A week has now passed. It's not nearly enough time for anything to heal, but tragedy always needs a buffer.
Tragedy leaves one without proper words. Perhaps the most you can hope to bring out of such a thing is the perspective it gives to understand other areas of life.
There is nothing good or understandable about the events at Virginia Tech. How society will react is for the future to decide. However, what it allows us to do today is view different realities which Americans have faced for the past four years from a much-larger angle.
Since the first moment of Shock and Awe, to the present day (literally: the president repeated this again the day of the shootings), Americans have been told that "We must fight them over there so that we don't have to fight them here."
What we discovered on Monday -- or re-discovered, since it's something we all know -- is that there's plenty of "them" here to fight already. "Them" is whoever is attacking what we hold dear.
It can be this murderer who killed 32 students at Virginia Tech. It can be the bombers at Oklahoma City. The massacres at Columbine. The shooting deaths at the Amish school in Pennsylvania -- or two other school shootings only the week before that. The 9/11 terrorists. The tampering of Tylenol bottles.
To be told that we must fight a war, where 600,000 Iraqis civilians have been killed and 3,200 Americans have been killed, and $417 billion of American resources spent -- so that we won't have to fight "them" here is an intentional sham that ignores the reality of life.
It suggests that if we "win" in Iraq, then we will be safe in America. That the horrors of death we faced on 9/11, and the horrors of death being faced every day in Iraq will be something kept far from America. So, we must fight them there. And we will be safe.
But "Them" is here. "Them" has always been here. "Them" will be here tomorrow. "Them" has existed in every country of the world since the world began. You don't keep "them" out by building a wall around yourself. Because "them" is already here.
To live with a false sense of security, that you will be safe if you only fight thousands of miles away over there, puts you even more at risk. Not just because you're wasting resources (not to mention lives), but because you're also not putting the proper attention on making your life safer where you are.
Tragic death comes all around us. It can come in huge, headline-making numbers of bloodbaths, and it can come in single, unnoticed gun deaths which quietly add up until 17,000 people are murdered each year.
Of course we should do all we can to prevent tragedy. But we can only do it properly with wisdom. If a person barricades every door of their house with boulders, that makes it impossible to get out when a fire ignites inside. If you look only down the road for danger, you won't see what's standing right next to you.
When we fight people in war it is because they are an actual threat. We don't fight war on theory. Because defeating them there won't keep us from fighting them here. They will come here if they want to come here -- and we will defeat them here because we have prepared for them here.
Defeating them there won't keep us from fighting them here. They will go elsewhere to find another way here - and we will defeat them elsewhere if we create bonds with others who will fight them for us, with us.
Defeating them there won't keep us from fighting them here. Because they are here. Whoever they are. And we will defeat them here if we understand reality and are not trying to fight them where they are not.
And sometimes there will be tragedy. Because there will always be tragedy in life. But it is by creating a society of support and nurturing for all -- not a society where we live in constant fear of others and others live in distrust of us -- that allows us to get past tragedy and heal in time. Because we know that's how we are supposed to live our lives.
When tragedy strikes, it is for the rest of us to make sure that life goes on so that those suffering can grieve. In the end, the only thing positive that can ever come out of tragedy is the lessons we learn from it.