I was in my third year in seminary in Richmond, VA two years ago today. I was nearing the end of my seminary career, looking forward to graduation. I was working on my final exegesis paper for my New Testament class. I was studying Romans 5:1-11. It was then that I heard the news at Virginia Tech, only about an hour’s drive from our campus. I was flooded with thoughts of my friends, former campers, friends of my family, the Virginia Tech community. I was scared, I wanted to help, I wanted to jump in my car and drive as fast as I could to Blacksburg to do whatever it was that I could. The only think I could do was pray, worry, wait for the phone to ring.
Eventually, I heard that one of my sister’s closest high school friends was in the building where most of the tragedy took place. He got out safe. By the end of the day, I had heard that all of the people that I knew or were connected to were safe. I breathed a sigh of relief.
The next day I went to class, there was a different spirit in the air. I spirit of sadness, of guilt. I noticed many of classmates were acting as if one of their own had died. What I then noticed was that the classmates hit the hardest in our community by this tragedy where those of Korean descent. There were a lot of my friends who blamed themselves, because Cho was Korean. No one on campus had lashed out our blamed them or even asked them, and in my case I never even connected my friends, who I had studied, laughed, played, worshiped, and lived, with the actions that occurred down the road.
But they did…
It did not make any sense to me until I talked to several of my Korean friends who were able to articulate how tied together the individual members of the Korean community are. When one suffers, they all suffer, when one is guilty they all feel guilty, when one needs help, all help. I have never seen a nation, a people, a community so diverse and spread so far come together for one moment, for one event, for one purpose.
For me, through the ashes of Virginia Tech, I was given hope…hope that we could as a community put aside our differences and wrap each other in the loving arms of God.
In the coming days, a makeshift memorial was placed on the campus of Virginia Tech by the administration, that included 32 hokie stones (the material that makes up most of the buildings on campus). A group of students found another stone, a 33rd, and placed with the others. That 33rd stone was to represent Cho, the man who took the life of the other 32, he was remembered as a fallen hokie, a member of the community, a loved one.
I hope that as we remember the members of our community, even those that may hurt us, that we can remember that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us [and them] from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38b-39)