It’s been good to hear from so many people. Thank you for reminding
me that you’re out there. I’ve never been into mass emails like
this, but as long as it is useful for me and for you, I think I’ll
keep doing this.
I think the main thing I want to share is that we are not scared here.
We are sad.
We are deeply sad, but we are not scared and if you are feeling
scared, I think you should turn off your television.
After the Convocation on Tuesday, some friends and I gathered on
Henderson lawn to sit on green grass, feel the sun.
As we sat, we watched a steady stream of cars on College Avenue then
some city workers walking down the street with arms full of yellow
They tied them onto lamp posts all over town.
Today they’ve been replaced by orange and maroon ribbons.
Outside of the art department’s main gallery, someone stuck dozens of
bright orange pinwheels into the ground.
Sometimes they catch a breeze and spin.
Tuesday morning the theatre department faculty and graduate students
gathered together to see each other,
just to be in the same room, then to talk over some immediate business.
We had a show scheduled to open this week and several events to
produce before the end of the semester.
Things have been cancelled and re-imagined.
During the meeting, we decided that we needed a space where people
could come together to talk and listen and be quiet.
We decided that the space would be available whenever the Performing
Arts Building was open.
As you might imagine, it’s extremely comforting to be in a department
with people who think this way.
We’ve also started thinking about what the Theatre Department can
offer to the rest of the university.
What is our role as artists? How do we take care of ourselves and be
available to what’s happening around us?
In my department, we ask this all the time. What does it mean now?
Sitting on the grass in the sun with my friends Shannon and Eric we
started imagining the room.
What could transform a classroom into a sacred space?
Eric brought up the Irish tradition – I think In Lughnasa – of
hanging fabric at funerals.
I think there are similar references in many other cultures.
I think of cultures that wrap things, that tear clothing, I think of
That evening we emptied room 105 of all chairs, tables.
All of the graduate students who were in town ironed, cut and
installed 33 panels of burlap in the room, ceiling to floor.
There is enough space that you can walk among them. The light passes
They hang in memory of the dead.
This is a very old building, one of the oldest on campus.
The room has one wall which is all windows.
From the windows, you can see the drillfield, you can see yellow
caution tape around Norris Hall.
I ransacked my drawers at home collecting colored pencils, different
sizes and colors of paper, stamps, whatever I could find.
The next day at noon people began to gather.
There was some talking, some singing.
Some people wrote stories or thoughts and attached them to the burlap
Some people just sat quietly and listened. It was good.
There is something valuable about making things.
Working with my hands.
Doing. Not busily, but slowly, in meditation. It was necessary.
Not making so that we have product, but the process of making having
its own value.
I wonder what this place looks like from out there.
I was at the vigil on the drillfield Tuesday night with thousands of
I think it was the first time I was aware of breathing since Monday
Some new space opened up inside me.
When the speeches officially ended, no one moved. I stood with
thousands of people, holding light, being very still, silent.
It was pure and restorative.
Then on the other side of the field a group of people started singing
‘amazing grace’ and the sound washed over the crowd.
After a time, more silence and then, I don’t know where it started or
who, but there it was
– a hokie chant –
one of the chants you hear at a football game
(yes, I know the football chants and have even been to a game. Some
of you will be more surprised by this fact than others)
The chant rose up with lots of power, with a sense of perseverance.
It was strange to me, a strange impulse on this occasion.
I did not chant and many people started leaving when this happened.
Well, I’ve thought a lot about the chanting since then.
I think we are grasping here.
We are grasping for a common language – we want something that all,
or at least most of us, can say yes to.
We want rituals that can start our healing, remind us that we’re alive.
For this school, for where we are and what we know,
for all the sadness and all the hope,
what rises up out of stillness is a hokie chant.
It comes from a good place.
It is what we know right now.
Reading this, I felt like I could see the burlap set up in PAB; see th drill field, and see College Ave, even though I haven’t stepped foot on Campus since 1990. It’s kind of shocking how sadness reminds you how connected you are to places in ways that nothing else can.