Category Archives: He Said/She Said

Prom Part Two (a “He Said/She Said” Post)

He said:

I remember exactly three things (OK, maybe five) from my senior prom: 1) The incredibly good northern Italian restaurant we went to whose name escapes me. 2) The junior class was responsible for paying for and arranging the prom and it was BAD. (Our class was top notch when we did it) Malia’s class was a bunch of acidheads who couldn’t organize or fundraise worth anything because daddy always paid for everything they ever wanted or they didn’t give a rat’s patootie about anything or both. 3) How incredibly beautiful my date was…so much so that I could not keep my eyes off of her whilst driving. 4) Eating breakfast at Shoney’s…high class, very high class. 5) I can’t remember anything else….that is bad….tells you how “important” all that stuff is in the grand scheme of things I suppose or just how bad my memory is perhaps.

My junior year I went to prom with a group in a limo and we went to see the sights in DC at night after prom, very cool. I went to prom with a girl who hated me earlier that spring because I had won the Model UN Club Presidency (oh yeah, shout out to Burkina Faso) over her because the day the teacher decided to have the elections, she was not there nor were some of the other people in the club who would likely have voted for her. I truly had nothing to do with it but they hated me for it nonetheless. So, I’m sorry. I’ve left that off my resume just for the sheer principle of the matter. Can’t remember much else about that prom either…just hanging at Rob’s house and sleeping on the floor.

Ah, memories to last a lifetime there.

Hmmm…I either need to clean off my scanner or there was a lot of dust/lint on that photo! I searched high and low for this photo because of all the pictures taken that night, it really is the best one. Most importantly it’s the one that best shows off my dress! I loved that dress! It was my favorite of all my dresses. I loved the “uneven” hemline and the baby blue satin lining that peeked out in the back. Once again, everything was color coordinated to the hilt. Shoes, purse, corsage, eyeshadow, bow tie, cummerbund, boutonnière, they were all baby blue. I was very surprised once again by mother in that she allowed such a “risqué” neckline! (At least it was for me. And Mom…I’m going to talk more about the dresses later. OK?) Once again, tails on the boy. Yes boy, we look like we’re twelve right? We’re both seventeen in this picture, DB turned 18 a month later. A couple more pictures after the jump.

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He Said/She Said: Memorializing Violence

A few notes before we get started. First, if you haven’t already, please read the preface post before reading this post. It’ll make more sense. You can click the link or scroll down, the preface is the post immediately following this one. Second, these posts were not easy to write. They’ve been swirling around in our gray matter for several weeks and one version sat in drafts for weeks as well. It is not our intention to minimalize the pain, grief and suffering of those directly affected by this tragedy. These feelings expressed here are our own, these thoughts are confusing and hard to adequately explain. And in the end, there remain more questions than answers. Third, the comments on the previous post were turned off simply so that any conversation about this subject would occur here, on this post, instead of trying to keep up with conversations on two separate posts. Please feel free to express opinions, comments, questions, etc., from the previous post here.

180px-opus_blue.jpgHe Said:
There are three issues that I see that are a problem when it comes to memorializing violence like Virginia Tech is doing: 1) heinous acts and those that perpetrate them are given a permanent voice and are remembered, 2) there is a sense of glorifying vicitimization in the memorials, and 3) a permanent, altered perception of Virginia Tech accompanies any memorial.

Firstly, one of my biggest concerns with the way we as a society reacted and continue to react to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 is that we gave the perpetrators of the acts what they wanted: an audience for their cause and a reaction in our changed behavior. It is my contention that the best reaction to barbarism (once the event is over) is to have no reaction, a collective shrug and yawn, clean up as necessary, and move on. Someone who murdered 32 people should not be given honor or remembrance. However, instead of outrage at how someone could do something like “that dude” did on April 16, 2007, a stone was set up to remember him as well as those murdered in some misguided, dare I say politically correct, attempt to treat the loss by suicide of a murderer as if he were a victim of this crime who was worth remembering. If that is not enough, I point you to the tapes that dude sent to NBC in an attempt to brand himself as some sort of action hero. The producers at news outlets went along for a time. Thankfully, someone with common sense spoke up and said that showing the tapes immortalized such behavior, but I am afraid removing the images from public view was too late, the images are already out for any nutcase to take as inspiration.

Secondly, while grieving and remembering those that have passed on is appropriate, there are better ways to remember the lives of those murdered that day than prominently placed memorials. For example, a new jewish student center to be opened in Blacksburg will be named for Dr. Liviu Librescu, a holocaust survivor, professor of Engineering Science and Mathematics at Virginia Tech, and pioneer in the field of aerospace engineering who was murdered that day at Virginia Tech. Rabbi Elazar Bloom, who will lead the center, stated that the naming of the center was to “carry on Professor Librescu’s message of life and goodness over darkness”. He is not looked at as a victim, but as a champion for the good of humanity in his mentoring of students to his groundbreaking research in aerospace materials. His life was one well spent and one worth remembering, and I will certainly do just that.

On the other hand, there is a sense that the memorial at Virginia Tech will try to encapsulate the feelings of grief and pain associated with the impromptu memorial set up in the days following the incident, reducing and binding the memories of those murdered with the event rather than the accomplishments of lifetimes well spent or cut short at the crux of their potential. In addition, Virginia Tech President Charles Steger, during the dedication of this “intermediate” memorial, stated that this memorial was for the wounded as well. Why do the wounded need a memorial, they are still around? This, above all things tells me that the memorial is more about remembering the incident than it is about those murdered (or wounded).

Thirdly, as an alumnus of Virginia Tech, I am concerned that, rather than being held in high esteem as an excellent academic and research institution, Virginia Tech will be thought of as “that place where those 32 people were murdered” and the university is perpetuating that idea through its prominent and permanent memorials to the random violence that occurred that day. Monuments are meant for things we want to remember, things we hold in high regard or want to honor. I find no honor in the murder of 32 people by a psychopathic killer and it is certainly something that does not bear remembering. Remember and honor those that were murdered, but let’s not remember and honor the incident.

Malia reacts to DB:

It was not my perception that the 33rd stone placed in the initial, makeshift memorial was put there out of any political correctness or misguided behavior. Instead, I perceived it as coming from those who wanted to show compassion for the person who was so troubled, so misunderstood and so lonely that he felt his only way to make a voice for himself was through evil and violence. The thirty-third stone was not about immortalizing, it was about forgiveness.

I have to wonder what your views on war memorials/monuments are as well. For example, does the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial honor the dead sufficiently or does it only serve as a reminder of the highly controversial war that saw the deaths of so many innocent people?

Malia pictureShe said:
Back in June as we made our way north for our week at camp, we ended the first leg of our trip in Christiansburg, VA. We had plans to stay overnight and to visit with family members who live there. I wanted to go into Blacksburg to have dinner and to visit the campus of Virginia Tech. I needed, personally, to see the campus again. I wanted to view its Hokie-stone buildings, drive on its familiar roads, and walk the grounds I knew as a student. I wanted to see, with my own eyes, the outpourings of sympathy and love that came from all over the world. The temporary memorial in front of Burruss Hall of thirty-two Hokie stones which was set up by a student group. Posters, books, letters, pictures, stuffed animals, personal artifacts, etc., that were being temporarily housed in one of the dining halls. And community remembrances like the 32 flags representing the countries of the victims in front of a church on Main Street.

For me it was part of a healing process. I’ll never forget April 16, 2007. I’ll remember it much like I remember September 11, 2001. But grief and healing are personal matters and what helps one person can be offensive to another. And as much I want there to be something that remembers the thirty-two who were taken from us that day, I also don’t want Virginia Tech to be solely remembered for that tragedy. I don’t want what that young man did to be somehow immortalized. Because in remembering the thirty-two and how they died, his final act of selfishness and cowardice is forever ingrained in Virginia Tech’s history and how the school is remembered. Because in erecting public monuments, his legacy of violence remains.

Yet, I don’t know what I would have the administration of Virginia Tech do in this instance. It is much more likely that if the university officials hadn’t planned a memorial they would have been considered heartless and uncaring. Somewhere along the way between 1966 and 2007, the way we deal with grief has altered. In our culture today, we don’t want to sweep feelings and tragic events “under the rug” to not be talked about or dealt with. We want them out there in the open for everyone to experience, for everyone to feel. I don’t know why this is. I don’t know if it has anything to do with September 11 or not. I don’t know if it’s something that only time can answer. Is the fact that sixteen people were killed by a sniper in Austin at the University of Texas not well remembered in our society because it happened 40 years ago or is it because the city and the university didn’t erect grand monuments to the event? I wonder how the families of those who died that day feel about the lack of a memorial there for forty years. Did it help them move on? Or was it a gaping absence in the process of their grieving?

I guess the one thing I do know is that however we deal with grief; we must in fact deal with it and move on. We can’t stay rooted in tragic events forever. If we do, we slowly die and forfeit the potential that life holds for us even if that potential was taken from those we dearly loved. Life goes on and so has Virginia Tech. Students, faculty and staff have returned to campus and today have started another school year. Great things will continue to come out of that university despite what happened last spring. My hope is that it will be those achievements that history truly remembers.

DB Reacts to Malia:

I had no desire to look at stuff when we were in Blacksburg in June. I don’t know how restoration and healing can occur by looking at stuff people sent to the university from all over the country or at flowers and trinkets placed on small stones near Burruss Hall. It reminded me of that day and I don’t want to remember that day. The people and their accomplishments bear remembering not the event that brought about their deaths.

Concerning the university administration: my cynical side thinks that the university is erecting monuments to placate the litigation sure to head their way, that somehow showing care and compassion for the victims will win points with juries. On the other hand, there does seem to be some cultural shift that I can’t pin down either.

I echo your hopes that people move on and don’t let this define who they are, especially the university.

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Memorializing Violence

This post is a preface to our next He Said/She Said regarding the topic of memorializing violence. Comments are turned off for this post but will be allowed on the following post.

On August 1, 1966 a lone gunman positioned himself in the Texas Tower on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin and began shooting. He killed sixteen people and wounded 31 others before Austin police shot and killed him. Forty years later, “university officials added a bronze plaque to a garden near the tower as a memorial ‘to those who died, to those who were wounded, and to the countless other victims who were immeasurably affected by the tragedy,’ according to an inscription on the plaque”*.

On April 16, 2007 a lone gunman entered two different buildings on the campus of Virginia Tech, killed 32 people, wounded several others and then turned his gun on himself committing suicide. Less than two months later, an “intermediate” memorial was designed and the dedication for that memorial was held on August 19th. Plans for a final, permanent memorial are underway.

Do you wonder what the difference is between these two events and how they have been and are being memorialized? Does the difference have to do with what happened on September 11, 2001? Is Virginia Tech setting itself up to be most famously remembered for having the worst act of violence (to date) occur on a college campus?

Consider the responses of these other schools that saw violence and death on their campuses. A memorial for the victims of the Columbine High School shootings, which happened in 1999, is under construction but has not yet been completed. The memorial is not located on the school’s campus but at a nearby park. Westside Middle School, in Jonesboro, AR, has a memorial garden on the campus. It is located away from the actual location of the shootings that occurred there in 1998 and was placed there more than two years after the fact by a community group.

In the book, Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings by Katherine S. Newman, the author starts a section titled “Remembrance” with this thought, “If mental health is not an exact science then ritual observance is even less so.” Our natural tendency as humans is to memorialize loss. Many feel that memorials are an appropriate way to grieve and a comfort to those who will mourn for their entire lives. Anniversary services and remembrances mark the passage of time and ensure that loved ones who were taken from us are not forgotten. Yet it seems that there is no formula for remembering and memorializing, we only know that it will happen in some form or fashion.

But what else do we inadvertently memorialize? Does it not etch into permanent, collective memory acts of violence so devastating, so horrific that an entire nation and even much of the world was riveted to their television sets in utter despair and confusion over unimaginable tragedy? Do memorials not make the troubled, disturbed and lonesome souls that committed these heinous acts somehow immortal?

*Citation

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He Said/She Said: The 5 Things I Want To Teach My Children

Malia pictureWhen David suggested this topic for a He Said/She Said post, I thought sure – no problem, right? Turns out this little exercise wasn’t as easy as I’d thought it would be. You’d think I would have already considered these things and in many ways I have but actually sitting down and defining them was a bit difficult and almost overwhelming. I started by thinking about the things that my parents had taught me and then thinking about things that I wish they had taught me and then thinking about what it means to raise a child to be a functioning adult. Good grief that was a lot of thinking and a lot of deep thoughts. But I’ve managed to come up with five things I feel are worthy of teaching to my children, so without further ado: The 5 Things I Want To Teach My Children.

1. To think for themselves. I don’t want them to ever accept what anyone says as truth until they have dug into it, studied it and made it their own. I want them to constantly question what they are “taught” to find out if it fits with their beliefs and ways of viewing the world.

2. To be confident but not arrogant. I want them to be able to stand up for themselves but more importantly stand up for others. There is a lot of injustice in the world, some of which they will experience themselves but far more is experienced by others. I want to teach them that you can be strong and assertive but at the same time be kind and compassionate.

3. Money management skills. When I graduated high school, I could balance a checkbook. It took me years to figure out how to make a budget and more importantly, how to make it work.

4. Civility. Starting with polite speech as young ones and moving onto being repectful to everyone they encounter (whether it’s the President of the United States or a bum on the street) as they get older. I want them to have poise in difficult situations where the temptation will be to call names and say things to puff up their own pride. To instead show love and extend grace for no other reason than the person(s) they are dealing with are also beloved children of God and occupants of the planet where we all live.

5. The 3 R’s: reduce, reuse, recycle. A natural and vital extension of civility is being respectful to this dusty rock we currently call home. As I get older I feel a call to live more simply and to do what I can, personally, to limit my impact on the earth’s resources. I want to pass that calling onto my children as well.

I suppose some of you may be wondering, after reading that list, why I didn’t include one or more items along the lines of, “I want to teach my children about God” or “I want to teach my children to pray” or “I want to teach my children that Jesus Christ is Lord”. And my answer to that may sound snarky and a maybe a bit “holier than thou” and possibly like I’m backtracking because “oh my goodness I forgot to mention God, now what do I do?”. But the truth is I don’t want to teach my children those things. I have to. I have to because a) it’s commanded (Duetronomy 6:5-9) and b) it’s who I am. I am a Christian and I am a parent. I must teach my children about my faith, how can I not? This doesn’t mean that I brainwash them and it doesn’t mean that I cram doctrine down their throats. It does mean that pray with them, teach by example, answer their questions, read them Bible stories and demonstrate Christ’s love for them in all that I do. I don’t want to teach them these things, I will teach them, along with the other five things, and trust that God will lead them where He wants to take them in this life.

David pictureThis idea was actually first planted in my head by my friend Tony Arnold who was thinking about the same things. The more I thought about it, the more true I thought it was…there are really only a handful of aphorisms or pearls that I can recall being explicitly taught by my parents. Mind you, I am sure that I am the product of far more teaching than the handful of explicit things I can remember. Nevertheless, here are the five things I want to teach my children.

1. Live a life by the teachings of Mark 12:30-31. This is sort of the “New Testament version” of the Shema that Malia talked about in Deuteronomy. This is such a simple but difficult teaching…and you don’t even have to be Christian to live this way.

2. Don’t serve money, make it work for you. Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki is a great book and one I want my children to learn from me.

3. Be your own person but be a good friend. Your satisfaction in any relationship is up to you and you alone. If the relationship is contingent on you acting a certain way, having certain beliefs, or anything related to a consumer good, then that is not a long-term relationship and is not worth the investment.

4. Love beauty for the sake of being beautiful. Music, art, literature, nature should all be appreciated and cherished. These are the keys to what separate us from just being automatons responding to brain chemicals.

5. Never ever ever ever quit asking “why?”. I don’t mean this in some “never trust authority” way. I mean never stop being curious, never accept an answer to a question without it being fully settled in your own mind, never acquiesce to pragmatism when idealism still has a chance.

So, there you have it, the five things that each of us want to teach our children. Do you have any thoughts, any things that you want to teach your children, any disagreements with what we want to teach them? Comment away.

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He Said/She Said: Innocence

Welcome to the first installment of “He Said/She Said”. This is where we write independently about a subject and then post the results here.

David pictureI try to keep in mind at all times that the goal of parenting is the successful launch of a complete, whole, well-adjusted, self-sufficient adult ready to take on the world as much as any young adult can.  Admittedly, the maturation process continues long after the “adult” has left home.  But, in general, they should at least be able to think for themselves and cope with situations in an adult manner once they are no longer in “the nest”.  I understand this is a process from the parents’* perspective of slowly letting go: allowing more rope, allowing more freedom, widening that safety net until that “one day” all protection is gone.

In an ideal world, there is a period of innocence that allows a child to just be a child: without worry, without the awful knowledge of reality, without the pain of experience.  The 1997 movie “Life is Beautiful” is a great example of this ideal of innocence.  If you will recall (and if you can’t recall or never saw the movie, it is worth the rental), the father constantly played a game with his son to mask the reality of living in a German concentration camp.  Essentially, the father was protecting the innocence of his young son by witholding information, even about the horrible reality that surrounded them and that the child witnessed with his own eyes.

Having a nearly 7-year old, we are approaching one of those transition times in rearing children.  In very real ways, our daughter is slowly losing that innocence that defines young childhood.  She is exposed to information from which we can not protect her and some that we are allowing her to experience based on her age and maturity level.  It is interesting to observe other families and the levels to which they expose or allow their children to have access to information/experiences.  For example, we don’t have cable, we don’t allow JBelle to watch the news (not that she is terribly interested) or most primetime television, or to get on the internet.  Some might call us overprotective.  I prefer to look at it as protecting something precious that one can never get back. 

If the goal in raising her is to form a well-rounded adult, naivete (at launch) is a deficiency rather than a virtue.  I understand that and will do everything in my power to help her be a well-informed and experienced young adult.  However, at 6, almost 7, she is still worthy of having the luxury of innocence.  The realities of life will be there when she is ready, but for now, she is still a little girl and I am going to do everything I can to make sure she gets the chance to be just that.  

*I understand that a child does not always have two parents and that innocence for millions, if not billions of people, must seem like a fantasty.  However, as I write in this blog, it will always be from my experience/idealism.  Therefore, if you choose to get offended by the words I use or the manner in which I write, good.  My hope is that you would rather enjoy my different (or tired, old, re-treaded, ignorant) opinions.  Truly, without hope or idealism, what’s the point?

Malia pictureOn Monday, April 16th, JBelle stayed after school with her teacher and a few other classmates for a special “playdate” of sorts. It turned out to be very good timing for us as our world forever changed earlier that day with the tragic events at Virginia Tech. At the time JBelle would have normally been returning home, I had a tear streaked face and had just agreed to being interviewed for NewsChannel5. After the interview (sans tear streaked face – I had time to clean-up before they arrived), we headed to JBelle’s school to get her and then went to dinner. We never told her what happened that day and we didn’t plan on telling her either.

How do explain something like that to a first grader? Especially when you have trouble comprehending the evil and horror of it all yourself. I’m a big proponent of letting kids just be kids. Children don’t need to be weighed down with heavy emotional baggage or with adult responsibilities. Innocence is so fleeting and so easily lost.

The attempted assassination of President Reagan happened when I was in first grade. I don’t remember how I found out about it, I just remember knowing that it happened. I was reassured that he would be okay and that the man who had shot him had been arrested. At seven years old, that was all I needed to know.

A couple of days after the tragedy at Virginia Tech, JBelle came home from school and asked me if I knew why the flags were being flown at half staff. I told her that I did and I asked her if she knew why. She told me because some college students in Virginia got shot and died. My heart broke a little when she said that, I’d hoped to shield her from it all. But looking back on it, she’s close to the same age that I was when Reagan was shot. While the two events are quite different on a scale of violence and loss, she had learned the basic facts and that was all she needed to know. A couple days after that she asked me if college students at Virginia Tech were still being shot. Again, my heart broke a little hearing her ask that question. I assured her that no, no one was being shot at anymore.

I imagine the questions will continue to come as her brain, little by little, processes the information. I know I can’t protect her from everything but I’ll try my best to answer the questions as honestly as I can without sacrificing the innocence of her young mind.

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