Sunday, April 22, 2007

Unimaginable Tragedy

All last week I kept NPR off in the mornings, so Julia wouldn't hear anything about the Virgina Tech shootings. And when the shooter sent his tape and photos to NBC and the news channels began running the footage nonstop, I turned off the TV because, as a psychologist, I knew that what I was watching was the ranting of a psychotic person, the incoherent ramblings of a severely mentally ill student, and that exposing myself to it over and over was in no way healthy, helpful, or illuminating. Sickness happens. Psychosis happens. The tragedy stood; the video, the TV footage, had nothing to add for me.

So it was enormously shocking to drive up to the U. on Friday morning for a conference and listen to NPR the whole way there, packed as it was, naturally, with continued discussion of the rampage. They ran a story about two student survivors, kids in a French class in Norris Hall, and their family members relayed on their behalf a narrative of the event. The narrative was so vivid--the description of the class hearing a pop-pop-pop sound, the professor pausing to consider what it might be, then hesitantly opening the classroom door to peek outside and quickly pulling her head back in with a petrified look and saying, "Get down, and someone call 911"--that I could feel my heart race in real anxiety and my eyes tear up in fear. Can you imagine it? Can you imagine being in that room?

At the lunch break of this conference, I went to deal with the reality of being a nursing mom away from my baby for the day--that is, I had a date with my breast pump. And I encountered the pleasant surprise of the university conference center staff expertly accomodating my needs, providing me with a locked, unused office (and another psychologist with the one next door). And so I sat in this office on a huge urban campus, overlooking the spring outside, watching the tree branches wave above the newly green grass, and I thought of my baby, and I did the usual, the quotidian: I did my best for her, I made her some milk.

My own college days--the hours I spent in lit classes on the top floor of Old Main, the psych seminars in Rice-Olin--seem like yesterday to me, or, at least, far more recent than some 15 years ago, and I've heard many of my same-cohort friends say the same thing. That was just a second ago, it was just the other day that I was a student like that. I take this to mean that in one more blink of an eye, Julia and Genevieve will be in college themselves. And who will keep them safe then, when they're miles from home in some French class, when they're sleeping in a room in some freshman dorm?

What can I do? Keep my girls safe forever? They're still babies. Right now, I just do my best for them. I nurse them, love them, feed them, kiss them. Hope for the best. Turn off the radio. Maybe say a little prayer.

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