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April 20, 2007

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Our Brother's Keeper
By Judith Gayle

THESE HAVE been difficult days -- a period of extreme weather, bloody Middle Eastern news and now assault on a sleepy little campus in Virginia. April is one of those months that make me edgy, anyway. Consider May -- a lusty month, a month of awakening and renewal, of hoped-for abundance and warming soil, of flowers encouraged by the deluge April usually provides.

April makes the way for the lushness of spring, but it sometimes exacts a price -- it's like the hammer that breaks the seal on winter's grip, leaving a few shattered pieces behind. I was hoping we'd make it through without some dreadful marker for 2007. In April of 1995 we had the Oklahoma City bombing; in '99 we had the assault on Columbine High School, deliberately chosen to coincide with Hitler's birthday. I was hoping -- but we could sense the energy building, feel something coming. It came in the form of a troubled young man.

I'm fond of Aries energy, its enthusiasm and its initiative, but as an astrologer I make it a point to caution those with Aries planets to slow down just a bit in an effort to look for the complete picture. Over the years I've found an analogy that illuminates this first most potent of the fire signs -- Aries enters a room and quickly sizes it up, sees all the details of three walls and draws its conclusions. From all it has observed, it acts, because that's what fire does. But there is a fourth wall which it has somehow missed; a critical piece of information has not been factored in. Aries has a blind spot. And April comes with the opportunity of a fiery flashpoint to rash and blind-sided events.

With the Sun, Moon and Mercury in quick-tempered Aries, then, a young Korean man took vengeance on the world his skewed mind showed him, leaving behind a note that said, "You made me do it." The lamest statement under the stars, that. No one "makes" us do the things we do. Our path is not set, it's created in a series of choices and decisions. From details about earlier hospitalizations and previous concerns about his behaviors, we've learned that his downward spiral was interrupted by both mental health professionals and the courts, with the options they provided him ignored. The young man was unwilling, perhaps unable, to feel anything but anger -- he moved through his killing spree with a mechanical deadness that his surviving victims described as "cold." A mind emotionally crippled. Vengeance served cold. A heart occulted by hatred. In the end, his own decisions provided him a killing ground where he offered his victims none.

It's been impossible to ignore this story; television channels and news outlets have focused on it to the exclusion of all else, examining every known detail and speculating on all that remains unknown. The shock of overt violence brings us to a standstill in this nation, and when it involves our children, we move all information from our heads to our hearts. It would surely be better if we did that more often, but sadly, it takes an event like this to grab our attention, to make us grieve.

I blogged on Monday that our hearts have too many borders -- Virginia is ours, we take this personally; Mosul and Baghdad aren't, we take no notice. Consider:
On Monday, the same day as the Virginia Tech mass shooting, two separate shooting incidents struck Mosul University, one killing Dr. Talal Younis al-Jelili, the dean of the college of Political Science as he walked through the university gate, and another killing Dr. Jaafar Hassan Sadeq, a professor from the Faculty of Arts at the school, who was targeted in front of his home in the al-Kifaat area, according to Aswat al-Iraq.

In January, Baghdad's Mustansiriya University suffered a double suicide bombing in January that killed at least 70 people, including students, faculty, and staff. A month later, another suicide bomber struck at Mustansiriya, killing 40.
Unthinkable, isn't it? What has brought this nation to a bewildered stand-still happens with regularity in Iraq. Children and bright young people die daily, there...elsewhere too. But they aren't "ours." We can still allow ourselves to process their pain intellectually, not allow it to intrude into our personal space.

This is not a topic I wanted to write about, but it has sucked the breath out of everything else in the news. The reason is simple; it is the random event that all of us fear the most and with which we are all familiar. The capacity to do such a thing lies dormant in the center of humanity and has since the beginning of time. One of the earliest Bible stories tells us the tale of Cain and Abel -- one brother murdering another for reasons of resentment and jealousy. The bloodbath at Virginia Tech isn't some new wrinkle in aggression, a precursor to "end times" or even an anomaly. Such events litter the history of mankind.

Successful killing on a mass scale does have a contemporary factor, of course -- the gun. Cho Seung-Hui bought two pistols in the last month, all within legal parameters. While it was illegal to have them in his dorm room, his roommates never saw them and were surprised to hear about them. They saw nothing coming; in fact, to them Cho was an enigma but not considered a danger. An enigma, as it turned out, with two semi-automatic weapons and any number of clips.

The political fallout, the hot air, has already begun -- in fact, Bush had his press secretary remind everyone that he backed the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms, on the very day of the killings. The gun enthusiasts have already decided that if guns hadn't been forbidden on campus, someone would have taken out the shooter expediently, saving lives -- while those who decry the laxity of gun control say that if he hadn't had access to handguns, this would never have happened.

Meanwhile, since teachers had noted Cho's preoccupation with murder in his English assignments, the laws that limit reporting of mental health issues are being examined. And the decision to allow classes to continue after the first dorm killings is being investigated, although the governor of Virginia and the campus as a whole have supported that decision. The topic of increased security in our schoolrooms is again on the table, although the very human factors that foster these incidents can never be fully guarded against; because we knee-jerk on this issue, there is fear that more freedoms will be usurped. The racist element has already weighed in on Cho's legal alien status with considerable hate talk, and the Get Tough on Crime folks are deeply disappointed that they have no one to sentence to lethal injection.

As Britain, and now our own Democratic Congress, reviews the use of the term War on Terror (in anticipation of retiring it), it should be noted that what happened in Virginia is an actual example of terrorism. George Bush continues to insist that we have to keep the bloodletting and the military footprint in Iraq indefinitely because if we don't, it will follow us home; terrorism will come to our shores. Makes you wonder, doesn't it? Didn't he hear? It's already here. It's part of life, even in the best-case scenario. It's in the minds of the delusional, the disturbed, the zealots.

And we do little to fix the cause of isolation that authors it, little to provide for the social ills that encourage it. It's birthed in the ghettos, the jail cells and prisons. It drew strength in New Orleans, where it witnessed a lethargic and shameful response to people of color. It's fed from disconnected households, privileged and non, and inadequate medical, social and educational programs. It inflames itself in fear-based theologies, supremacy-based philosophies and tribalism of all stripes. Terror is already here; it's within us. It's the price of living in a world that hasn't yet discovered that it is surely, if it wishes to survive, its brother's keeper.

I'd like to add a word about that fourth wall that Cho Seung-Hui was incapable of seeing or appreciating. The voluminous coverage of the massacre has given us an impressive portrait of those he killed. Among them, a beautiful Lebanese-American dancer, talented and beloved of her family…a remarkable young African-American man who carried a 4.0 in three majors and who was killed "helping"…a vivacious young woman (Cho's first kill and perhaps the object of his desires) who was to be a veterinarian…an elderly Israeli professor who protected his students with his own body, and who only now do they learn was a Holocaust survivor.

This remarkable campus has risen to the occasion, supporting one another and their school lovingly and with enviable poise and unity. If this was a random sampling of those souls with which our young assassin was surrounded, he missed much indeed. Whatever the internal demons that kept him from seeing the remarkable humanity around him -- or from finding it in himself -- we are all diminished by his actions.

There's no fix for this situation but time, no "safety" to be achieved until we confront the cause of it within us. We've had another up-close and personal brush with the death and violence that marks this new century. If anything is achieved by this kind of incident, it's an opening of emotion, an opportunity to process through our hearts -- and we've had so many of them, haven't we? The Towers, the tsunami, the murder of little Amish girls in a country schoolroom. And while our hearts are opened to embrace our own, let's not forget every day in Iraq, every moment in Darfur.

When faced with this kind of sorrow, there is a lot of cheap sentimentality at the ready -- but sometimes there's an actual voice that resonates like a tuning fork. For me, that came in a statement from John and Elizabeth Edwards. Here is what they said:
Our dearest wish is that this day could start again, with the promise of these young people alive. Knowing that cannot be, our prayer is for God's grace and whatever measure of peace can be reached on this terrible day.
I appreciate the reality of that statement. Some things can't be "fixed." They must simply be accepted, grieved, and integrated. The peaceable kingdom we'd hoped to offer to these fallen young students is still within us, as a nation, as a world, to be discovered. Our tribute to their lives must be the simple faith that we can, we will, make that happen, one decision at a time.

CREDITS: Managing Editor: Priya Kale. Webmaster: Anatoly Ryzhenko. Proofreader and Fact checker: Sara Churchville. Horoscope Editor: Jessica Keet.

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