April 22, 2007
By Ken Krayeske • 11:00 AM EST
Written on the t-Shirt, stuck into the chain link fence surrounding the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building site in Oklahoma City, July, 1997: "Chase Smith had a shirt just like this one. One day at the day care center, where I was his teacher "93" - he said "Miss Terry, we are dressed alike!" We both were wearing dark lime shirts, black pants and black tennis shoes. I haven't been able to wear this shirt or known what to do with it until today at 2 p.m. I knew it belongs here with all the memories and feeling of EVERYONE. June 2, 1997."
This was one of those weeks which may be bound by the weight of human history to just be rotten. These past seven days represent the collective anniversaries of Hitler's birthday, the shootings at Columbine (1999), the massacre at Waco (1993), the response at Oklahoma City (1995), and now, the shooting spree at Virginia Tech.
That's a lot of bodies, and I haven't even talked about the deadliest week in Iraq in a long time. They had like 20 Virginia Tech's since last Sunday. It's all so numbing.
Perhaps its just the media cycle that makes this week seem more brutal than any other of the 52. But now we have another reason to dread its passage.
What is it about these last seven days as part of the annual cycle that lend themselves to this bleeding piece of earth? Anthony in Shakespeare's Julius Caeser bids us that we should not be "meek and gentle with these butchers!"
This week, I found myself thinking about the dead, from a moment in Oklahoma City I had in the summer of 1997. My dad and sister and I drove cross country, back to Connecticut from San Francisco, and we had an opportunity to visit the spot of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
Every time I read the words on that t-shirt in the photo above, I cry. Call me a sucker. I can take it. Nor can I forget McVeigh's warrior mind saying that the kids were collateral damage. McVeigh was a soldier trained by the U.S. Department of War (Defense, call it what you will). He learned the language from the experts.
Similar mementos and artifacts of mourning can be found at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the World Trade Towers. I don't have a television, but I've seen enough of the mass media images this week to understand similar things are happening in Blacksburg, too.
If this is how we mourn as Americans, then we should celebrate our ability to deal with grief in such concrete terms. Yet at the same time, as we ponder the killers and their motives, the global community may see us as America, that armed young man.
Iraqis most likely lack the luxury, time and safety to mourn everyone our taxpayer dollars are responsible for killing. In his angrier days, Malcolm X called it the chickens coming home to roost. Perhaps we are destined and doomed to endure a lifetime of cruelty doled out to each other, for each other. Mankind is a nasty creature sometimes.
I'm finding myself this morning in complete agreement with Bill Curry's column meandering through seven days of human tragedy writ large:
"I wonder when our own outrage and instinct for survival will impel us to demand more of politics. Soon, I hope.
"We've lived through an awful week. Our prayers go to the victims' families and our gratitude to all who in such times place duty above self."
And now I have homework for law school. I'll leave you with this video I found. It's apropos. I've been obsessing Pink Floyd's "The Wall" these past few weeks. From the time when I was eight years old and my parents gave it to my big sister for Easter, I remember being entranced by the cover art. What is this big nose walking through a wall all about?
I didn't really understand "The Wall" when I was a little kid, except the bit about the "We don't need no education. We don't need no thought control." But it's the subtlety in the rest of the work that makes it great. And 27 years later, Roger Waters makes more sense than, say, President Bush or Hitler. And as unsympathetic as the main character in "The Wall" is, I've found it really comforting lately.