I believe in moments of silence.
As a child, I sat in church while everyone prayed, listening to the silence enveloping the sanctuary. I imagined the inexorable hum that was the sound of silence was created by the thoughts and prayers of the congregation making their way to whatever ears would receive them.
In college, I was often struck by moments of silence as I trekked across the drill field at the heart of the sprawling campus of Virginia Tech. I never grew jaded to the beauty, both majestic and pastoral, of a place that more than any other molded who I am. In my four years at Virginia Tech, I transformed from the child I was to the adult I am. Virginia Tech is at the very core of my self-concept. There is no time I am not aware that I am a Hokie, just as I am a father, husband, son, brother, and educator.
I love silence because it is rare and pure, it provides focus, and it is time for me to reflect on who I am. Every morning in my school, we observe a moment of silence. In that moment I pray for my wife and daughters, I organize my priorities, I prepare for challenges both known and unknown, and I give myself pep talks.
On April 16th, my cherished silence was shattered by the news that Virginia Tech was in lockdown. I spent the day seeking news between the demands of being an assistant principal. Throughout that Monday, dread, fear, shock, and loathing grew in me.
Four days later, I sat on the leather couch in my den after putting my youngest daughter to bed. It was completely quiet … silent. I had not enjoyed the solace of silence in four days. The media barrage and my own conversations had cluttered my world with noise: unceasing, necessary, searching noise. Suddenly, I was alone with my thoughts. Tears began streaming down my face, first from anger over the desecration, and sadness for the victims and their families, and then over an overwhelming appreciation for the gifts of my life, and a rising resolve that no act of man could take what those gifts had given.
On April 20th, I asked over 200 twelve year olds to join me in silence to remember the tragedy at Virginia Tech. In that moment, they understood the seriousness of the events of those days. When the moment ended, they went back to their noise, as only a few hundred 6th graders at lunch can.
We always go back to our noise. For better or for worse, noise dominates our days. But I believe in the moments of silence. They keep us sane. They keep us in touch with who we are. They allow us to feel our humanity and to process our emotions, from grief to love. Without them, the noise would drown us out. In them, we find peace, we make sense of our world, and we know ourselves.
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