What to do when there’s nothing else you can do
There comes a moment when the totality of the situation hits you full force, when all your coping mechanisms are rendered useless, when your defenses become strangely inoperable. Your carefully constructed house of cards comes crashing down like a DH Griffin number on the Burlington Industries building and there’s not one damn thing you can do about it.
It usually happens well after the fact. I remember when my dad died. I was a rock through the whole ordeal of notifying friends and relatives, planning the funeral and being the big brother for my three younger brothers. It was not until the hearse pulled out of the graveyard that I was able to let the grieving process begin by allowing myself to cry.
Likewise, on 9-11 I put on my hard-bitten newsman veneer and went about my business. All that day I sequestered myself in my office and listened to it on the radio, never once venturing over to the newsroom of The High Point Enterprise to watch the endless replays of the second plane hitting the tower. A couple of days later as I was hanging the flag outside the house was when I finally broke down and let the lump in my throat morph into a tear on my cheek.
This time it took a full three days for it to sink in. Monday we were on deadline at my day gig as editor of The Jamestown News. Jane and Carolyn, my friends and colleagues at the paper, were in obvious distress – Jane because she has two kids at NC State, and Carolyn because she’s from Roanoke, right down the road from Blacksburg. But not me, no sireee Bob, I’m a manly man with manly work to do. I’ve got to push these commas around, butcher some prose, dangle me a few participles.
Then the next day as the details filtered in, and then the next when NBC received Cho’s morbid-beyond-comprehension package, I was saddened but not grief-stricken. In fact, I was getting a tad angry as both ends of the political spectrum started using this as ammo (poor choice of words) for either tighter gun control or unrestricted Second Amendment rights.
On Thursday one of the networks, ABC I think, ended their evening newscast with a slow roll of each of the victims. One by one their faces, with their names and hometowns, lit up the TV screen, not for a split second but for several seconds. Long enough for the realization to smack you upside the head that these were our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, lovers and friends. Luckily I was in a room alone at the time, so that no one saw Mr. Manly break down.
Now, I am tempted to make my own political statement here, given the fact that at least this many of our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, lovers and friends have died needlessly in Iraq in the month of April, but I won’t. There will be another time and place to do that, but this isn’t it.
No, today (Friday) I’ll wear my maroon shirt and orange Jerry Garcia tie and join the rest of the nation in honoring and remembering those students and professors who have now become a part of our shared history. I went over to the Conference Store and bought a VT lapel pin and put it on my gray suit. Completely insignificant gestures but in times when you don’t know what else to do, you do something insignificant with the hope it is part of some greater whole. Maybe it’s part of the process or maybe it’s part of the answer when there are no answers. It’s how we seem to react when there seems to be no appropriate reaction.
Still, there is a bonding of sorts that happens in dire straits like these. Today, for instance, as I was taking a picture of a sign in front of Jamestown Presbyterian Church that said, “We’re all Hokies at this time,” a van turned around and pulled in the church driveway. Naturally I assumed it was one of the church elders getting ready to run me off for stomping all over their landscaped flower beds. Instead it was a lady in a Tech sweatshirt who wanted to thank me for wearing burgundy and orange. I told her I was taking the picture for The Jamestown News and her thanks turned from polite to profuse. As she drove off I turned to see the big VT logo and “Go Hokies” bumper sticker on the back of her car.
Maybe none of that means anything. Or maybe two souls meeting for a fleeting moment means everything. Maybe that’s all there is. And maybe it’s enough.
Maybe we really are all Hokies at this time.
Ogi may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, heard Tuesdays 9:30-10 a.m. on “The Dusty Dunn Show” on WGOS 1070 AM, and seen Fridays 6:30-7 a.m. on ABC45 and Sundays 10-10:30 p.m. on MVY48 on “Triad Today” hosted by Jim Longworth.