So. It has been three years since it happened; since we turned on the television and couldn’t believe what we saw; since we frantically checked the news, staring in disbelief as the facts emerged. It has been three years since we desperately called anyone and everyone we knew; since we stared blankly out our windows, wondering what came next; since the world stopped, however briefly, and shared in our pain, offering support that was desperately needed. It has been three years since I was part of a community, stricken by tragedy, that stood together in a way I had never experienced before.
It has been a long three years for me, with plenty of personal triumphs and tragedies in between. I graduated, but left the school I loved; I started a great job, but left behind the people I loved; I’ve made great friends, but lost some as well; I’ve gotten closer to family, but lost my brother unexpectedly. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Sometimes you lose a lot.
The long and short is this: right now, looking back, remembering what happened, I feel like some of the most important lessons—also the least tangible—have faded over time, and some have even been lost. “What are those,” you say? I’m glad you asked.
Strong communities are crucial.
Without our friends, families, and fellow Hokies, the events of that day would have been even harder to stomach; because we had each other, we had hope of finding our way beyond the pain. I’ll cross the line here and say this too: beware the stealthy spread of fear and distrust disguised as “safety.” It just drives wedges between us; we need to be closer to one another, not farther apart.
Nothing is guaranteed, not even tomorrow.
While this is often repeated and rephrased, the point still remains. While it’s impractical to never make assumptions about the future, it’s important to avoid squandering now. Treat people kindly! Enjoy the time you have with them; for every friendship there is a final parting, and seldom will you see it coming. I got lucky—my brother and I parted with a hug, even though I was coming back in three weeks. It turned out to be our last. When was the last time you hugged the people you care about?
Most quarrels are, in fact, pretty minor.
When compared with the possibility of tragedies of this scale, a lot of things just fade away. The $5 your friend never paid back? Unimportant. The need to win every argument? Not worth it. Feelings of inferiority or superiority? Misplaced. These kinds of events level the playing field, and make us realize we’re all in this together—assuming we don’t tear ourselves apart first.
So why am I writing this? Partly because it saddens me to see myself and others forgetting these lessons. I can see it in our actions over the past three years, and that alone makes this tragedy even sadder. Secondly, and perhaps more honestly, this is my only outlet because—for the second time in as many years—I’ve not made it back to join fellow Hokies in remembrance.
I can’t believe the news today;Oh, I can’t close my eyes and make it go away.
U2, Sunday, Bloody Sunday
That’s how it feels now, looking back. While most days now pass without considering these ideas, this seems to be the magic day—well, one of two—that throws them into stronger relief. Hopefully it’s an impetus to improve our own lives and those of people around us. In memory of those lost, we live for 32.