More than a week has passed since my last substantive post (perhaps a record?), and in that time, our generation has seen two of its defining moments: a shock jock named Don went down, and a gunman killed more than 30 people at Virginia Tech.
In both cases, I spent considerable time thinking about compassion. Compassion for a man who made a career out of insulting people. Compassion for a group of women who busted their proverbial butts and then had that hard work reduced to a nasty, denigrating slur that was heard around the globe. Compassion for a community of thousands of people, connected by a university in rural Virginia, who are asking themselves hard questions about the way life works. And compassion for a man so driven to the depths of darkness that he murdered innocents and took his own life.
It all makes me wonder if compassion is enough. And then I heard from a survivor, a young man who made it through Columbine but lost his sister and two close friends. Craig Scott was on television this morning with a single message: have compassion. We’ll get through it, he said, and compassion is what we all need.
= = = = = =
As things unfolded in Virginia over the last 36 hours, I couldn’t help but think about the Beltway Sniper. In 2002, I covered the shootings of seven people in Montgomery County, Md., nearly all of whom died. I was one of the journalists who, like Marc Fisher detailed in a story this evening on washingtonpost.com, mobbed outside of victims’ homes, angling to get a quick question in to a neighbor or a grieving family member. My notebook was filled with the details of what one victim had left in his car and what a passerby had left on a note at the vacuum a woman used to clean her minivan when she was murdered.
During that entire time — Oct. 2 to Oct. 24, 2002 — I was never scared until the end. I stood in empty parking lots and on desolate street corners at a time when people literally ran to their cars for fear of being shot, but the scale of the whole situation never sunk in until the evening a few hours before they caught the shooters. Standing at a gas station filling up my car while wearing a bright yellow rain jacket on a busy Rockville Pike, a bolt of fear shot through me as I realized I could be next. I kept those feelings at bay until the very end.
Funny how things like that work.