because life is a gift and not a moment can be wasted, not a minute taken for granted. because in reality we are all just a breath away from what may be our last, so we must seek those moments that take our breath away, that will fill our lungs and our hearts so full we think they may burst.
never is this feeling more evident to me than on this day, every year. when i feel the spirit of 32 fallen hokies weighing heavy on my heart. of 32 young people who were taken too soon. of 32 voices that i know are telling me to live, to go, to seek so much more out of life. to never settle for mundanity. to disregard sensibility. because if you were given a second chance at life, you wouldn’t think twice.
on april 16, 2007, a unimaginable tragedy happened at my school that claimed the lives of 32 innocent students and professors, and disrupted the sanctuary of education that our country holds so sacred. because of the decisions of one individual, 32 lives were taken, 32 families destroyed, and nearly thirty thousand students were left paralyzed in fear. friends and families were frantically making phone calls. and, for a moment, the world stopped i think. the world stopped and asked and begged why. why.
the building that the gunman entered that morning was primarily used by the school of international studies. the classrooms he entered were french classrooms, german, latin. the students were studying to be world leaders, to be diplomats, to have an international impact that began in blacksburg virginia but would reach so far beyond the new river valley. they were explorers aspiring to see the world beyond the walls of their classroom that, unbeknownst to them that morning, would forever be their burial ground.
they were explorers, whose journeys ended too soon.
i recently came across letters written to me 6 days after april 16th, by a third grade classroom in glen allen virginia. and the innocence and sincerity in their words reminded me of just how precious life is. one sentence in particular gripped me- “I hope this never happens again.” and the knowledge that I had then and have now that this did happen again, that it is happening, still. again. and the simple wishes of an eight year old written on loose leaf paper don’t exist in the world we live in.
there is a temptation to react with anger. with fear. to cling tight to comfort and to familiarity. to let fear overcome you and to stay put. but in reality, i know that for these 32, that isn’t what they would have wanted.
for anyone who feels that somehow their lives were spared, their is a reason for your vitality. and for those of you who haven’t felt that yet, you will. what will you do with this life you’ve been given or spared?
go the places you said you’d always go. see the things you’ve always wanted to see. let your permission be the silenced wishes of 32 students with their entire lives ahead of them, of 32 hokies, most of whose diplomas would have international studies proudly embossed upon them, whose steps would have imprinted dirt and sidewalks and countries far beyond the limestone walls of norris hall. and whose lives would have left an impression so many hearts.
leave the perceived safety of the place you are in and go. see. travel. and do it for those whose lives were taken too soon. for the footprints they would have left, for the adventures they would have sought, for the lives they would have led.
because life is a gift. and that is why we travel.