Friday, February 15, 2008

A Horrible Tragedy

Chaos is a force of nature, from roaring rapids to falling ice. And it's a force to be reckoned with, prepared for, defended against.

But this... This societal chaos. Men coming out on stage from behind curtains, guns blazing... this kind of chaos cannot be reckoned with. It, too, is a force of nature. But unlike a mountaintop blizzard, there is no forecast, no dark mass on the horizon, no time or way to prepare. What happened at Cole Hall was random madness. No legislation or increased security could have prevented it.

My thoughts go out to those personally affected by the tragedy. So far, no one I know is among the victims, but only one name has been revealed. I am worried about my ENGL 104 students, all freshman, all on campus Thursday, who could have likely been in that general education course.

I was safely at home when it happened.

I had a meeting in the Campus Life Building at 2 p.m. with a career counselor. After that meeting ended around 2:45, I went home. I debated going back to Reavis, where I'd been all morning, to grade papers. If I'd gone to the office, I'd have walked by Cole Hall when the shootings took place. Instead, I was a mile away.

When dealing with this kind of societal chaos, every small decision is analyzed. Something as simple as seating arrangements determines who lives or dies.

It is so surreal when a familiar place is on CNN. My (shared) office desk in Reavis Hall is less than 100 feet from where the shootings took place.

I heard about the shootings five minutes after they happened when I received an email from Dr. Betty Birner warning not to come to campus because of a shooting. I stayed online, turned up AM 720, and followed the news as it unfolded less than a mile away. Talk about surreal. I tracked the spread of this news, probably more closely than I've ever followed a news story. By 4:15 p.m., a little over an hour after the shootings, news of the events at Cole Hall were broadcast in Australia.

To hear the hum of helicopter and see on CNN a familiar place from above, broken window, following that aerial shot of Cole Hall into darkness, until the building glowed as if seething with its own anger. I'll never forget those images. Evil so close. Mere steps away. Thoughts of my son and how I can do nothing to protect him from this kind of madness. Sirens wail constantly.

I tried to call my brothers and sister to let them know I'm alive, but no cell service. An essential service fails in crisis. To the cell phone service provider's credit, they did bring extra transmitter trucks in the area to fix that problem.

Following the events on the university web site. I at first thought the gunman was still at large in the MLK Jr. Commons. A red flashing light on the home page. The web site alert eerily remindful of Dec. 10, when a day of finals were canceled because of shooting threats written on a residence hall bathroom mirror.

My day started early, around 3 a.m., when I got up and watched a movie before putting together a lesson plan for my 104 class that I didn't use. I got online and read trail friend Chris Willett's trailjournals.com entries for a trip he's taking on the Pacific Northwest Trail, and how the PNT is rugged, requiring a lot of non-trail cross-country navigation. Kind of like many sections of the Arizona Trail.

After reading Willett's entries and thinking about how invigorating it is to travel trail-less, to determine the When and the Where on your own, I wrote, with wild places in mind, on my Facebook update: "Greg has no fear of calamity or the deep unknown."

And that message remained all day, until...

I retract that statement entirely.

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