Skip to main content

It's a cold comfort

Another catastrophe devastates us all with its unecessary tragedy today. 33 dead at Virginia Tech.

I can only imagine how the people lined up against the wall and executed, or hunted down, felt. I hope I never know, I hope my children never know. I hope we always only can imagine. And this, this thought, is exactly what every person, every parent hopes.

Today, some lost that hope. And that may be the least of the loss.

Gwen said she's so glad to know it's people who kill people, not guns. She begs us to consider the damage the Virginia Tech murderer might have inflicted with a knife.

I said good point.

Jen said God has been noticeably absent.

I said, "It is a tragedy beyond words.

I will say...God gave man freedom of will. This was not God's will; it was man's will. God was not absent. I am sure God was more present than ever. But he will not remove freedom of will. I am sure God was more anguished by heart than any of us, and that's both saying a lot, and very, very cold comfort. If it helps to blame God, that's okay. He can take it. Just remember he is always open.

Right now, the only thing is grief. I say let it wash over us so we feel it and know it, and are changed by it."

Chani, in the midst of her own grief, said, "May there be some peace for all those who died, are wounded, their friends and families." and in her own life, said, "I must find compassion for the hole in his soul. I must. Because it is the only acceptable thing to do. The anger has to stop somewhere."

I said amen.

Bones listed statistics and asked what we should do.

I said listen, pay attention, hope.

I think for the rest of us---those not with a true loss---the biggest challenge is to not feel hopeless. I think, in truth, hopelessness is a direct contributor to this tragedy.

More than ever, I feel the drive to write about justice, and forgiveness. Please join me on Wednesday. This week. I'll list you here, and others, some of whom may really want to read words about this, can find something valuable.

Tomorrow I teach. I teach a class about managing conflict between and among students and their peers. Tonight I stay awake late quickly re-arranging my curriculum and talking points.

Tonight...our best friends came over. We grilled, drank raspberry iced tea, and the kids ran and played. Tonight my five year old's biggest concern was counting how many mosquito bites she had. How beautiful is that.

After dinner, while my friend and I prepared dessert, the dads played silly faux-monster wrestling games with the kids. They wrestled---one man against five kids---in turn. The screaming was delight. The yelling was joy, and fun. This is the sound that rings in my ears.

I never have any promises of anything tomorrow so today, I seized the day. It felt beautiful to find beauty and enjoyment in tonight.

Today is not my grief, but I respect that someone else feels the need to stop all the clocks.

W. H. Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

P.S. Please just email me or comment with a link if you wish to participate in our roundtable discussion of justice versus forgiveness: which is more crucial? j pippert at g mail dot com.

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert


Girlplustwo said…
you are making me cry. everything i read is making me cry.

it's forgiveness. it is. it's got to be. justice feels too hard.
Girlplustwo said…
and friend...i don't blame god. that would be too cliche. but in the face of's a question i ask - how far must we drift?
S said…
I'm here, reading this.

But I'm out of words.

Except these: How do we get these f*ing guns off the streets?
Julie Pippert said…
Jen, my friend, I hear you. Do I ever.

I had a friend who went AWOL from the Croatian army. He could do it no more. His intent in life---pre-war, pre-genocide---was to continue his studies in Italy of art, and music, bring beauty to the world. Suddenly, he was engaged in a kill or be killed struggle. So...he put in his first tour of duty and when he was re-upped, he fled. First, to Italy, then to the US via some other European countries. He brought his miraculously still-intact, albeit bruised, soul to us, here, and added richness to our lives.

Another friend of mine, Richard, was from Rwanda. He and his wife came here, by the magic of a visa lottery. Behind, he left an entire family.

He didn't get on well with us, his coworkers, in some ways, and got on better than anyone, in others.

"You take for granted," he told me once, "That work, food, water, and electricity are there for you."

"You take for granted," he told me, "That you leave your hom ein relative safety. You expect to be safe. You are surprised by death and violence. I love and hate most this about you."

I cried. Right there. In the office. I cried. I felt like a sheltered child, despite my own life, which I had considered a little challenging.

I have benefitted, and struggled, with access to a worldview.

But it has helped me to understand the context---historical and current---of tragedy.

I will never be able, I think, to really grasp personal tragedy. How can you? I think the heart never stops bleeding. Mine never has. You just learn to pick up and go on, anyway, despite the hemorrhage.

We drift individually and as a society. We always have.

We are shocked by violence.

I think I love and hate this most about us.
Julie Pippert said…
Slouching mom, I have no justice answers. I wish I did.

I've recently heard about legislation to take the "right to bear arms" portion more literally and only allow militias to have rights to guns. Grrrreat. Now we force everyone to either go underground, or to organize into a free army.
NotSoSage said…
I think that this is an amazing way to honour those who were lost. I have always been struck by the way that people who don't even know the victims cry for vengeance when the families and friends and victims themselves (some of them, at least) reach for forgiveness.

I will visit on Wednesday, if nothing else.
thailandchani said…
I was going to try to write something about Virginia Tech tomorrow ~ but it seems I always bang on the same old drum. Changing the culture, values and respect ~ same old shit, different day. We all know the root of it yet seem powerless to change it. Why would that be?

It is worth exploring.

I would be glad to participate in Wednesday's discussion. However, I don't think they are mutually exclusive ~ the concept of justice or forgiveness. Actually, they are integral parts of each other.

Dualism. That western culture disease.

Oh, yes. I'm willing to explore it as long as I can come up with something reasonably intelligent to say. :)

Thanks for this post.. and thanks for acknowledging my words. They feel rather hollow these days.


Unknown said…
I don't even know what to say. I do hope that we are able to take time...
time to learn what happened...
time to process it...
time to respond thoughtfully.

Let us take the time to do these things.

I don't know if I'll be prepared to articulate my thoughts on justice and forgiveness on Wednesday, but I will try.
Gwen said…
I've been working on my justice post; I don't think this event will change it much, although it will inform it. And what NSS said: yeah. Also, about your Rwandan friend. Just yesterday my neighbor was saying, how will I ever be able to send my children to college? And I thought, honey, sweet lady, they aren't safe right now, not really, not the way you tell yourself they are. I think this all the time, when we're on the highway, for example, and everyone is hurtling through space in these thin pieces of metal that make them feel so invulnerable. But you have to live with denial, on some level, or you can't live at all, fearing every possible danger.

Oh. And. You know I was being sarcastic, right? about feeling glad that it's not guns that kill people? Right?!?!?

I'm actually looking forward to the justice roundtable; it's been good thinking for me already.
K said…
I knew that you would right about this with both intelligence and grace.

I couldn't help thinking how eerily timely your Justice roundtable was.
K said…
I haven't had enough coffee "write" not right.
Bones said…
I just read a fascinating article on slate sort of psychoanalysis of the Columbine shooters. Their goal was to bring about an Oklahoma City type tragedy - and they would have succeeded if they were more skilled at bomb making. Had their bombs went off as planned, they would have killed between 600 and 1000 students and first responders.

The greater question in any school shooting is why, and all the reading I've done in the last 20 hours or so have suggested that the answer is different in nearly every case. There is no magic bullet solution; school shootings exist as a microcosm of violent crime. Some are motivated by greed, jealousy, anger, hatred, frustration, hopelessness, desire for notoriety, etc. The perpetrators range from the quiet to boisterous; from the outcast to the jock; from the remedial to the honor student; from the poor to the rich. They are white, black, Latino, or Asian. They are boys and girls.

In short, school shooters represent a slice of America. It might just be that the only common thread between school shootings is that they happened in schools. And I’m not even sure if that’s good or bad. I suppose it’s good, because it means that kids aren’t planning these things purely for notoriety. One thing that is very interesting: although the average life span of a young male in Anacostia (one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the US, located in Washington, DC) is 39, and shootings among 15-25 year olds happen there nearly every week, only one happened within a school. Maybe if more happened on school property, people would take notice that a Columbine’s worth of deaths happen every week in Baltimore and Washington.

Chani, yours is the only answer that makes sense. It’s got to be a radical cultural change that is not politically charged. Fundamentalist Christians say it’s not about the guns; it’s about violent movies and video games. Hollywood artists say it’s about the guns, not the movies and video games. The NRA says you can’t ignore the second amendment, and the ACLU says you can’t ignore the first amendment. Like most congressional debates, it’s almost pointless to try to have the discussion because we know how everyone will like up, what they will say, and what the outcome will be.

Julie, discussing justice and forgiveness is such a beneficial first step towards renewing culture. My friend Erik started an organization called Brewing Culture; it’s a faith-based creative effort to get the cultural renewal discussion started. Go visit his site if you have time.
Tracy said…
I think it's the randomness of this that makes it so very unsettling. My son is away at college, and though I've never been concerned for his safety (hello, naive person!) it does now make me think "How do I know there isn't some spurned lover on his campus that wants revenge?" This could have happened anywhere.

And it's just so damn sad. My head hurts from wanting to cry but not being able to, and not really knowing if I have a "right" to, since there are so many people who are directly affected, and I'm so removed from it.

I'd love to be a part of the justice/forgiveness discussion.
thailandchani said…
Chani, yours is the only answer that makes sense. It’s got to be a radical cultural change that is not politically charged. Fundamentalist Christians say it’s not about the guns; it’s about violent movies and video games. Hollywood artists say it’s about the guns, not the movies and video games.

Thanks, Bones :)

I think everyone wants to find some excuse, some reason to pin it on, some way to be able to neatly file this away in the "finished" file.

The real point is that culture is nothing more than mutually agreed-upon values and customs.

There will be no change until the root values of the culture are examined and refined, changed if necessary.

To blame video games and movies is a cop-out. Those things are manifestations of something much bigger, much deeper. The violence that is present in US culture is fruit of the poisoned tree.

I say this knowing the culture I chose is not perfect, either. It has flaws.. some of them serious. I know there are people who are examining those things within our community.. my chosen community. And I stand by them, no matter how hard it is.

That's all I want to see here as well. People must be willing to examine it at the root, pull it out at the root, instead of finding faux "reasons" that put people more simply at ease.


Julie Pippert said…
Sage, thanks. I agree. And I hope you visit, but I admit I hope more that you will participate. :) I'd love to see your thoughts.


Chani, as always, I agree with the concept that this is a root issue, and that's the part that needs to be addressed. But that's not a quick and easy soundbite, eh. Nor is it an easily platformable concept.

Listen, as far as the topic goes (forgiveness and justice) it is wide open. You write what you want, how you want on the topic. I don't really mean the two as "versus."

I really do look forward to what you have to say.

"I'm willing to explore it as long as I can come up with something reasonably intelligent to say. :) " As if I've ever seen anything less than interesting and thought-provoking on your blog.


Mary-Lue, yes, time. Take the time. I hope for the same.

And I can't wait to see what you have to say on this topic. I admit to a bit of glee turning the concepts back around to you. As I answered, after I did rather, I wondered how you would answer. Whatever it was, I knew it would be thoughtful and interesting.


Gwen, I can't wait to read your post about justice and forgiveness.

You know, we are all so much more fragile (and so much stronger) than we really admit. But yes, I agree, there is a healthy level of denial necessary here.

Yes, I completely got that you were being sarcastic. :)


Kim, thanks. And I can count on you, right? :)


Bones, I will check out the Slate article, and your friend's Web site/organization. Thanks for the referrals.

I agree about what makes sense here. Everybody has his/her platform.

I keep thinking about Peggy's post about the Harvard abstinence group that protested the rape education session because they hadn't included abstinence on the rape education curriculum.

It's too easy to get such tunnel-vision that you totally miss the point and sound like a jackass.

Or defend the "right to bear arms" when a simple statement of grief and sorrow will do.

Thanks for doing all that research and boiling it down and sharing it. That's interesting to know.


Cece, fantastic! I'm so glad you are joining in. I can't wait to read your piece.

You know, I totally get that: want to cry, do I have the right, how can I make this mine, it's really someone else's.

But I do believe a thing like this is in some way all of ours, so your feelings are totally normal and okay IMO (if I'm the end-all be-all answer to everything, LOL).

My youngest brother is at college, and yes, I can understand that feeling, that rug yanked out from under you feeling, the fear, the worry, the feeling of vulnerability.


Chani, I agree, We all want some quick and easy place/person to blame, so we can "fix" that, and prevent it from happening to us. Sigh. Sad sigh. Sadder sigh.

I have often wondered why we are so violent here. I don't understand it per se, but I can better grasp it in some cultures that are so violent.

Maybe we can. Maybe we can examine the root and make a change. Wasn't it Gandhi who said to never underestimate the diffrence one person can make?
thailandchani said…
Maybe we can. Maybe we can examine the root and make a change. Wasn't it Gandhi who said to never underestimate the diffrence one person can make?

Julie, it starts this simply. I believe that. All of us gathering here in your little comment forum, sharing ideas, examining, questioning, offering alternatives.

Ghandi was right .. and wrong. We may not be able to make much of a difference as individuals but as a community, as diverse as we are, even in this comments forum, can change minds. If we can change minds, we can change hearts.

In some ways, I feel like I have forfeited my right to make too many comments about US culture since I've blatantly chosen another. Yet.. in another way.. there's a lot of value in dialogue.. and in exchanging ideas.

I would start with this: Acceptance. Acceptance is a form of approval. As long as people look at the violence surrounding us, all over the world, and don't take a stand against it, including making the changes in our own lives, perpetuate it. We have to be willing to be the oddball, to be the one who structures our lives and our families differently, the ones who refuse to buy into dominant US culture, the ones who begin to live the things we claim to believe.

That means recognizing violence in all its forms. Ugly ideas. Violent thoughts and actions. Negative stereotyping... all of it.

Feels overwhelming, doesn't it? :)


Unknown said…
This post is beautiful and it has created such a wonderful dialog that gives much pause for thought. So many people, with so much heartfelt concern. It make it hard to understand how others can be so cruel and mislead.
Kyla said…
This was perfect, Julie.

Popular posts from this blog

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Quorum

After being confronted with written evidence, Julie admits that she is a total attention whore. In some things, in some ways, sometimes I look outward for validation of my worth and existence. I admit it. It's my weak spot, my vanity spot . If you say I am clever, comment on a post, offer me an award, mention me on your blog, reply to a comment I left on your blog, or in any way flatter me as a writer...I am hopelessly, slavishly devoted to you. I will probably even add you to my blogroll just so everyone can see the list of all the cool kids who actually like me . The girl, she knows she is vain in this regard , but after much vanity discussion and navel-gazing , she has decided to love herself anyway, as she is (ironically) and will keep searching for (1) internal validation and (2) her first person . Until I reach a better point of self-actualization, though, may I just say that this week you people have been better than prozac and chocolate (together, with a side of whi

In defense of vanity...I think

Do you have one of those issues where you argue with yourself? Where you just aren't sure what you actually think because there are so many messages and opinions on the topic around you? I have more than one like this. However, there is one topic that has been struggling to the top of my mind recently: vanity and perceived vanity. Can vanity be a good thing? Vanity has historically been truly reviled. Vanity is number seven of the Seven Deadly Sins. It's the doppleganger of number seven on the Seven Holy Virtues list: humility. There are many moralistic tales of how vanity makes you evil and brings about a spectacular downfall. Consider the lady who bathed in the blood of virgins to maintain her youth. Google Borgia+vanity and find plenty. The Brothers Grimm and Disney got in on the act too. The Disney message seems to be: the truly beautiful don't need to be vain. They are just naturally eye-catchingly gorgeous. And they are all gorgeous. Show me the Reubenesque Pr

Is your name yours? How your name affects your success...

Made by Andrea Micheloni Not too long ago I read What's in a name? by Veronica Mitchell. She'd read the NPR/USA Today article, Blame it on your name , that shared new research results: "a preference for our own names and initials — the 'name-letter effect' — can have some negative consequences." Veronica's post and that article got me thinking about names, and their importance. Changing to my husband’s name and shedding my maiden name was no love lost for me. By the time we married, I’d have gladly married any other name just for a change. My maiden name was a trial; I was sick of spelling it, pronouncing it, explaining it, and dealing with the thoughtless rude comments about it. My sister and I dreamed and planned for the day we could shed that name. So I wonder, sometimes, whether I adequately considered what a name change would actually mean. Heritage and genealogy matter to me and my maiden name reflected a great deal of familial history. Histo