An Open Letter to Virginia
by Shelton Hull
Virginians, I am writing this open letter to all of you for two reasons. The first is that Virginia has always been good to me, on those sparse occasions I have found myself there. Having never visited the Virginia Tech campus, I can only imagine the exact physical dimensions of your pain at this time. The second is that I feel a responsibility to tell you the truth as I see it–because nobody else will.
The challenges you now face are daunting. You must make sense of the senseless. You must keep your cool in the context of knowing that your worst fears, now realized, will absolutely be exceeded, faster that anyone could expect. You folks are the ones we will all look to in our darkest moments–those moments yet to come.
For what they are worth, just four of the lessons I’ve learned:
Visit Ground Zero. In these times, your greatest ally is context. It’s important to know that you are not alone in your feelings, and lower Manhattan is the only place in America where the implications of such madness are explicit. It certainly helps if you’ve been there before–I hyperventilated, and almost passed out, in the crowded lower area of the World Trade Center when I was there in August 2001–but the feeling of loss is palpable nonetheless. Carry pictures of your lost loves, and let them float gently into the gaping maw left behind after the savagery of 9/11. Resist the urge to climb that fence and jump. Be yourselves, and your tears will fall into the mouth of God.
Toughen your skin. It’s hard to imagine, but many people are so lost inside that they see what happened on 4/16 as irrelevant, or even funny. Each of you will face that horror of apathy in your time: you will be asked stupid questions; you will watch people laugh in your face and make nasty jokes about your fallen friends. I cannot emphasize how important self-control will be for you in the next few years, because whatever evil force animated that cocksucker will animate others who will do their best to instigate your own destruction. You are already stronger–learn to act like it!
Embrace your ego. Drink what you want, smoke what you want, eat what you want. Don’t do anything you don’t want to do, and resist any push to make yourself anything different from who you are. You will dissect your situation and invent reasons to hate yourself for not being there. Understand that, just as your comrades met their destinies, you will meet yours someday, too. Those of you who were especially close to victims of 4/16 must now work really hard to be worthy of seeing them again, and nothing on this Earth is more important. If there is any silver lining possible from all this horror, it is that you are no longer obliged to compromise with the Culture of Death we live in.
Lead from the front. I don’t know any of you personally, but I can appreciate that, through no effort of your own, you’ve now been dealt in. The fact that none of you have taken your own lives, despite the overwhelming pressure some of you may have had to do so, proves that you are all of leadership quality. It’s hard to follow a martyr or an icon of the New Reality; none of us can realistically hope to be Emily Hilscher, “Stack” Clark, Liviu Librescu or Sarah Whitlock, but we can dream of being like them. In a world full of cowards, monsters and malcontents, our dreams are all we have right now.
Not one of the victims of that slaughter deserved what they got. You know the angels weep alongside us; know also that the Most High has already endowed them each with the glory that comes from true martyrdom: names that will last forever, and souls that persist, even now, on the uppermost level of the human spirit. They are all in a place that the rest of us can only hope to see someday. In time you will wonder if the horrors in your heart were ever really real, and your Aprils may be as awful as my Marches, or the Septembers in New York. Will you feel better? Sure, but it will never be enough. Nor should it. You may feel half-dead, yet you remain fully alive! So it goes. ◼