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What can we say: a reflection on the tragedy at Virginia Tech

What can we say: a reflection on the tragedy at Virginia Tech

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

What can we say: a reflection on the tragedy at Virginia Tech

April 25, 2007    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011     Orlando {0663}

NOTE: A headshot of Harnish is available at

An e-Review Commentary
By the Rev. Dr. Jim Harnish**

T.S. Eliot asked: “Where shall the word be found, where will the word/Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence.”

It’s hard to know what to say that has not already been said about this tragedy. It may be only in silence that we can begin to know the wide range of emotions that surge within us. Perhaps our talking about it is an attempt to find structure around the shock, the loss, the hurt and the pain.

I’ve been remembering the fall of 1990. Our daughter, Carrie, was a sophomore at the University of Florida when five students were murdered there. One of my lasting memories of those terrible days is of the first night she was back home with us in Orlando. Even in her own home, two hours away from campus, she was so afraid that she could not sleep, but kept getting up to check the doors in an attempt to feel safe.

There’s no easy way through the trauma, no quick healing of the pain. Sometimes the only appropriate response to a loss of this magnitude is silence.

I’ve also noticed a painful irony. On the same day that 32 people died in Blacksburg, Va., 35 civilians died in the civil war in Iraq. We are experiencing now what innocent people in Iraq face every day. Perhaps the compassion we feel for Virginia Tech can nurture within us a deeper compassion and wider sense of shared suffering with people in the rest of the world for whom these kinds of losses are a part of the daily pattern of their lives. 

I’ve also been thinking about the young man who did the shooting. They said he was a loner. He was speechless, hardly ever saying a word to his roommate. Now, suddenly, we hear his voice pouring out from deep anger and hatred. Where can we find words to define the inner turmoil that breeds this kind of action? What words would even begin to capture the pain his family must feel? And could anything have been done to exorcize the demons from his soul? 

Silence. This is not the time for quick responses or pious platitudes. Frankly, I’m not sure how I will respond if someone dares to suggest “God must have had a reason for this.” I am absolutely sure this tragedy was not the “will of God.” If our finite, human hearts are broken by this kind of suffering and evil, then how much more is the loving heart of an infinite God infinitely broken by it?

But in the silence that is too deep for words, we dare to believe “the Spirit helps us in our weakness … in groans that words cannot express (Romans 8:26).” 


This article relates to Christian Faith.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Harnish is senior pastor at Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa.