I remember. As the eighth anniversary of the April 16 shootings looms, I remember. Not the way I used to. The searing clarity of those first agonizing hours, days, and weeks is gone, as is the wrenching, nearly desperate hollow of the months and years that followed, as life resumed its mostly normal contours most of the time, and the scars lost their angry, jagged edges.
The most important memories now are softer and more salient:
The glow of Leslie’s radiant smile in my office just a couple of days before she was killed: “You can run another mile, or ten!”
Three funerals in five days. Rocking back from the ripples of so many more everywhere I looked.
Helping Ken dig in new gardens with a pick-ax, so grateful for the distraction and the excuse to feel useful.
The heartache and the numbness and the grief and the anger all around, all the time, everywhere you looked.
The anger over what could have been, what should have been, what we all deserved.
And the enormous wave of love and countless acts of kindness from friends, family and perfect strangers.
Everyone thinks their tragedy is special, but of course even something as awful as a mass murder of thirty-two people by a suicidal gunman is just a particular kind of ugly that can all too easily be trumped by something even worse. At the time I tried to use the Beslan School hostage crisis for a reference point (ten times more victims, lots more guns, even more suffering). Since 2007 we’ve seen Spring bring all manner of nastiness, including the Japanese earthquake-tsunami-nuclear-power-plant accident and the Boston Marathon Bombing to just name two that touched people and communities near and dear to me. As I type there are reminders hitting my Facebook feed to come sign a banner in support of the victims of Garissa University attack in Kenya.
Sadly, the VT tragedy is not special. But it is my tragedy, and when April rolls around I still (will always) feel the dread rising in my throat. But I don’t dread the dread anymore.
I’ve come a long way: I’ve seen the families of those we lost knit their lives back together and grow. I can teach with my back to the door (although I always have my phone with me in case I need to dial 911). I can go to campus on The Day, and tomorrow I will actually hold class on 4/16 for the first time since 2006. Next year I might even mobilize for the 3.2 Remembrance Run.
But I will always remember. It is a remembering of sadness and resignation, and of hope and gratitude.
This also from Facebook today by a dear veteran of the struggle: “We promised never to forget. Keep your promises.”