By Suzy Barile
Last night before heading downstairs to my computer, I consciously closed and locked the front door, as well as the upstairs and downstairs sliding glass doors opening onto our deck. So uncharacteristic, I thought, but then I’d just read Newsweek’s coverage of the Virginia Tech killings and who knows what may lurk in the dark?
That thought left me undone and angry, however, for as long as we have lived in our house, I’ve kept the front door open – storm door locked, but front door open -- so I could enjoy the sunlight, the rain, the night sky, my neighborhood. Even after my husband’s truck was broken into, our front door remained open. Even nights when I am home alone, I leave the front door open. Yet the tale of a young man who felt so betrayed by his world that he would shoot 32 strangers is certainly enough to place fear in the minds of innocent people.
My response to that story made me stop and think of the many dangerous situations I had been in over the years when I was a full-time reporter: an armed bank robbery in Madison where the FBI agents allowed me to ride along as they interviewed witnesses and searched for the thief; a story involving a community college instructor who tried to get a union started and soon even I feared I was being followed; late-night drives from Morrisville to Raleigh when I covered that western Wake County’s town board for The Cary News. And I distinctly remember demanding my roommates promise never to tell my mother how often I drove Old Warrenton Road after covering activities in Warren County for the Henderson Daily Dispatch.
All those were times when something, anything, could have happened and there were no cell phones for emergencies and precious-few phone booths in the middle of rural North Carolina. Still I set out to cover each event with no fear. Why then did I feel compelled to lock my front door? After all, Cary is one of the safest places in America to live.
Perhaps it is the kindred-ness I feel with the Virginia Tech community. Children of friends, as well as those friends, have graduated from that university. The national headquarters of the sorority to which my daughter and I belong sent out email after the shootings to tell members around the world that all the sisters in that chapter were safely accounted for. The professional organization to which I have belonged for 20-some years notified its national membership that our Hokie-affiliated colleagues were fine, though extremely fatigued, both mentally and physically. And students of mine at Wake Tech have shared that their family members -- also Virginia Tech grads – are saddened and in shock.
Yet what I believe prompted that locked front door is the proclamation “We are all Hokies” which Americans were called on to adopt during the nation’s days of mourning. It wrapped its arms around me more tightly than the burnt-orange and Chicago-maroon ribbons I wore on my sweater and tied to the antenna of our car. Somehow the idea that “something could happen” is now more than a passing thought, if ever it had been one during my years of reporting.
Though my grief for what has happened is great, I know I will once again leave my front door open and not be afraid of the dark outdoors. But the students, faculty, staff, families and friends of Virginia Tech have much to deal with in the days ahead, and before true healing takes place, we all may have to remain Hokies a while longer.
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