Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Remembering the Dead

On Sunday, as I was flying back to Johnson City, a man entered the plane. He was obviously drunk and as he staggered aboard I was thinking, “It’s Sunday morning. It didn’t take him long to get wasted.”

And of all the seats on the plane you can already guess his seat assignment. He positioned himself next to me and stared around the plane. “They didn’t want me to come on,” he told me. “But I told them I had to be on this flight. I had to be.”

About then I noticed that no one was sitting in the row in front of us. I figured it would give each of us more space if I went up there. I asked him if it was ok and he said that yeah it was fine.

I slipped up to the front row and somehow we got to talking over the seatback behind me.

“I’m on my way to Blacksburg,” he said. “My cousin was killed there. The sixth one shot.” Then he shook his head. “What could cause someone to do that?”

I swallowed. “I’m very sorry,” I said.

“Thank you,” he said. “I mean it.” We talked a little more and then he fell asleep.

The whole flight I couldn’t help but think about tragedy and how it doesn’t seem real to us unless we meet it face-to-face. Unless it somehow touches our lives. We’re quick to change the channel when we see the starving children in slums around the world until we meet them. We pass by the homeless guy on the street corner without a second thought until we take the time to look into his eyes and see that he’s just like us.

The bombings that happen every day in Iraq aren’t much different than the tragedy on the Virginia Tech campus, but they hardly make a blip on the radar screen of our lives. We hear on the news that another 30 or 50 or 180 people were killed by a suicide bomber and all we can think about is the skim milk we’re supposed to pick up from the store on the way home.

The middle east has its suicide bombers. Here we have suicide gunmen. And we spend a week or a year or a decade remembering their victims and mourning the dead because they are closer to us than the anonymous dead on the other side of the world.

Every day tragedies happen all over the globe. Tears and heartache permeate our planet, but only when they touch our lives do they affect our hearts.

I wonder how long the people of Iraq will mourn the victims at Virginia Tech?

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