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Season of Grief

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The news went straight to the Dad Zone of my heart and I thought about my 20-year-old daughter finishing up her junior year in St. Paul, Minn. I thought about book bags and attitude, tentative career plans and those uncomfortable plastic chairs with the flip-up elbow rests — the stuff of a young person’s becoming — and then I went numb with grief.


On the most ordinary of ordinary days this week, on a different campus but in my mind the same campus, the future was shattered with a methodical popping noise.


While the horror is still fresh, before we have satisfied ourselves with superficial understanding and moved on — oh yeah, another loner with a gun — I invoke this prayerful meditation from Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet”:


“I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”


Do we have the courage to live the questions right now, rather than slam the door shut on them? The questions are so piercing. Multiply a despairing “why?” by 32 — no, by 33 — and you have the latest tragedy. But where do we stop? Virginia Tech last Monday morning was just another day at the market in Baghdad; and in our own inner cities children are caught in the crossfire of someone else’s alienated malice on a regular basis. Unless the death count is enormous (“record setting”), the ongoing slaughter of innocents has almost ceased being news. It’s just more collateral damage.


“The next decade will have no rules; the Virginia Tech tragedy is just a sign of things to come. There will be terrorists’ acts that will kill ten to twenty times this amount in the next few years. The only hope is for ordinary Americans to arm themselves.”


Well, OK . . .


This is an excerpt from the first press release I received in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings (from a right-wing PR organization called Special Guests), so close on the heels of and intertwined with the unfolding news accounts it seemed like part of the event: the instant specter of a locked-down, fear-based, armed society. Get your Glock and get used to it!


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Robert Koehler, an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, is an editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer. You can respond to this column at or visit his Web site at
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