Friday, April 27, 2007

Unfathomable tragedy, unbelievable opportunism

From last week's Thursday Potomac News Unfathomable tragedy, unbelievable opportunism:

A tragic shooting at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg has left 32 people plus the killer dead and others wounded, some critically. And unfortunately we see vultures picking over the dead bodies to push their own political and social agendas.

The victims were still being counted at the campus and some were calling for firing the head of the university, and others clamored for more gun control, or less gun control. One New York writer chose the occasion to gloat over Virginia's tragedy, as a fit punishment for our "lax gun laws" which he blamed for crime in his state.

The media loves tragedy. It drives their ratings -- and the more controversy the better. So they gave a platform to anyone who would second-guess the local police for the time it took to enter the building, and the school for not immediately recognizing the danger. "We should have pushed the panic button," one wrote, as if there is a magic "Easy" button like in the Staples commercial that would cast a spell and keep our children safe in times of trouble.

I have my own opinion about what we should do so we can help them protect themselves when confronted by an armed gunman who has a well-conceived plan to kill as many people as possible. But now is not the time.

I write this having just watched the convocation held in Cassell Coliseum to comfort the community in this time of sorrow. Of course all the politicians were there, but not as politicians, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans, fellow citizens, to offer condolences and support and words of sympathy and hope.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine came back from his trade visit to Tokyo to be with his fellow Virginians, with President Bush at his side. Each spoke passionately, personally and with grace and purpose appropriate to the occasion. Their words of comfort and encouragement seemed to lift the spirits of those in attendance. It was a welcome reprieve from the 24/7 "news" coverage focused more on blame than compassion, on ridicule than reflection, and on speculation than fact.
Last to speak was Nikki Giovanni, noted poet and distinguished professor at Tech. She spoke as if at a pep rally, but it seemed appropriate and certainly was well-received. One phrase stuck with me: "We are better than we think and not quite what we want to be."

The tragedy is not ours. It belongs to those who sat cowering in rooms while a man shot randomly at them. It belongs to those who hid in adjacent buildings, and those who watched their classmates jump from windows to escape the carnage. It belongs to those who lost loved ones, and those who feared they had. It belongs to those responsible for the safety of the school who watched as lives were lost.

For the rest of us, the attack brings sorrow and pain and anger. But we experience it as observers, not as participants. As the president said, "This is a day of mourning for the Virginia Tech community -- and it is a day of sadness for our entire nation." Those who were there mourn, while we who look on have sadness, and sympathy, and grief but not in the manner of those involved.

So when I hear pundits and politicians claiming the tragedy for their own gain, to push their own agenda, to advance their own causes or careers, my response is, how dare you. How dare you use others' grief as a springboard to advance your agenda? How dare you steal the outpouring of goodwill that should flow to those in need, and redirect it to your pet projects, your political aspirations?

There will be a time to address the causes and responses to this tragedy, but not today, not while the bodies await burial. There will be a time to evaluate the response to the shootings, but not today, while the survivors lie in hospital beds. There will be a time to examine the motives of the murderer, but not today, while some families mourn and others sit in prayerful vigil. I thank our governor and president for reminding us that today is a time for unity of spirit.

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