Monday's shooting at Virginia Tech prompted two reactions in most people- first extreme sadness, then relief that it didn't happen to people we know and love. It's hard to admit, but I think we all have this moment. We recognize that this tragedy could happen anywhere, it could happen here, but it didn't. It happened more than 230 miles away. This does not make it any less awful, but it does make us exhale when we realize our loved ones are safe.
As a parent the first thing I thought about yesterday was the fact that there are 26,000 students at Virginia Tech. This in turn means 52,000 parents were frantically dialing cell phones praying their children were not hurt. It's an unimaginable moment. It physically makes me sick to think about it. the thought of getting that call in the middle of an otherwise normal day, that call that your child is dead. There are no words.
In the hours, days, and months to come we will learn more about the victims. Chances are they will have some ties to North Carolina and the Triangle. We've already learned that one professor worked at one point at UNC. These ties will make the massacre more real to us, and expose us once again to the fact that tragedy is the great unifier in our country. It exposes our fears about the frailty of human life and binds us inextricably to one another in our shared grief. As we watch televison, read about it on the Web, or pick up a newspaper with horrifying images splashed across the front page, we are united in our compassion and concern for the families touched by such unexplainable violence. Not unlike 9-11, we become keenly aware that shared human suffering allows us to connect with people in a very profound way, empathize with them and ultimately help in some way.
Today I interviewed teacher Lisa Kukla. On April 24, 2006, she and a student, Chelsea Slegal, were taken hostage at gunpoint in a classroom at East Chapel Hill High School. For more than an hour Kukla says the gunman, also a student, intermittently held a shotgun at her head with his finger on the trigger. She did the only thing she could think of to do. She talked to him in the hopes that once he saw her and Slegal as human beings he wouldn't be able to shoot them. She says she chose every word carefully because she knew the wrong words might ignite him and cause him to pull the trigger. It worked; he fired out the window hitting no one, ran, and was eventually arrested.
Kukla realizes every day that things could have been different. She also acknowledges that teachers and students at Virginia Tech had no such opportunity to talk the shooter out of killing them. There was no discussion, just random, senseless violence that has now spread sadness and outrage across our entire country.
Kukla knows how lucky she is. She thinks about that fact every day when she looks at her 18-month-old son. But do we know how lucky we are? Why them? Why not us? What if? Go home tonight, kiss and hug your children, call your mother, tell a friend what she means to you. We've had one more day on earth...