Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Those of us who have been around long enough to see the Unexpected Visitor in action know that lives can be changed in an instant. Changed...or ended.

It’s bad enough when the Guy with the Scythe, the guy we all must deal with eventually, comes after someone who has lived a full life. It’s much worse when he pays that Unexpected Visit to someone who is in the flower of youth, that part of life that is so full of expectation, of becoming.

She Who Must Be Obeyed and her family know this at the deepest personal level. Her sister was struck down by a bolt of lightning at age sixteen, a tragedy the emotional repercussions of which continue to reverberate to this very day, almost 32 years later. She would have been 48 by now, had she lived. What might her life have been like? Her accomplishments, her contributions? The children she never got to have? To me, she will always be that blank space in my mental Family Album, the sister-in-law I never got to know - but to SWMBO, she is a real, albeit ever more distant, memory of times shared and lives lived together.

That horrible, life-changing shock of having a loved one abruptly snatched away struck a family in our synagogue last week. Their son, a high-school senior, had gone on a road trip with two friends to catch a concert in Jacksonville. It was, apparently, a trip that had not been parentally sanctioned: each of them had told his parents that he was spending the night with one of the others. It’s the kind of thing high-school boys do, I suppose, a Rite of Passage, sneaking out to do something that should have been more-or-less innocuous.

Somewhere around Tifton, Georgia, in the wee hours of the morning, things went wrong. The driver of the car fell asleep. Their SUV rolled, killing one of the boys and seriously injuring another. Only the driver escaped physically unscathed. [It was reported that all three boys had been wearing seatbelts; this was not enough to protect them in the deadly rollover collision.]

When the police came to the house of the young man who had been killed to deliver the tragic news, the parents were doubly stunned, for they had expected their son to be sleeping at a friend’s house that night. Now they had a bedroom with an empty bed...and the awful knowledge that it would be forever empty.

The graveside funeral was attended by hundreds, all in shock at the suddenness with which one life had been ended and two others irrevocably, permanently changed. The driver of the car (who, as we were later horrified to learn, is our next-door neighbor) will have to live the rest of his life with the death of his friend on his conscience, accidental though it was.

Now, imagine this tragedy multiplied: thirty-two people, most of them young men and women in that same age of as-yet-unfulfilled potentialities, shot down two days ago by a deranged individual in what will be forever known as the Virginia Tech Massacre. So many of those lives snuffed out before they could find their place in the world.

Thirty-two. The mind boggles.

All of those parents, all of those families, their lives irrevocably changed. Not through the agency of a sudden, unplanned bout of highway drowsiness, but through the deliberate actions of a disturbed young man with a couple of guns and a heart full of hate, the avatar of the Unexpected Visitor.

May the souls of their children - and of the others who perished, for it was not only students who were gunned down - be bound up in the wings of the Divine Presence, and may they be comforted in knowing that they are not alone. A nation weeps with them.

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