Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Tears Keep Welling Up

I can't help it. The more I read about this school shooting at the university in Virginia, the more my eyes fill, and my lip quavers. It's just too awful. I just finished reading about a professor in his seventies, a Holocaust survivor, blocking the way of the shooter while his students escaped.

He was killed.

What can I say that won't be trite, or a cliché? I'm heartbroken, and terrified, and angry, and despairing. I'm here at the Starbucks with my morning latte and a pile of revision notes for my manuscript I'm eager to get working on. But I have to post about this and right now. Because I can't see past the tears and I need to find some way to let this out.

Ever since that man walked into a classroom in 1989 and shot a bunch of students because they were women and because they wanted to be engineers, I have felt ... unsafe. That was a horrible crime, a hate crime, motivated by misogyny and resentment. School shootings have many motivations, and shooters have terrible delusions. The thing that strikes the most terror in my particular heart has to do with the location, with the victims--schools and students and professors.

I work in a university. I am a teacher and a researcher, a university citizen. My working life is dedicated to knowledge, to developing ideas and transmitting these ideas. Teaching people to think. Helping them learn. Advancing knowledge by sitting still and thinking really hard about stuff most people hardly have time to consider, let alone ponder at length. It's the greatest job in the world, and one of the most important, so far as I'm concerned.

With every professor who gets shot in the head, this world is threatened. With every student who jumps out of a second-story window to escape a crazed peer bearing weapons, learning becomes more dangerous.

When school shootings happen, I hear echoes of the purges of intellectuals that attend the establishment of repressive political regimes. When professors and students are killed for being professors and students, I see the flames of anti-intellectualism being fanned. I see people who are hated for ... what? Learning?

I don't know what motivated this shooting. I'm sure it will all come out in the fullness of time. I do know that I'm reading my own particular terror into the situation, I'm seeing it through my own particular lens. In calmer moments I can bring myself to pity individually all the victims of this terrible crim, to wonder coolly what happened, to be open to learning the facts and taken them for what they are. But in this time of unknowing, what I mourn is what is closest to me, a vision of green yards and low buildings full of young people learning, professors teaching and reading and experimenting. Increasingly, these spaces and practices are threatened by hate, by violence. A force of death and pain and misery and anger brought to a micro-world dedicated to life and growth and exploration and the development of self for the betterment of the world at large.

And I weep. I'm so scared.


Beck said...

Yep, me too. This is what I'm blogging about as well.

NotSoSage said...

Oh, Mimi, I know that feeling of self-preservation.

The Montreal Massacre was such a defining moment in my childhood. Barely 12 years old and learning that so much hatred could be felt towards someone for their gender and their desire to be treated equally...until then, I don't think I really realised that people thought there was any real difference, beyond the surface.

Mimi said...

Sage -- I was in high school when it happened, a real computer nerd and science geek. It was a slap in the face, a punch in the gut. I was terrified. I thought we were **so done** with that kind of sexism and hate. I was wrong.

Oh, The Joys said...

God. I hadn't heard about the survivor. Not what I needed to hear this morning. All that surviving - for the purpose of saving...

I can't recover today.

bubandpie said...

I've been wondering what's wrong with me this morning because I don't feel any of that. I think I've got some kind of barrier on my imagination, because I've even consciously tried to dredge up a more empathetic response, imagining what it would feel like if a student came into my classroom and put a chain on the door to lock us in...and I can't do it. Full stop - the imagination simply fails.

And then I start wondering what my moral responsibilities are. If I don't feel grief and fear (in part because I haven't been watching the TV coverage, only reading about it on blogs and in the newspaper), do I have a responsibility to pause, to pay tribute? What about all the other people who were violently killed yesterday, even in the U.S. let alone elsewhere, whose deaths were too routine to be reported?

I know, though, that that's not the point. I'm just startled, I think, at how thick my emotional defenses are.

Mimi said...

B&P -- I'm surprised at how thin my defenses have become. I don't usually fall apart like this. Maybe it's the weaning? But I feel physically threatened and my soul is so heavy, and I'm just so sad for the world at large. I usually do such a good job of hiding from this kind of information, but something about this just got to me before I put my wall up. I don't know.

Bloor West Mama said...

Oh, Mimi. There is not much that I can say that has not already been said by the other great women. I totally understand your sadness and fears. All I can do and send out a cyberspace (((hug))).

Bon said...

Mimi...i wish i had comfort to offer you in your weeping. i kind of wish i needed it myself.

i too work (when i work, term is over for me) in a university classroom. and i read what you wrote and i thought, "she's right" but it was only when i googled the story of the Holocaust survivor prof that i too felt the tears come, felt the sadness and the vulnerability and the rise to protect what i hold dear.

i don't seem able to take in these mass events anymore...bombings, plane crashes, reports of soldiers killed, school shootings...i am numb to news. only the individual stories shake me, break through the veneer.

the shooter, it turns out, was a South Korean immigrant to the US. i taught for four years at a university in South Korea. he looks like so many of my former students, many of them dear to me. he isn't "other" to me...and yet i am numb to him too, only curious about the backlash against immigration that may occur as a result of this.

i wasn't always like this. i was in my first year of university on December 6th, 1989. i was floored by that shooting. i am full of sorrow at my lack of capacity for sorrow any longer.

Denguy said...

I heard it said that if they only had armed security at schools in the U.S., the carnage would be lessened. I doubt more guns is the answer.

nomotherearth said...

I was curiously unaffected until I read the story about the professor. That kind of courage is inspiring to me. And saddening.

Suz said...

I'm afraid to feel this deeply. It just seems to be too much, too much that this violence happens, and happens in what most of us think of as a "safe" space. I don't know about anyone else, but we rarely locked our doors at the small, rural college I attended. We took exams without proctors and walked home from the library at night. It was an idyllic world back then, and even more so now.

slouching mom said...

My husband knew one of the professors killed yesterday. Not as a friend, but as a colleague.


My husband also attended a conference at Virginia Tech this past November.

It feels close to home. Which, I hasten to add, does not make it worse than things that happen far away.

I keep wondering what it is in our culture lately that causes people in pain to take it out on so many faceless, nameless others.


Jenifer said...

I so wanted to post about this, but couldn't somehow then found all these wonderful posts today from my friends.

I can kind of relate to what B&P is saying in a way. For me I am profoundly scared and sad, but it stills feel far away in many ways. What did hit home, way too hard was the lockdown drill at Papoosie Girl's school recently. It still keeps me up at night and makes me run endless scenarios on a never-ending loop in my head.

May God give them strength.

Alpha DogMa said...

My thoughts are much along the lines of Bub&Pie's. Only more rustic and not as well articulated. Like her, my news comes from the papers and the 'net. I'm intentionally shunning CNN and TV sources which seem unnecessarily inflammatory and emotional.

I'm not sure what is the 'healthy' response to this situation, but I hope you heal, Mimi. I hope you regain your equilibrium and feel safe again.


gingajoy said...

yeah. blogged on it too. very very hard to do.... i'm with you on it.

crazymumma said...

It's hard not to feel scared...but that is the intent of people who do things like this.

Omaha Mama said...

I actually thought of you, when the shootings happened and of a few other profs who blog. I am a teacher, but of high school. It must be even more terrifying, because of the piercing empathy, for a university educator. I know about the tears, I have to stay a little removed because if I watch too much - I get so upset. Thanks for the post, it helps to know someone else felt the need to say something. You know I certainly did.