, this leaves us with an urge to movement to reach out with compassion to the injured and to the mourning, to make way for their stories as they begin to speak out and seek ways to heal; it is our responsibility to allow for this to happen, to allow healing to take place where it can and to find adequate ways to perhaps prevent this kind of carnage from ever happening again. What we need to do know is to stop for a moment and ponder John Donne, when he said, “No Man is an island entire of himself …. Any man’s death diminishes me for I am apart of mankind.”