What to say about an event as unimaginably awful as the mass murders at Virginia Tech? It seems inadequate, almost impertinent to bemoan the loss of life, to express sadness for the families of those who lost loved ones… as though a few words could in any way reduce their suffering. An action so monstrous, so heart-rending, so cruelly random is virtually beyond comprehension, let alone the pale compensation of pious homilies—no matter how compassionate. “Our hearts go out…” echoes emptily in this dark pit of senseless, rageful depravity to which the human soul can sink.
It’s natural, I suppose, to search for explanations—and for someone to blame. The media have been busy doing both. From what I hear, the main target for blame has been the campus police, as though they should have anticipated the rampage that was to follow, on the basis of what reasonably might have seemed an isolated incident. Through the intermediary of the media, there is no shortage of second-guessers asking them why did they not “lock down” the campus after the first shooting. As though this were a simple matter, as though these fallible humans should have been gifted with infallible clairvoyance.
More to the point, though, it's clear that a vital system failed, allowing enough cracks for a man like the deranged Cho Seung-Hui to slip through. According to the news I heard today, he had drawn attention to his potential for violence in a variety of ways and had even at one point been committed--though I have no idea how briefly. Despite police reports and referrals for psychiatric counseling, and despite faculty and peer warnings of predictive behavior, the system apparently allowed no way to remove the clearly disturbed young man from the path of murder and self-destruction. Do we blame those who designed the flawed system? Where do we find them? Perhaps we should rather set about the task of fixing insofar as possible it to circumvent such tragedies in the future.
As for the explanations, I predict that one and one, in this case, will never make two, nor two and two make four. No matter how complete a psychological profile may be made of the young man who perpetrated this atrocity, it will always remain an irreducible mystery. As Pascal wrote so many years ago, “The heart has its reasons which reason will never know.” It seems that sometimes people snap, particularly people who lack the skills to give expression to those inner tempests of emotion. Whatever has been building up inside in the form of pain and rage simply explodes, and woe betide anyone who happens to be within range of the explosion or its fall-out.
In such a circumstance, we hear a great deal about prayer--an intercession that springs, surely, from the compassion of which the human heart is capable, and one which assumes the presence of some external power that will respond in the desired manner: to bring relief or consolation to the bereaved. For one who, like myself, has trouble with deities, I suppose that the practice of metta is the closest thing to prayer, but it's done without the intermediary. To send out metta--"May they find consolation, may they be spared further pain and suffering"--is an simple act of compassion that goes from human soul to human soul. For me, it will have to suffice.