People Who Are Hurting

In case you missed it, there was a gunman at UT on Tuesday morning. I got up late on Tuesday, and by the time I logged into Facebook I had messages inquiring as to my safety because of the shooter. That was the first I had heard of it, so I sent a round of general "I'm okay; not on campus" messages to those who had asked before turning on the TV; meanwhile, the "worst possible scenario" section of my brain went into overdrive as I ran through a mental list of who among my acquaintances were almost-certain to be on campus: My linguistics instructor, who was holding extra office hours because of our scheduled test; both of my rhetoric instructors; and the younger sister of one of my aim friends. Then my mind continued racing through all my classmates who might also be on campus on a Tuesday, so I was already praying as I turned on the TV.

When the announcer said that the only casualty was the shooter himself, I had a serious "take a deep breath" moment. Everyone else was safe. None of the horrific school shootings that come to mind at these times had been reenacted; the Lord was indeed watching over my campus on this day. And, as I have since found out, three of the people on my "most worried" list were not on campus; the other one, unfortunately, was locked in her office for hours while the police hunted for a possible second shooter (there wasn't one). And quite predictably, my emotional reaction was followed by a physical one; I sat at the computer chatting with loved ones far away with tears running down my face.

But my vivid imagination continued to wander, of course: Those poor 18-year-olds, in their sixth week of college, who were rudely awakened Tuesday morning by the tannoy announcing that they were to stay in their dorms. Or the frantic parents who saw the news before their student could contact them with reassurance. What if it had been Ball State? If that had been the case, I would have called everyone in Indiana-- up to and including Gov. Daniels' office-- to get news. Or Anderson, or Tech, or Lubbock Christian; most of the college students I know (who aren't fellow Longhorns) go to LCU. I don't think I will be able to get on a plane fast enough if something bad ever happens there.

And, of course, I wonder about the shooter himself. I'm thankful he didn't hurt anyone else. I wonder what went wrong with him-- did he feel unloved? He seems to have had friends on campus, if all I've heard the past few days is true. If he wanted to kill himself, did he also want to do it in the most dramatic way possible? Was there anything that anyone could have said, or done, to help him?

I went to class Wednesday morning, but didn't go my usual route, which would have taken me to the library where the young man took his life. Instead, I walked through the middle of campus to my first class, arriving with 25 minutes to spare. It was quiet on Wednesday, as everyone was locked into their own thoughts and the usual pre-class chatting was nearly non-existent. News vans were sitting around to catch us all in "normal life" mode. There was clothesline strung up, with paper and cards for anyone who wanted to share a message with the rest of the university. While I watched, there was a series of bangs from 21st Street-- where the young man had begun shooting on Tuesday-- and for an instant, everything stopped. And then we all started breathing again. Someone had come out with sidewalk chalk, and written messages of encouragement: "We are Texas", "'Til Gabriel Blows His Horn", and very appropriately, "Give someone a hug!"

One of my worst collegiate faults is not seeing other people. I know they exist-- I'm on a campus with 50,000 students, after all-- but even in my classes, I tend to not learn many names. It's especially bad with the males who share classes with me-- if they don't sit right next to me, I may never even notice their existence. I have a serious blind spot where men are concerned. So, in the relief and the sadness and the "be on your guard" that grows from this senseless moment of violence, I take this lesson for myself: Other people matter. Other people are important. Don't go through life with blinders on and miss someone who may be hurting, who can use my help.

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