Echoes Heard at Virginia Tech

This article was published in the Yorkton Review on April 19, 2007 and elsewhere. One man in Davidson said he thought strongly about giving the article to his school board and saying, "What are you going to do about this?"

Echoes Heard at Virginia Tech
By Lee Harding

"Then I will turn your festivals into mourning
And all your songs into lamentation...
And I will make it like a time of mourning for an only son,
And the end of it will be like a bitter day. --Amos 8:10, NASB


April 17, 2007 was convocation day at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. It was supposed to be a time of celebration--the culmination of four years of fun times, of relationships, of goals sought and reached--a time where a bright future opens for another class of graduating students.

But it wasn't. Just one day prior, 23 year old Cho Seung-Hui, a senior student, used a 9-millimeter handgun and 22-caliber handgun to kill 32 people. Victims were found in four classrooms and a stairwell. Finally, the killer shot himself in the face, disfiguring it beyond recognition.

And so, this day of convocation, this day of celebration, turned into an overcast of grief. President Bush and a host of religious leaders, each in turn, tried to comfort the students gathered to mourn on graduation day. The echoes of the gunshots rung in the ears of all assembled, as did the cries of the dying, and now the mourning.

When the speeches had concluded, a moment of silence began. One of the students right behind Bush was completely overcome with grief. The president reached back to place a comforting hand, and spoke words known only to those within earshot.

It was not consolation enough. Some ushers came to escort the student away.

Into the homes across America and much of the world entered the faces of student after student, most in tears. Some grieved in the arms of classmates and friends clad in school sweaters. Others sat forward, tears in eyes, head in hands.

Why is it that the most poignant moments of national mourning in the recent years--and also of shock and bewilderment--have happened in schools ? 9-11 aside, Columbine and Virginia Tech were those landmark times for the United States. In Canada, it was Taber, Alberta and Dawson College in Montreal. These inexplicable school shootings cut short young and innocent lives for no reason.

These things NEVER used to happen--at least, not before 1963. Months before the Beatles' arrival in America, a U.S. court forced the Lord's prayer out of schools. Soon Professor Timothy Leary was touring American college campuses, telling a generation of students to turn on, tune in, and drop out. Leary was advised by Aldous Huxley, who said that the biggest roadblock to the evolution of humanity was the Bible.

Today our school is the place where sexual freedom is taught, where counsellors equip children to have sex "safely" and how to get abortions without their parents knowing. The children that are born grow up in broken families. On the playground, they act out their pain, or have it inflicted upon them by other bullies. Some teachers with good hearts feel their hands are tied at dealing with unruly classrooms. They're right. "The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother," said the Biblical proverb. Today, these children, already left to themselves, cannot be spanked by any teacher without the censure of the law.

Children, given every other choice, are less informed when it comes to God. Gideons aren't allowed into many of the schools that received their Bibles for generations. On some school stages, the sounds of Christmas carols at the annual play have also fallen silent. Don't call that pine with lights a Christmas tree--it's a holiday tree. Show respect.

The children return home to be babysat by the television for more hours than they spend at school. Those screens are filled with things that, had they been shown in 1963, would have sent people pouring into the streets in protest, to the universal condemnation of civic and religious leaders alike. But now, a generation gorging on internet pornography, violent video games, rank movies, and endless hours of television are inevitably following the hedonism espoused by their entertainment. Too many, disiullioned with that path, have killed themselves.

Had we known what a pandora's box would open in the 1960s, we would have closed it right up and buried it where it could never be found. Forty years later, the seeds we sowed have come to maturity. The weeds aren't pretty, and they're multiplying fast. That's why Virginia Tech is neither the first nor the last shooting we'll hear about. Unless our schools, our universities, and our televisions change, we will hear more church bells announcing the loss of our sons and daughters.

Yes, but that moment of silence allowed one more thing. It allowed the assembly to hear something they hadn't heard at a convocation in a long time. Faint though it was, the echoes of the prayers of generations entered the room.

And then they joined in.

The Lutheran chaplain invited everyone to stand. And they did--politicians, university professors, students in mourning, even the band. As they prayed to "Our Father, who art in heaven," the call of thousands in united prayer echoed through the assembly hall, the television sets of the nation, and beyond, even into heaven.

After all that had occurred, it was clear that their wound was so grievous only God could console. If that realization lasts longer than a moment of silence, then our schools have reason to hope.