Saturday, April 18, 2009
Blessed are the Peacemakers
I've had two fairly well-known names in the forefront of my mind lately: Greg Mortenson, the founder of Central Asia Institute and co-author of Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace, One School at a Time; and Seung-Hui Cho, the troubled young man who killed 32 people at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007 before killing himself. So, which of these two men do you think has more written about him on Wikipedia? A man who has devoted his life to building schools for children in some of the most dangerous parts of the world? A person who, in the last 15 years, has built 78 schools in remote villages of Pakistan and Afghanistan? Or someone who, in one day, made history as the perpetrator of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history? Guess. OK, now check it out for yourself:
What's wrong with this picture?
April 16 was the second anniversary of the awful massacre at Virginia Tech. I remember that day well, because it happened in my hometown. My father was a professor there for more than 40 years, and my parents still live in the area. His building where he once worked is two doors down from Norris Hall, where Seung-Hui Cho walked in and started killing people. My parents know the family of one of the shooting victims. After shooting two people in a dorm that morning, he walked to the downtown post office and mailed his infamous video to NBC. I've been in that post office many times, and I can trace the route that he probably took from his dorm room to that location. I don't like the knowledge that the town where I grew up will, for many years to come, be known for what happened that day. (Virginia Tech is also known for its great football team and its amazing coach, Frank Beamer; that's a good thing! I used to see him around town from time to time.)
When my mother told me that Greg Mortenson was going to speak at Burruss Hall (which, incidentally, is right next to Norris) on the 15th, the eve of the somber anniversary, the kids and I packed our bags and made the familiar drive to Blacksburg. My oldest son brought his MP3 player so he could make a recording of Greg's talk, and the kids brought the young adult version of Three Cups of Tea with them (and, I am happy to say, have been reading it faithfully). I thought it very fitting that a peacemaker like Greg would be invited to deliver a message of hope in the wake of a tragedy that is still all too fresh in many people's minds. (We snagged a great parking space, and had to walk right past Norris Hall on the way to the event. As we were walking, I pointed out the building as the place where all those people had been killed. I thought it important for my kids to remember what happened; my mother asked me to please not talk about it anymore. For a moment I had forgotten that she spent many days helping to comfort a family who had lost their dear daughter and granddaughter.)
Greg delivered a fantastic talk, complete with slides and video. The timing of his visit was great for us, too, because not only was he in my hometown during spring break when the kids were out of school, but because next Saturday is when we're having the yard sale at the boys' school for Greg's organization, Pennies for Peace; the offshoot if you will of Central Asia Institute, which he founded. (I wrote about this in an earlier post; now when I'm feeling stressed about all that still needs to be done, all I have to do is remember the pictures of the children Greg brought with him, and remind myself that if one person can build 78+ schools, I can help organize one little yard sale.) After the presentation was over, the floor was opened up for questions. My twelve-year-old son raised his hand, and when Greg called on him, he stood up and told him about the upcoming sale, and that all of the money would go to Pennies for Peace. Do you want to know what Greg said? "When kids take the reins, get out of their way!" He thanked him and seemed genuinely pleased that MY KIDS!! were taking the time to help the children that are so important to him.
Seung-Hui Cho might have received a lot of attention in a short amount of time, and many families are still grieving because of what he did. Greg Mortonson may not get the press coverage that Cho did, but he is an excellent example of the difference one person can make in the world. He's up for the Nobel Peace Prize, and I'm rooting for him all the way.