Under the Sun
Words of comfort empty in all senseless killings
SINCE 9/11, it has been a morning habit to flick on the TV as soon as I'm conscious. If there's a commercial on for a subprime mortgage company or if Wolf Blitzer isn't quite bouncing off the walls of the Situation Room, I'm reasonably assured that nothing extraordinary has happened while I was snoozing away.
On Monday, even with the tube on mute, it was clear from the parading split-screen images of ambulances, running police officers and shaky cellphone videos that something bad was going on. Sound up, I listened as cable news television's flawless faces breathlessly recounted what little they knew and a lot more of what they didn't know about the shooting rampage at Virginia Tech.
Coverage followed the typical pattern of these awful events. Interviews with witnesses and people who heard from witnesses were broadcast, video and still photos recycled, experts in security, mass killings, weapons, psychology and whatever else might be related filled air between information repetition.
Then came statements and news conferences. President Bush was astutely up at the podium early on with expressions of sorrow and words of comfort to families, many of whom had yet to be told their loved ones had become victims. College and law enforcement officials stoically attempted to answer questions from a strident gathering of news reporters, even though they hadn't had much time to lock down what exactly had befallen the campus.
Through the day, the terrible numbers about the dead fluctuated as officials revised their figures. Double digits posted on graphics and trailers crept up, 22 becoming 27, then 29, then 33, and finally back down to 32, to exclude the gunman who shot himself from the "victims" column.
I kept the audio low because I had work to do. But my ears perked up when I heard that the "shooter" -- an unpleasantly facile slang for criminals who use guns -- was Asian.
That jolted me. Why? Because in the catalog of the human species, the breakdown, though widely encompassing, included me.
Irrational? Yes. Self-centered? For sure. And even though I now know that the gunman's background is very different from mine, I don't feel insulated. Because we had one thin thread of commonality, I am still a bit ashamed and a bit afraid.
Up until the Asian revelation, I'd felt detached from the event. Horrible as that sounds, it was as though I was immune to the anguish the killer had inflicted. Maybe it's because in the news biz required reading includes volumes about human suffering, most notably in Iraq.
The miserable conditions there seem relentless and, if callous comparisons are made, the murder of 32 people on U.S. soil in one unusual day shrinks next to the scores of citizens and soldiers who die in a typical day of gunfire and bombing in that country.
It has taken more than four years to chip away at the majority of Americans' imperviousness to the horror of a pointless, disastrous war. Yet the demand to stop the madness goes unheard or disregarded, and if it is cruel to draw together the senseless killing in Blacksburg and Baghdad, then words of comfort in one place while war goes on in the other are equally cruel.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org