Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Acting on Faith in the wake of Virginia Tech

After an evening spent catching up on the evil that occured at Virginia Tech yesterday morning, it felt strange and positively unsettling to see people smiling today. What is there to be happy about, in a bloody world drenched with such malevolence?
I slept a troubled sleep last night, as I was held captive by thoughts of other people in other beds, forced now to sleep alone, or caused to sleep without a child in their lives any more. What despair must they feel, what pain must they now know, suffering as they do from their tragedy. It affected me, as a stranger watching the tragedy unfold at my safe distance; what horror must it be for those so directly touched by it all?
While steeling myself up for the grinding day ahead, this morning I found one story out of the tragedy that I can hang on to, as a source of inspiration to get through the necessary day.

Here's a gentleman who is an incredible example to live up to. From the Jerusalem Post:

As Jews worldwide honored on Monday the memory of those who were murdered in the Holocaust, a 75-year-old survivor sacrificed his life to save his students in Monday's shooting at Virginia Tech College that left 32 dead and over two dozen wounded.
Professor Liviu Librescu, 76, threw himself in front of the shooter, who had attempted to enter his classroom. The Israeli mechanics and engineering lecturer was shot to death, "but all the students lived - because of him," Virginia Tech student Asael Arad - also an Israeli - told Army Radio.
Several of Librescu's other students sent e-mails to his wife, Marlena, telling of how he blocked the gunman's way and saved their lives, said the son, Joe.
"My father blocked the doorway with his body and asked the students to flee," Joe Librescu said in a telephone interview from his home outside of Tel Aviv. "Students started opening windows and jumping out."
Liviu Librescu, was respected in his field, his son said.
"His work was his life in a sense," said Joe. "That was a good place for him to practice his research."
The couple immigrated to Israel from Romania in 1978 and then moved to Virginia in 1986 for his sabbatical, but had stayed since then, Joe told Army Radio.
I learn two lessons from Professor Librescu.
First, comes the suggestion of the immense strength of character he must have possessed to have emerged from a nightmare like the Holocaust, in his early teen years, and gone on to start a family and build a successful career. I can’t imagine the horrors that he must have lived through, yet he still managed to keep faith in the human experience and the belief that life was worth living, and worth living well. All the survivors that have similarly gone on to live normal lives, full of love and new life, are equally heroic, and I fear comparing myself to their strength, sensing that I would fall far short of their perseverence. Still, by studying their example, the shortfall may not be as great, since they offer such inspiring role models. Their renewed commitment can teach us the strength to renew our own lives: who can claim to have suffered near as much, and can hold that suffering as an excuse to shirk obligations to live lives worth living? These survivors kept their faith: so should we.

Then comes the more immediate example during yesterday's shooting, as the professor used his body as the shield to save a future generation. He cannot have "known" whether trading his life for that of his students, sparing their families the grief now enveloping his own, that this sacrifice would prove worthwhile. He could not know that in any absolute sense; he engaged in an act of faith, that it shall be proven to be so.

It is much easier to lose faith than to keep it, much more common to forestall mustering up the strength to commit to an act of faith. Might it not be the ultimate challenge: exercising the delicate and ever-so-mysterious muscle by which we invoke our ability to see the unseen, the positive future yet to be, and march towards it.
From every angle we are assailed by reasons to give up on ourselves, and especially to abandon our fellow man. Yet are the Professor Librescus of the world really so rare? Isn’t it a test of our perception skills, to recognize just how many such heroes actually exist alongside us in our world today?
Tens upon tens of thousands of Canadians used themselves as shields to preserve our futures, in World War I and World War II, today thousands more serve in Afghanistan, fulfilling the same duty; they put their lives on the line, willing to sacrifice all and bring pain to their families, in exchange for their faith in us, fellow citizens, sharing as we do the experience of being human, being alive. Like Professor Librescu, they have faith that our future is worth preserving, at a great cost if need be. They don't "know" it, they hope it... they aspire to believe it, and act upon those beliefs.
It is up to us, now, to live up to our side of the bargain, by living lives worth living, dedicated to truth, justice, and beauty, through faith, family and fortune. The students whose lives he saved through his unselfish act of sacrifice have their obligations now revealed clearly to them, and it should be as clear to the rest of us that we are also in similar debt, carrying the same obligation. Ours may be more indirect, but no less real for it.

It is a hard choice to live a purposefully good life, surrounded as we all are by such purposeless evil; it is a continuing, physical act to do so… an act of faith, now today made all the more attainable thanks to the heroic example set by the noble sacrifice of Liviu Librescu.
May he rest in Peace, and may God bring comfort and Peace to his family.

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