I walked right up to it at first, but it was like jumping straight into hot water. Realizing I was going to have to ease myself in I stepped back 10 feet or so to look at the site as a whole. Many were gathered around either signing the multiple pieces dedicated to those lost or silently paying respects. Eventually I approached a second time and began reading what people had written. Some of the most heart-wrenching words I have ever read were hitting me by the minute. Most were students and families briefly reminiscing over favorite moments together, inside jokes, and their favorite activities.
It's funny how I've written four pieces chronicling my emotions over the past several days, yet I stood there with a marker in my hand without the slightest idea what to write. Several minutes of deep contemplation passed and I still could not put my feelings into appropriate words. At one point I decided not to write anything at all, it being unfair to taint such a passionate monument with hollow words. I quickly thought myself selfish and cowardly and scribbled something cliché followed by what everyone calls me at school, "-Boston". I'll go back sometime later this week and make peace.
We then walked over to the larger signing boards, of which there were 7 I believe. They were 4x8 sheets of plywood painted white and they were all covered in signatures by this afternoon. Auburn University sent one over and it stood elevated over the rest with their college's logo in the bottom right corner. After reading through the boards for some time I wrote another generic comment and moved on to a larger memorial of candles and flowers. I'll be back there too to write something meaningful.
This was the most powerful memorial I will ever see in my entire life. Look at this:
Those are 24 of the 32 "Hokie Stones" surrounding the memorial. Those stones were used to build a vast majority of the buiIdings on campus including West Ambler Johnston and Norris Hall. I literally froze mid-step as I broke the imaginary boundary created by these rocks. I felt as though I were entering an area of paramount importance, like I should have fallen to my knees and cleared my head of all thoughts. Almost immediately the entire week came together inside of me all at once. Running from buildings, hearing the death tolls, seeing the faces of victims, hearing their families grieve, hearing about how great they were and how much they were going to accomplish, it all came together in a single second and I broke down for the first time.
Now that all of the victims have been identified I'd like to extend a most sincere apology to all those who lost a loved one or, God forbidding, several loved ones. I assure you their spirits are alive in Virginia Tech and they always will be. They are alive in me and every single other member of this community. We are proud to call them family.
I now know what I'm going to write on those memorials:
"A life that ends in Virginia Tech lives forever in Virginia Tech"
Previously on FanHouse:
Through Hokie Eyes: Convocation and Vigil
Through Hokie Eyes: The Day After
The Virginia Tech Tragedy and Why Sports Matter