Today one of my sons asked me, "Then was it his fault?" after hearing of the tortured existence of a person who took the lives of so many at Virginia Tech - driven by vile hatred before the act, and incomprehensibly cold dispassion during it. "There is a line," I said "beyond which reasons can't be justifications. When an act is so awful, sympathy isn't appropriate," I heard myself say. "Maybe we can understand but there's a point at which all of us have to take responsibility no matter how difficult our lives."
I waited while he looked at me. He nodded, so something in there made sense. "Still," he said. And I nodded, because there is no good answer. He then said disdainfully pointing to the television I've been turning off frequently, "I hate when these news shows use this guy and this tragedy to suck us in instead of supporting the families." He looked to me for a response. What could I say? Didn't Brian Williams last night dramatically say the package was sent to "this very building"? Didn't the stations apologize a bit but then do exactly what this murderer hoped - show us appalling images, drawing us away from the support we should be providing to families and victims experiencing phenomenal grief? Didn't they, and won't they continue today, to perhaps put other people at risk by inadvertently encouraging copycat murders?
It makes you wonder about normal? When we return to it, what will it look like? Can we ever get back? And if we do, will we find that normal has become bizarre? We can't see the coffins of soldiers coming back from Iraq, but there's no problem seeing the ravings of a murdering maniac repeated on nearly every station, printed in nearly every newspaper. Is that normal?
Will it be normal when we return to hearing about young soldiers dying but do not respond with tears and outrage? Are their deaths less significant? Was their fear less intense? Are they different because they signed up for active military service or the reserves to protect us?
Might we take away from the intense compassion we feel for those who died and were harmed for life at Virginia Tech, some understanding, too, of what it must be like to be a young person faced daily with death? And this in a country where Generals with impeccable credibility say the U.S. should not have gone to fight and certainly should not have stayed because the Bush Administration has never had a comprehensive, articulated, focused military plan?
What will normal be? More lies? More empty apologies? And while the questions of leadership by the police, security, administrators at Virginia Tech continue for weeks and months to come, will we and the press pose equally tough ones to those who send our young men and women off to fight enemies they cannot identify in a "war" they do not understand, yet bravely do their best?
I wonder about normal.