Jinhee and I were on top of our bed covers, staring up at the popcorn-stucco ceiling. We held each other, and said nothing. We were trying unsuccessfully to make sense of it all: 33 murdered at Virginia Tech. We mourned and prayed for the victims families and friends — and for the campus.
The ones who need something to blame are already starting to point fingers: why didn’t the school administration lock down the campus right away? Isn’t this what happens if we don’t have stricter gun control laws? Or, isn’t this what happens when students cannot arm themselves in self-defense? Doesn’t this happen when we let too many foreigners into the country? It’s such a human instinct to blame something — anything — when crap not only hits the fan but also punches us in the face.
The incident feels close and personal to Jinhee and me. We both work in the university context, and have a great love for college students. We also sulk with our heads a little lower for another reason: the gunman was Korean American. For us, it makes sense to us why we haven’t heard from his parents, who would feel the most shame for bringing someone like that into the world. It’s probably not their fault, but in their minds, what their son did reflects on them. We fully understand why a president of a nation on the other side of the world would issue a statement of shock, sorrow and sympathy. We Koreans are a collective, and one student’s actions on that fateful Monday somehow stains us all.
In seeing something like this, I have to pull up an old-school word to describe it: evil. Frankly, it’s not the way things are supposed to be. The university is supposed to be a place of ideals, of visions, of inquiry, of what could be. Students’ eyes are supposed to grow bright at the thought of dreams, untainted by the wear-and-tear of a world that doesn’t seem to budge. But two days ago, we lost something. At Columbine eight years ago, our children had their innocence stolen. On 9/11, our country lost its security and bravado, and entered into a world of fear. And yesterday at Virginia Tech, we lost our dreams. A place of learning transformed into a site of bloodshed, and I wonder if there’s anything left that’s sacred. It’s in this place, where we’ve lost so much, that it’s tempting to blame.
Oddly, another story of the week is relevant here. Imus, a radio shock jock, lost his job after calling the Rutgers women’s basketball team, “nappy-headed ho’s.” While civil rights leaders called for his head on a platter, the team showed great dignity and accepted his apologies. They didn’t even demand his dismissal. Whereas Cho blamed all who might listen, saying “you forced me into a corner and gave me only one option,” the Rutgers team forgave.
They stopped the cycle of blame — and its potential evil — cold in its tracks and began a cycle of freedom and forgiveness, one that was started near the height of the Roman Empire by a Jewish stonemason and carries right up to the present. He didn’t blame, but instead absorbed the evil, even to a humiliating death on a cross. One of his last words was, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” To twist an old saying, to blame is human, but to forgive, divine. The Rutgers team may not actually be divine, but they did show some class.
Getting back to Cho: not only is he Korean, but he’s also a human being, a part — whether we like it or not — of the collective. Koreans are feeling shame, but as human beings, shouldn’t we all? We thankfully don’t go to his extremes, but this same evil lurks in all of us and has often played itself out on the stage of history. Our time on the planet is littered with periods where ordinary citizens did despicably cruel things. This shooting adds even more to the growing pile of evil that stinks to heaven. Father, forgive us, for we do not know what we do.
Jinhee and I are still mourning. It may take us a bit. I just read another article about Virginia Tech with tears welling up in my eyes. And Jinhee, as a TA, gets a little nervous about crossing students these days. But if there’s hope out there in a world full of great evil, I can’t help but think that it’s in forgiveness.