Virginia Tech: Making Sense of the Senseless

The shootings at Virginia Tech dominated last week’s discussion at the men’s group. F was angry at ABC for hyping its coverage of the shootings at Virginia Tech, detecting, he thought, a glee at the prospect of holding the viewer with promises of more carnage.

P was enraged that the gunman was allowed to buy guns, enraged that the school had not kicked him out and enraged that none of the victims – in his mind, at least – tried to defend themselves.

B was dismayed with the media’s stories about the gunman. “I want to know about the families of the victims,” he said. “There’s plenty of time to hear about that guy. I don’t want to hear about him now.”

And so it went, ten men gathered in a suburban church as they have every week for years, asking questions, looking for ways to improve their lives and show up better in the world. And in this case, trying to make sense of the senseless and tragic.

The most meaningful comment was the reminder from H about something we all heard as we watched “The Secret” at our retreat last fall. Namely, that “wars” against anything – poverty, drugs or terrorism – don’t work because they are inherently negative.

It is more effective, and spiritually more appropriate, to be for something than it is to be against something else. Thus, one would be for peace rather than against war, for abundance rather than against poverty. But what could we be for when it comes to Virginia Tech?

Unfortunately, that point was overlooked amidst the shock and anger.

P, in particular, was impassioned: “We all should think about what we would do in such a situation.” He was damn sure that if somebody burst into the room where we were, he wouldn’t be diving under the table.

“I’m going right after that sucker,” he said. “What can he get, maybe two of us?”

P’s action-hero impulse was understandable. In fact, he invoked a similar scenario last summer when his nephew was killed in a hiking accident. He spoke bitterly of the death of a sweet kid while the “creeps” he kept seeing on the news were still alive.

I had some anger of my own. I was working out at the Y on the day of the shootings, and the university president’s press conference was on the TV in the weight room. Shortly after it ended, CNN cut to a blonde harpy, her face darkened by anger, who demanded to know why the police hadn’t acted sooner.

I don’t see much useful in that kind of Old Testament judgment. Looking for someone to blame is, in effect, to play the victim, and as long as one plays the victim there is no need to take responsibility. Pointing fingers is a cop-out, a childish exercise in a world that could use some wisdom.

Nor are P’s fantasies of vengeance useful, and it’s too late to fix what happened in Blacksburg. But there must be something for each of us to take away, or we are, indeed, victims. So, then, what can we do?

Start with the anger — with P, with the blonde on CNN, with myself.  I need only get in my car and nose it into Atlanta traffic to find that the gauge on my temper is running hot. And while there are surely times when individuals need to be contained – Virginia Tech being one of them – the violence that is so often the popular response to an outrage is not the answer.

“To return violence for violence does nothing but intensify the existence of violence and evil in the universe,” wrote Martin Luther King Jr. in 1956.

Gandhi, whose teachings King studied, said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

In the book “The Keys of Jeshua,” Glenda Green writes:

“If you would have peace, you must invoke the power of Spirit where peace is native and sustainable. Only peace can remove you from chaos. Each soul is connected to the essence of peace, for that is where all souls took their birth. Peace is your connection with the 99% endless place of pure being. The doorway is your heart, and what is revealed there is the truest portrait you will ever see of yourself.”

Finally, there is Gandhi’s line: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” The problem is not that we have too many angry and violent people, but that not enough of us are practicing peace.

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