I rewrite this story every year, and share it among my friends and family. It helps to return to this story at the beginning of every April because I get a new sense of clarity from it. Closure.
This year, I was initially afraid to post it on my blog, thinking that I might offend my readers if I shared such a story. My mouse hovered over the “publish post” button at the bottom of the page. I thought: Am I allowed to share this, to write about this?
I felt a pang of guilt — I had not been injured on that day, and did not lose a best friend, a brother, a sister, a son, or a daughter; what right did I have to share my experience?
But I had to. I wanted to share a story that has simultaneously haunted and blessed me every single day for the past five years. I would not be the same person I am now if I hadn’t been at Virginia Tech that day. I am thankful for the experience, and strive to live and love in every moment for those 32.
Evan and I went to Virginia Tech’s annual candlelight vigil on Monday night. Normally we stand huddled in the back of the crowd somewhere, but this year, we stood in the first row. That was the closest I’ve been to the April 16 Memorial, where the 32 engraved Hokie stones lay in a semi-circle on the Drill Field in front of Burruss Hall. Each one was adorned with a beautiful flower arrangement. A group of 32 Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets guarded the roped off area between us and memorial. They stood tall, proudly, and respectfully.
The Drill Field was flooded with Virginia Tech students, faculty, and community members. President Charles Steger, Governor Bob McDonnell, and two Virginia Tech students spoke at the vigil, recounting their experiences and explaining what it means to be a Hokie. As the sun set, two readers slowly announced the names, describing the characteristics and hobbies of each victim. The family members or friends of the victims lit candles one-by-one and walked to their corresponding Hokie stones. The Cadet in front of us — a dear young woman — sniffled, wrinkling her forehead in attempt to regain composure. I wanted to hug her. We prayed, we sobbed, we hugged. There was no shame in it, no reason to hold back.
Then the families turned to the crowd, lighting everyone’s candles. The choir sang as a sea of candles gradually blanketed the Drill Field. It was beautiful, powerful, and comforting. When all of the candles had been lit, we held them above our heads reverently — the thousands of flames flickered in the wind.
“Let’s GO!” Evan suddenly yelled on top of his lungs.
The entire crowd answered, “HOKIES!”
Thank you to all of you who have read, shared, Facebooked, tweeted, pinned, and tumblred (?) my post from Monday. Thank you for leaving such thoughtful comments, being supportive, and telling me your stories. And thank you for living for 32.