Two years ago today, I huddled in my office, next to the wall away from the window, wondering what was going on. None of the things that I imagined, though, prepared me for what had actually happened. Even when I left my building, still knowing nearly nothing, and saw the long, long line of ambulances, my brain was coming up with wild, implausible explanations about why so many ambulances had responded to the scene. (It reminds me of 2001/9/11. When the first plane hit, I thought, like everyone, that it was some sort of uber-tragic accident. When the second plane hit, all I could come up with was that the second pilot was trying to get a look at the first tower. You know, like a rubbernecker on the highway. Totally implausible. Ludicrous, really. But our brains are wired to explain things — to fit the messy, uncomfortable world into our neat and tidy little boxes.) My first Ph.D. student was in the car with me when the news came on the radio that many had been killed. I prattled incoherently with disbelief.
In any case, it is apparently my tradition to write a blog post on the anniversary of this event. The year it happened, I was on hiatus from blogging. When I returned to the blog in August, though, I posted the email that I sent to family and friends a few days after the tragedy, telling my tiny version of the story. Last year, I posted some remembrances of Kevin Granata.
This year, I have little to say. I planned to run in the 3.2 mile Run in Remembrance this morning, but the children had a bad night last night and I didn’t make it out the door in time. I didn’t feel up to attending the memorial at noon today. I’m in the midst of trying to fight through the end of a tough semester for me, and I just didn’t have the strength to reopen the wounds of 2007 any more than necessary.
For the last few weeks, I considered writing this post about the things that have changed at VT in the last two years, especially details regarding campus communications and security. Some of the changes are probably for the better: The new campus notification system has perhaps been overused, but I think it is basically a good thing. It has many potential applications in many circumstances — natural disasters, weather emergencies, and so on. Other changes do nothing other than defend against the second coming of Seung-Hui Cho, an event so unlikely that the probability of it happening again cannot even be computed. Most notably in this category: Virginia Tech has removed one of the handles from every set of exterior double doors and replaced all crash bars with push panels to make chaining the exterior doors impossible (or at least difficult). The fact that Cho chained the doors of Norris Hall, making it difficult for his victims to escape and delaying the entry of the police into the building, is among the many disturbing details of that 2007 day. But the main effect of replacing the hardware on every exterior door on campus is to ensure that every time anyone enters or leaves a building, he or she is reminded of this disturbing detail. The probability that this expensive effort will ever stop, or even mitigate, another act of violence is vanishingly small. But its impact as a constant reminder to thousands on campus every day is absolutely certain.
Nevertheless, I decided that I wouldn’t write a whole post on these changes, because it seems to trivialize that which we remember today. So, what is different in our hearts and minds two years on? The sting has faded a bit. I actually found myself wondering today whether it was possible that a day had passed without thinking of that terrible day. My conclusion was that, no, it is not possible. Not yet, and not with constant reminders like shiny new push panels and missing handles on exterior doors. But the fact that it is even conceivable that, someday, a day might pass for me without a thought of 2007 April 16 is comforting. There are some for whom such a day will never arrive. Today we remember them: Those who were taken from us, and those they left behind.