When my best friend let me know what was happening at Purdue on Tuesday, I was making a sandwich to take to campus so I could squeeze in lunch before teaching my poetry workshop. I checked in with those I knew who were on campus throughout the day, and I kept typing (and then erasing), “I wish I could be there.”
Wanting to be on Purdue’s campus didn’t make sense at all. It felt like a really bizarre, misplaced response. No one in their right mind (besides policemen and journalists) was going to West Lafayette that day; if anything, I’m sure plenty of students left, even just to go to Lafayette for a while. At one point, I told a friend, “I just want to go there and sit in a room with Logan and Brooke and Hayley and Barrett.”
Instead, of course, I stayed six hours away and followed Twitter all day, catching aerial views of my campus on several major news sources. Everyone was looking at the building where I went to Friday night Cru meetings and got off the bus to walk to Heavilon nearly every day during the four years I was a student there. It goes without saying that seeing a place you know well in a situation like this—exposed and vulnerable—is unsettling.
I’ve been trying to figure out why I still just want to be in West Lafayette now—because, truthfully, I always want to be there. I miss the city itself and I miss its people. But why I want to be there now, in particular, has to do with empathy.
When someone you love hurts, you don’t pat them on the back and say you wish it hadn’t happened. When one of your own is attacked, you get down there in the pit with them. You’re in it for the long haul. You’re available, because healing takes time. You need only to say, “I’m here, too, and I’m not leaving.”
Empathy doesn’t mean arguing about how something could’ve prevented what happened. It means living with the fact that it did.
Empathy produces connection, even when community is widespread. And that’s what I’ve seen from Purdue’s students, both past and current, so far.
Before our newsfeeds clog with arguments about gun control and whether the shooting could’ve been prevented, there has to be empathy. Empathy brings compassion for the victim’s family, not long comment threads on Facebook. Empathy means calling your people and telling them you think they’re amazing. It means realizing that the most important thing, right now, is to love your people and our campus. Later, it’ll mean looking back and learning from this.
The Purdue Exponent’s current Editor-in-Chief wrote an article I wholeheartedly appreciated. He writes, “This is a chance for us to hold the lit candles together, as a community, and as we grow out of this tragedy, back into normalcy, then we can think about legislation. But for now, we breathe.”
Breathing with you, dear Boilermakers. Turn to each other, and don’t leave.