Requiem

April 16, 2007

Last night I took a quiet Sunday night off to watch the film Bobby, Emilo Estevez’s lovingly crafted homage to Bobby Kennedy. The entire film takes place on June 4, 1968, tracing the lives of various “ordinary” people in the Ambassador Hotel, spinning a dozen or so of these disparate threads and then weaving them all together in the film’s fateful closing moments of Kennedy’s assassination.

I was six days shy of my fifteenth birthday on June 4, 1968. Watching it now, all these years later, made for powerful viewing.

Even as fifteen has turned slowly into fifty, the decades in between have not reconciled me to the losses. I still can’t quite accept the fact that JFK, MLK and RFK, men who embodied such profoundly earnest hopes, were stolen away in three wisps gunpowder. It still makes me cry.

Then I went to bed, slept and forgot.

I awoke to a warm, breezy Monday . . . and the news that the campus of Cameron Johnson’s alma mater, Virginia Tech, had just gone through the deadliest shooting rampage in our nation’s history.

Old history last night, new history this morning.

“History” — too often the word is defined by extremities of horror.

Still, humanity has a way of groping through to the other side, to that state Viktor Frankl calls “tragic optimism,” even while reeling from an event like this morning’s. Our hearts feel like they’re breaking, as our prayers and anguish go out to the victim’s, their families, and the entire Tech and Blacksburg community. And with those same breaking hearts, we feel that much more of an imperative to find and execute new and greater acts of kindness. To contribute to a larger legacy of decency. In an awful yet mysteriously salvific way, unspeakable events like these prod us to become better people.

In the last page of his legendary little book Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl writes about those “saints” whose acts of kindness form a sort of polar balance for others’ irredeemable acts of cruelty:

“It is true that they form a minority. More than that, they always will remain a minority. And yet I see therein the very challenge to join the minority. For the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best.”

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