Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Remembering the Lessons Learned

Tomorrow marks the anniversary of the tragic shooting rampage at Virginia Tech University. I was going through some old e-mails and came across one that I wrote to my running team as we wrapped up that horrible week of endless news coverage at The Chronicle of Higher Education. I thought it was worth sharing.
I can't remember the last time I was so happy to see Friday. Like Michelle explained at the beginning of the week, we all have our releases and I too count running, swimming, and (sometimes) cycling among them. Unfortunately for you, you've signed on to a group that is a captive audience for my other outlet: writing. Bail now. Hit delete. I'll never know.

Most of you know that my career--the one that pays my bills--is as a reporter for a newspaper called The Chronicle of Higher Education. Busy days for us usually involve a university president getting fired, student-loan scandals, faculty members who have plagiarized, groundbreaking research, or a campus protest that got out of hand.

Obviously the week in higher education took a tragic turn on Monday morning in Blacksburg, Va. And while most of us in this newsroom have cut our teeth elsewhere, hardening us to the tragedies we often cover, this week had every journalist I work with overwhelmed with a sense of stress and sadness, and finally today, exhaustion.

Just about an hour ago, I finally finished writing the last profile of one of 33 victims. She was the captain of her high-school swim team, an environmentalist, and a person whose laugh was so genuine and loud that her professors said they could hear her coming down the hall. She had plans to travel to Zambia to start a career that would take her to the far reaches of the earth, to help those less fortunate create clean water systems. She spent her free time helping community children appreciate the outdoors and learn about science. He adviser told me that while she had the heart of an idealist, she tempered it with a healthy dose of pragmatism, never simply saying that something "should" be done, without figuring out a way to make it happen.

I wrote about a 19-year-old girl whose smile was so warm and broad, her friend told me she could put an entire room at ease without speaking a word. She didn't live long enough to declare her major, but had dreams of becoming an elementary school teacher. In the meantime she was happy playing lacrosse, baking cookies with her friends, and watching reruns of Dawson's Creek. She was killed on Monday during French class, just a few weeks shy of completing her freshman year at Virginia Tech.

So, take a look around your world this weekend and know that life is good, at least for this moment. Cliché? Yes, absolutely. But after a week of talking with those who are in such grief and despair, it's hard to ignore the fact that to care for and love your friends and family so deeply is what makes this life worth living. How many tragedies--global, national or personal--do we need to go through to finally learn?

Be generous with your compassion, be quick to forgive, be fast to laugh, and even faster to move on. Be gentle and kind...to everybody. There's not enough time to be petty. There's not enough time to be mean. There's not enough time to worry about what you can't control, or to not surround yourself with the people who encourage your dreams and support your goals--and to not choose to live your life in such a way that it's natural instinct to do the same right back.

Go to the 4-miler in the park this weekend and relish the time together. Have brunch. Eat bacon. Laugh loudly. Don't worry about the color of your singlet or the logo on your shorts. Run for the graduate student whose last phone conversation on Monday morning was with his little sister, calming her nerves and confidently saying that yes, she would finish the Boston Marathon, even though it was cold, wet, and windy--after all, they had trained together in far worse conditions in the mountains surrounding their childhood home near Penn State University.

We're all in this together, whatever "this" ends up being. So enjoy it. Every minute of it.


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