"She always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day."
-Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway
My heart ached for Columbine. I wondered with fear at the shootings at Virginia Tech. And now, in a small college town just a few miles from Chicago, more students have died and another campus is in turmoil, and my own little sleepy prairie town is the center of questions. It seems that the gunman was from here, was a student here, bought the guns here.
We always feel the terror from a distance. I know that I do. When a gunman killed so many at Virginia Tech, I saw my campus through a new set of lenses. I wondered if it could happen to me; what I would do if it did; if there was any chance for survival in the run-down rooms without locks or even, in some cases, working doors, in my ancient building. And now it has come as close to not happening as it could.
I ask myself, why Northern? Why not, god forbid, Follinger? Why did he feel the need to drive to another school when he was a student here? It was so close to happening, closer than I could have ever imagined...even as I did imagine. And as J and I watch the local (yes, our little hometown newscasters on location) news and as more information comes out, what becomes apparent is that these incidents seem totally, and utterly unstoppable.
There is no way to secure an area the size of a small town. There is not a fence large enough or strong enough. There is no way to screen each student and to find the one that might snap. They can just drive somewhere else. A campus is not like a high school-- we deal with mutliple buildings, larger areas, and adults.
I never thought of this profession as dangerous. I'm a library rat, after all. I live in and among books. J was just yesterday asking me if I ever thought about how funny our jobs were, in the larger scheme of things. And I do, because I teach people how to "read" books. It's not really a skill that people need in the most practical sense. I never thought of teaching as dangerous. I went to Kent State, walked by sculptures with bullet holes in them every day, and never thought of college campuses as dangerous. Surely, I thought, tragedy like that can never happen again. And yet they do. They keep happening with increasing frequency.
And there's nothing. Not a single thing. I can do about it.
And the truth is that no one's safe. No office building. No shopping mall. No school. No where. Unspeakable tragedy and grief can reach us here just as easily as it can happen anywhere else. And right now I find it very difficult to put my head around all of this. Every paper you grade, every student you upset, any stranger who picks a time and place can end the bubble of happiness and safety you've built around yourself.
And it can be paralyzing to think about it. And today I wonder every time a siren goes by (why three already this morning??). And ultimately I have no idea how to even think about this.
So I'll pull those I love closer, immerse myself in what I love to do, put everything into every day...because that bubble can pop so quickly. And all we have is now. This moment.