In Even the Darkest of Times, The Human Spirit Shines Through

George Mason students Taisha Serrano, left, and Sejal Patel take part in a vigil last month on the George Mason University campus to remember the victims of the shooting rampage at Virginia Tech. At right, a statue of George Mason on the campus was decorated in honor of Virginia Tech.
George Mason students Taisha Serrano, left, and Sejal Patel take part in a vigil last month on the George Mason University campus to remember the victims of the shooting rampage at Virginia Tech. At right, a statue of George Mason on the campus was decorated in honor of Virginia Tech. (By Jason Hornick -- Potomac News Via Associated Press)

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

The aftermath of the tragedy at Virginia Tech has left many asking, once again, what evil lurks in the hearts of men -- and what, if anything, we can do about it. Gun loopholes have been closed, mental-health treatment procedures have been reviewed, and universities are revising and updating "disaster" scenarios.

As educators and parents, we must ask whether it is possible to keep our young people safe as they navigate the adult world. It is our nature to seek introspection at events almost too horrific to absorb. But the risk in this questioning is the failure to see what else evil wrought -- proof of the overwhelming goodness of our world, and the people in it.

I saw examples of this at George Mason University, a sister institution to Virginia Tech, in the days after the shooting. Candlelight vigils, letters of condolence, maroon and orange balloons released into the air.

The statue of George Mason, seen around the world last year wearing Patriot green and gold -- now wearing a Virginia Tech jersey. On April 20, in response to the governor's request to honor Virginia Tech, nearly every student on campus was wearing Hokie colors, turning the campus into Blacksburg North for the day. It was their honor to do so.

Such compassion extended throughout Virginia and the nation. In addition to the tributes were thousands of deeds, in thousands of towns and cities. Donations to charities soared. Scholarships were established. While we wondered what would drive one young man to such tragic extremes, students of the same age were volunteering their help, establishing counseling groups and showing the character that is the hallmark of a caring and giving society.

A YouTube search for "tributes to Virginia Tech" on the Friday after the tragedy produced more than 500 postings, mostly from young people, reaching out through the space of the Internet they consider their own.

Did you hug your children that day? Did you have a conversation with them, maybe the first in a while? Did you listen -- really listen -- to what they had to say?

All of these deeds, the large and the small, were also wrought by the events at Virginia Tech.

We are, it seems, inherently good people, caught in an imperfect world. And in this imperfection, we are often challenged to maintain our goodness. The challenge is to seek the knowledge that perhaps a higher being who put us here did not do so for us to ask Him to take care of us -- but so that we would take care of each other.

The most touching example of goodness may have come from the most unlikely of sources. The rivalry between the University of Virginia Wahoos and Virginia Tech Hokies goes back more than 100 years. "Bitter" would not be too harsh an adjective to describe it. There's even a U-Va./Virginia Tech rivalry page on the Internet -- loaded with trash talk and tasteless jokes from both sides.

But the 30,000 candles used in the candlelight ceremony at Virginia Tech were gathered and delivered by students and staff members from U-Va. Within days of the incident, a memorial fund was established by the U-Va. student council in conjunction with the Virginia Tech Alumni Association. On Facebook.com, more than 4,000 U-Va. students expressed support for their Hokie counterparts, many changing their picture profiles to a dual image of the U-Va. and Virginia Tech logos. U-Va. President John Casteen offered support to help overwhelmed Tech colleagues. In a letter thanking U-Va. for its assistance, Elizabeth Hart, director of public relations at Virginia Tech, noted "even in the most difficult day of [our] history, we have found strength -- it is your university that has sustained us, far beyond what you will ever know."

Still, the most touching act may have come in the form of old concrete.

Beta Bridge is a U-Va. icon, a nondescript structure continuously painted to reflect some university group or passion. But by the morning after the tragedy, Beta Bridge had been painted maroon by students. And on that maroon these words in orange and white: "Hoos for Hokies." Evil can never really win.

The youth of today have seen more than their share of it: Columbine; Sept. 11, 2001; Virginia Tech. Yet, each blow from evil's darkened heart simply shows us a million hearts, young and old, willing to give, and even forgive.

What we really know, even after such horror, is that evil cannot conquer, it cannot permanently harm, it cannot consume.

Goodness lives.

Andrew Carle is an assistant professor at George Mason University and lives in Oak Hill with his wife, Lynn, who is an alumna of the University of Virginia.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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