I am an alumna of Virginia Tech.
As that April day in 2007 unfolded, I couldn’t keep the tears away. I grieved and mourned for those who died, and for the university. Forever, the words “Virginia Tech” would be linked with tragedy.
And, now Sandy Hook Elementary will be likewise linked. Forever.
Once again, the tears flow.
In the five years since the shootings at Blacksburg, we’ve aggregated that loss into “32 shot and killed, 17 wounded”, which is what we humans want to do. We want to be tidy and quantify loss into a manageable package – maybe in an effort to minimize our aching pain.
But now is not the time for tidy.
Now is not the time to start saying, “20 students and 6 adults at Sandy Hook”. No, that’s too easy.
Because what we need to do today is remember. And fully feel the pain.
We must be brave enough to see each of the lost as the individuals they were.
We need to honor first graders Avielle, and Chase, and Emilie, and Catherine, and Ana – knowing that these children will now never have a first dance, a driver’s license, a college acceptance letter.
Let’s remember Dylan, and Madeline, and Jack, and Benjamin, and Noah – young people who will never have a first job, or buy a house, or hold their baby in their arms.
Our thoughts need to include Olivia, and Daniel, and Caroline, and Jessica, and Allison – who leave paintings unpainted, words unwritten, and creations unmade.
Grace, and James, and Jesse, and Josephine, and Charlotte – may never have had a wiggly tooth, and now…never will.
Then, there are the adults we lost – Mary, and Victoria, and Anne Marie, and Lauren, and Dawn, and Rachel. There is no doubt in my mind that their last thoughts were about the safety of the children in their care, and they died in service to those kids.
That care and service is the legacy we must carry forward with us. To inspire us, and to focus our own choices and behavior.
Imagine if every day, each one of us asked: “What can I do to insure a child’s safety today?”
Why, we would change the world.
In 2007, the poet Nikki Giovanni wrote a praise poem which she read in Blacksburg. Its refrain was a powerful call, reminding us all that “We are Virginia Tech.”
And, now, we are all Sandy Hook Elementary School.
We are all the parents of these lost children.
We are the spouses of these lost adults.
We are their brothers, their sisters, their aunts, their uncles, their cousins, their neighbors, their friends.
And as such, we can never forget.
We are all Sandy Hook. And we will never aggregate our grief into mere numbers. Twenty children and six adults killed – no, that does them no justice.
We must remember their names, and their lives, and their loss – their humanity and their individuality. They walked, they talked, they loved.
They are each so much more than numbers. So very much more.
You and I live in a social compact with one another – a compact which orders our communal life. Like agreeing to stop at stop lights, and give emergency vehicles the right of way, and knowing when your right to swing your arm ends at the other fella’s nose. Perhaps the loss of these dear ones will lead us to strengthen our social compact, but that discussion comes next. After today.
Today, now – our social compact calls for deep grief, deep remembering and shared commitment to honoring the lives that were lived.
While we hold dear all that was lost.