Accepting Horror

Monday, April 16 was a day of pouring rain and high winds. Giant trees crashed to earth, blocking the highways. People struggled to get to work. In Blacksburg, Virginia, a gunman (or perhaps more) slaughtered 31 people over the course of two hours.

I was running a training class, aware only of the weather. As I often do, I had sent myself class material on my Yahoo account, knowing I could pull it up at a moment’s notice. I called up the link and saw the computer’s ‘busy’ signal–the wheel spinning, the screen blank.  My heart dropped into my stomach and I felt sick and lightheaded. The last time this had happened was also a training day, but it was more than five years ago on September 11.

As I waited to have my fear confirmed, one of the students read the headline out loud, “Largest mass murder in the U.S. as 20 are shot at Virginia Tech.” Almost immediately the number began to rise. My niece is a senior at Virginia Tech.

Time freeze. What’s the next step? Do I continue teaching, as there is nothing I can do in this moment? I cannot help the dead, I cannot save the injured, so I keep teaching so the living can learn? That doesn’t sound right.

Do I cancel the class so we can mourn this horror, try to grasp and bring some understanding to something beyond understanding? So we can reflect and touch base with family? That sounds emotionally healthy, but histrionic, a little too dramatic when all I want to do right now is know that my niece is OK. From a business sense, the class in front of me paid money to have me complete the teaching. Better to pretend that all is well and keep teaching. That doesn’t sound right either.

What’s the rational thing to do here? What is humane and sane? Keep calm and deliver some learning in the face of horror? Wonder exactly how important class content is when the lives of 30 families are ripped apart? What would you do?

–Quinn McDonald is beginning to wonder about the decision that drove her parents to abandon their countries for a safer, saner home in America. We can do better than this.