In the Shadow of Death

Ann and I are blessed in that we have come no closer to violence in our lives than that which was recently visited upon the son of our friends. This young man was wounded by the gunman on the Virginia Tech Campus in April 2007. He has since recovered from his wounds, but will never be the same. Thankfully, he seems to be growing wiser from the terrible experience. His story was on the front page of the Saturday September 1 Roanoke Times.

The August 30 ABC Nightline offers an extensive investigation into the mind and life of Cho, the gunman disturbed and twisted all his young life.  It is clear our nation is still stunned by this shocking and senseless killing in such numbers in the “safe place” of a college campus.

But while I don’t want to belittle in any way the suffering and haunting that still goes on for thousands whose lives were touched by this one day of tragedy, I also think what an isolated and uncommon trauma this is when compared to the losses those in Iraq experience every single day. And it seems so much more heinous and evil to have one’s neighbors, family and comrades killed by trained soldiers from either side or by indoctrinated but fully competent “insurgents” than by Virginia Tech’s truly pyschopathic loner.

Can there be a single person in all of Iraq not touched tens of times over by senseless violent deaths of those known and loved? Their homes destroyed and towns beseiged, a constant reign of fear hangs like a poisonous cloud over their present and future lives.

Cho came and went in one day, and look at what he’s done to us. What must it be like to live in a nation that knows no peace?

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. A heartfelt yes to all you say here. That is an excellent newspaper report which I am glad to heav read, and your friends’ son quite a young man.

  2. When I watch the news and see the daily violence in Iraq, I often try to imagine how it must be to live under those circumstances. I can’t.

  3. When you think about it this way (and it’s the only way I have ever thought about this American Adventure) you really have to wonder at the improvements the administration is seeing. Mainly you have to wonder who is seeing the benefits of the improvements.

    I continually wonder how we would feel after years of living without the simple products of our times like reliable water and electricity to say nothing of safety for our family and neighbors on a daily basis.

    Would someone please tell me what we were supposed to accomplish when we attached Iraq? What are they planning to do now in Iran?

    Pray this administration doesn’t get the opportunity to “spread” it’s version of “democracy” any further in the Middle East…We might not be able to live with the consequences…

  4. America has had its share of violence and wars. Just read any Civil War diary and see what it’s like to live with daily violence in America. And this administration has higher ratings than the current sitting Congress, and the blame the President game is getting so old.

    My guess is that America will experience violence again when we don’t get our way or have to compromise beyond what we feel we are entitled to have.