Send Not

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

-John Donne

33 people died this morning while I was sleeping.

Actually, way more people than that died, and were born. I didn’t know any of them, although I probably know someone who knows someone. But these 33 were in a unique position. They were students and staff at a quiet university with 25,000 students on the East Coast. Spring was starting. Monday morning, early, getting up to go to class. I’ve been there.

There’s something unique about spring on the East Coast which people from California do not seem to get. It’s that it really starts to feel like spring, there’s a sudden snap, spring, in the air. There might still be snow on the ground, but everything seems more hopeful and alive than it did the day before. Blossoms are straggling out onto the trees. You’re waking up early for a French class, pulling on clothing in layers in case the weather gets warmer, skipping breakfast because you wanted to sleep in, savor those last few minutes of the weekend. Refill your water bottle and wave at a friend.

The administration at Virginia Tech is being heavily criticized right now for not taking action earlier. But I’m not sure I’m in a position to do that. An early morning isolated shooting in the dorms, while a tragedy, did not necessarily mean the the shooter would go on a rampage in the classrooms two hours later. The administration did what it could to keep its students safe, and it’s a risk that students take by attending school on an open campus. I wasn’t there. I wouldn’t know.

When I was at [famous university], I was always amazed by how free and open the campus was. Anyone could walk on, with anything. The dorms were moderately secure, especially at night, but the University could not reasonably close the campus during the day, not with such a huge student body, visiting faculty members, guests checking out the school, conferences on campus. All they could do was try.

As an institution of learning, you hardly expect a mentally ill gunman to fire upon your students.

I don’t know what to say, really. When I read the news this morning, it troubled me, deeply. Maybe because Puff is still going to college, and I like to think of school as a safe place. Of all the things that I could imagine happening to her today, getting shot isn’t/wasn’t one of them. Maybe because I went to college once, too, and I lived on campus, and I walked across the Great Lawn with a feeling of open-ness and trust. Security. Of all the things I could imagine happening to myself…shooting was not one of them.

Maybe it’s just that to me, education is sacred. A school is like a church, a space of hallowed ground where you should be able to take refuge.

Students are writing about the experience, giving readers a sense of the madness and confusion on the campus. Collegiate Times is also keeping a running update on their main page. There’s also a photo pool up on Flickr. Amazingly, a lot of the information about the shooting spread through emails, blogs, and the Internet, rather than formal announcements from the college. Students on campus took cover after reading about what was happening on major news media sites.

Which just blows my mind. In a sense, the Internet saved lives today. I hope that this leads colleges to start thinking about safety notification systems which utilize cellphone texting and IMing, as well as conventional phones and loudspeaker announcements. It’s unfortunate that colleges need to make safety notification systems because of human actions, not just natural disasters (and Acts of God, I suppose).

I’m sure that there were a lot of heroic and together students on that campus today who helped to protect their classmates, and I commend them. I cannot even begin to imagine what going through a situation like that would feel like…and I hope that the students and staff at Tech are surrounded by friends, able to call home to their families. As corny as it sounds, my heart really does go out to Virginia Tech, which changed forever today.

Many schools around the country are holding a moment of silence at noon tomorrow in honor of the victims. I intend to join them in a moment of reflection.

[Virginia Tech]

One Reply to “Send Not”

  1. Excellent post. You are right about that Spring snap in the air on the east coast.

    Our campus is usually one of the safest places in the world. I would give campus tours all summer and I never could have imagined that our campus and town would be feared now.

    Oh well, we move on. I lost two good friends in the shooting, but I have learned that Hokies are strong, and this community that I have lived in for four years is stronger than ever.

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