Our lives are made up days we will always remember. They can bring us great happiness and deep sorrow. They help shape and make us who we are. We can be forever changed by these days.
For me, one of those was April 16, 2007. I am a staff member at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va,. and on that day 33 students and facility (including the gunman) lost their lives in a senseless act of violence. Nine of the victims were in my department.
There are so many memories of that day and the days that followed. I remember leaving my building and seeing more ambulances and police cars than I have ever seen in one place. I remember the departmental memorial service, arranged by our graduate students. Five families attended and shared their sorrow with us. I remember a campus united in prayer. Prayer is something that you don’t see openly at many colleges but on this day and the days that followed, everyone prayed, whether Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Christian or even atheist. I remember what some may say were small acts of kindness: e-mails, flowers, calls, letters, banners and even 7,000 pounds of maroon and orange M&M’s.
In the six years since the tragedy there have been many reminders, not just on April 16th. The most disturbing reminders are the many other senseless acts, from the shootings at Northern Illinois University to Aurora, Colo. to Sandy Hook and more.
Since Sandy Hook our country has been in the midst of a heated debate over gun control. There is great passion on both sides of the issue. I think we need common sense gun laws but if we think that these alone will prevent such tragedies as April 16th we are being very naive. As the story of the gunman at Virginia Tech began to be told, it was apparent that he had many problems well before April 16, 2007. The faculty and staff felt they had no real way to get him the help he needed. Like that gunman, the people who committed these horrible acts were very troubled. We also need passionate debate and discussion about how to recognize and help these individuals before they harm others and themselves.
Jody Smiley, of Blacksburg, Va., is president of the Virginia synodical women’s organization and a former member of the churchwide executive board.