It’s a little later than usual for my annual post on the Hokie Nation.
As we approach nearly a decade since that heartbreaking day, there have been and will continue to be twists and turns in the healing process.
You see, last year, I had a break through. I thought, maybe, finally, I was there. “There” as in tears wouldn’t fill my eyes every time I caught the clock at 4:16 or saw a headline about gun violence. Last year, I chose to celebrate the love and healing power from that time rather than the sorrow. I wanted “We are Virginia Tech” to no longer be a jarring phrase I pretended not to hear or see.
This anniversary, I found myself remembering (or re-remembering) odd details. I thought I had remembered and relived everything that could have been part of that day. Personally, a memory resurfaced of a girl I barely knew contacting me about her friend, an alum of my current employer. His life is honored with a plaque on campus. Professionally, I’m participating in programming conversations about theater pieces focused on gun violence, with Virginia Tech as its focus. It is hard to be on a committee talking about this work, listening to reactions to it, acting as an anonymous agent. I wonder if I will actually be able to sit through the work without crying, without resenting the mercy of theatrical abstraction of such a visceral memory.
This year, I found myself on a college campus again. I’ve been watching and working with students about to graduate. They are sad to leave a place that played a formative role in who they are and who they will become. They are sad to leave their friends and favorite hangouts. They are gleefully enjoying senior privileges and rites of passage. They are planning parties, and all the “last” places to eat, things to do, people to see, photo ops, and trying to be everywhere all at once.
I don’t remember that part of my senior year. It didn’t really happen. I was desperate to leave, relieved for it be over.
I watch these students and am struck by their innocence. Certainly many of them have encountered hardships along the way but seemingly not to the extent that it halts their celebrations.
I wasn’t ready to be a part of a happy campus this April 16th. It made me angry and resentful all over again. The thought of tailgating at the spring game made me feel guilty, frivolous. How could thousands of people be celebrating on a day that marks something so sad for humanity?
I hightailed it home because I didn’t know what to do.
My parents and I walked to the drill field to take in the Remembrance run and community picnic. As we stood at the chapel looking out on the beautiful spring day, I realized I didn’t really belong there, either. I was surrounded by new students, relaxing from their exertion, laughing with their friends and considering the origins of the 3.2 for 32 run. I felt really grateful, blessed that they chose to acknowledge and take part in that day. I felt relieved, like someone else was sharing and carrying that burden. I’m not the only one who cares, who remembers. It makes sense for them to do that, because they are students, they are Virginia Tech.
But they won’t always be at its nucleus. They’ll become accountants and engineers and architects, travel the world, have families of their own.
And neither am I. That experience is part of me, part of Virginia Tech but it is certainly not the whole story. That story is still being written.