Sunday, April 29, 2007

Another one bites the dust

On Wednesday, Katie's final guppy died. We started with five, and they had passed one by one, until this one was left. Of course he was the ugliest, most beat-up looking one of them all. He was called SpongeBob (by her because he was yellow/orange, by me because, even for a fish, he was pretty stupid). Katie was broken hearted. It took me off gaurd, because she's never cried over a fish, frog or snail before. And we've had quite a few.

We said our goodbyes, declared Wednesday a day of morning for him and sent SpongeBob via the porcelain express to fish heaven. Every hour or two after that Katie informed me that she really, really missed her fish. And that Gary, the snail, was lonely. Each time I'd confirm that it was OK to feel sad, and said that, when she felt like it, we could go get a new one. She said, "Maybe someday, Mommy. But right now I'm too sad." Well, someday arrived on Friday.

Friday morning arrived and Katie informed me she was ready for a new finned friend. At PetSmart she found a Betta that had escaped from it's little cubby into the big fish tank. She loved him, and wouldn't even consider another. He did still have color to him (as opposed to most who looked pretty white) and seemed active, so I finally caved.

Katie was thrilled over her new fish. She made phone calls. She made plans for show and tell. She told everyone she saw. That night the fish had kisses showered upon him (blown through the glass). I was told that in the morning, I would learn of the fish's new name.

Morning came, and the fish was not only alive (I breathed a huge sigh of relief), but had been named... Hokie Swimmy. Swimmy is her last name (don't try to tell Katie it's a male). Day 2 came and went, and the fish had a steady stream of conversation coming its way. In fact, that may be why the next day, she found him, laying on the bottom, belly up. Ahhh, Hokie Swimmy. Such a short life in our home.

Hokie Swimmy was the "bestest fish that was most ever loved ever." Yes, she was a "very, very special buddy." Thus, when the funeral arrangements were being planned, it was decided that the toilet just did not provide the appropriate reverence required for this mournful event. A coffin was thus fashioned from a toilet paper tube, and decorated with a snail (so he'd never forget Gary), a happy face (for fish heaven) and a butterfly. A tombstone was also crafted with his name and a heart. The burial took place behind the play area, under an oak tree, and Katie dug the grave herself. She wanted him near her swing, so she could always remember what a good fish he was. She said goodbye, then sat down in the grass and had another good cry. Sadly, I found myself tearing up just a little to see such a display of affection for a $3.42 fish.

So, we're off to Petsmart again tomorrow. I hope I can convince her to get a few goldfish. They're easier to replace without her knowledge.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Final Emotion

An article was published yesterday on that summarises my thoughts and feelings much more eloquently than I am able to write them at this point and time. It's a bit wordy, but so well captures how most of us (Hokies and VT friends and family) feel.

The Final Emotion
by Will Stewart,

Apr 18, 2007

I am in the business of writing, of articulating my thoughts, of putting into words what others may only sense as a blur of feelings. I have never backed down from the challenge, be it capturing the emotion of a landmark victory, the pain of an agonizing defeat, the triumph and heartbreak that are part and parcel of athletics, even the horror of 9/11 over five years ago. It is my calling, my passion, my God-given talent. But I fear this ... this is too much.

I am not speaking lightly when I say that I cannot comprehend the loss suffered by the families, friends, and loved ones of this tragedy. I have tried to imagine what it must be like to suddenly lose someone close to you in this way. But I can't. I have a wife and three children, and when I try to put myself in that place, that terrible place where so many people have been thrown with no recourse, I can't.

It has only been two days since it happened, but it feels like forever. I am exhausted from being exposed to the brunt of it, from the message boards to the constant news coverage, to the conversations of family and friends, to the scenes on the Virginia Tech campus. Others have said they can't sleep. Not I. When I have fallen into bed past midnight the last two nights, sleep has come easily. It's getting up the next morning that has been difficult. We never thought this would be us. We have watched these kinds of tragedies from afar, but this one has hit us where we live.

The media have descended from around the world, poking, prodding, and worst of all, trying to place blame. An immense amount of pressure has been brought to bear on the Virginia Tech community, first by Cho Seung-Hui himself and then by the crush of international attention. While some of the coverage has been compassionate, much of it has not been, and some of it has bordered on cruel and sensationalistic. None of this surprises me, but being at the center of it still stings, and it changes your perceptions forever.

As I searched for meaning in what happened, I finally found it. I found it in the incredible poise, control, and togetherness shown by the Virginia Tech family. The true character of a person, group, or institution shows itself under pressure, and what the Virginia Tech community has shown us is grace, cohesion, intelligence, and compassion.

I have always thought that there was something different about Hokies, and the last few days have proven it. We always talk about the passion that Hokies have for Virginia Tech, about the special connection they feel to the university, and this tragedy has shown that talk doesn't ring hollow. If it wasn't true, if there wasn't a special bond between members of the Virginia Tech community, then they would have flown apart in the face of this adversity. They did not. They drew together and showed the world a united front.

Those interviewed by the media refused, for the most part, to be drawn into the baiting questions that sought to place blame on university president Charles Steger and the Virginia Tech Police Department. The very students who were in danger Monday let the world know where they stand when they applauded Dr. Steger at Tuesday's convocation service. The vultures were circling, hoping to pick the bones, but the people at Virginia Tech refused. They showed what it means to be Hokies. They drew together.

The students in particular have exceeded my expectations. We tend to think of them just as kids. Loud, shallow, self-centered, focused on the trivial, often spoiled. Adorned with body piercings, tattoos, and too much facial hair.

What we have seen instead, in the countless interviews of students on news channels up and down the dial, are bright, articulate, respectful individuals that any university would be flattered to call its own. Well-groomed, well-spoken, wearing dress clothes, ties, even suits, patiently answering questions, keeping their composure in the face of more than most of us will ever experience. I am on the one part humbled -- they are better people than I was at their age -- and on the other part proud.

Well done, students of Virginia Tech. You are representative of the type of people Virginia Tech is admitting and producing -- you, not Cho Seung-Hui -- and I am proud of both you and my university.

From the beautiful and gifted Reema Samaha to the cheerful, intelligent and talented Ryan Clark, Cho's victims were pictures of inspiration. These were not vapid, self-centered individuals. It is sad that their lives were cut short, but perhaps the way they conducted those lives will inspire others. They make me wish I could go through college again, to be more like them.

By the nature of what I do for a living, my window into the Virginia Tech world is athletics. Among the fans, athletics is about passion. It is about pride in victory and anguish in defeat. These emotions are always strong, always out of proportion to the importance of the games themselves, but I have always felt that with Virginia Tech fans, there was something beyond the typical fan relationship with their sports teams. Now that I have seen that passion and togetherness extend beyond the playing fields and the stadiums and coliseums and into the glare of this awful spotlight, I know it to be true.

Being a Hokie is not a mercenary relationship. It is not a business proposition. It is not an exchange of goods and services for money. It is a shared bond, a love that comes from somewhere we don't understand and can't explain to others. We do not take from this university; it gives to us. Perhaps when we first arrive on its campus, we have our own selfish interests in mind, but by the time we leave, we are transformed. We are Hokies.

It is sad and tragic that this happened to us. Because we love this university, we are devastated by what happened here. But if it was necessary for us to suffer in order for others to benefit, it is a burden we will bear, because our motto -- Ut Prosim, That I May Serve -- tells us that's what we must do. If our tragedy brings you together, if our loss makes you safer and makes you value what is important in life, if our suffering is not in vain, then we are prepared to shoulder this load ... so you don't have to. That has always been the mission of this university, and we are honored to carry it out.

Do not let the deaths of these 32 victims be in vain. Look into your hearts and see what it teaches you, and how you may be better because of what we have gone through. And know that when the bodies are in the earth, when the media has left, when others have moved on and life resumes its course, that for us, there is only one emotion left: Love. Love for this university, love for the people who died on April 16th, 2007, and love for those who are left behind. Remember this, and what happened here will not have been for naught.

William Neal Stewart
Virginia Tech, BSEE 1987

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Hokie Pride

Reading my post yesterday, I realize the shock and anger that I felt. I've surfed the web for a few minutes today, and see that other alum are feeling the same way I do - angry at the media, grieving for the losses to our fellow Hokies.

After watching the convocation today, I felt something else... a very real sense of pride for the students that are there. I was brought to tears by the standing ovation that Dr. Steger received when he stepped up to the podium. I'm not ashamed to say I clapped along with them. After the hours of scrutiny that the press have put him through, I had thought that there may be a big backlash from the students. I was stupid to underestimate the brains behind the students of VT. Like her alumni, VT's student body is not swayed by the mass media - we know Steger, and the rest of those at VT did their very best, and we thank them for all they have done and are doing to make sense of it all. Yes, there were some terrible lessons learned - but now is a time to mourn this loss. Shame on the media for muddying the waters by trying to tear apart the student body and VT support system, instead of trying to bring together and build up the nation's support for these grieving families.

Yesterday was a day of shock, and today the grief begins to set in. To see the photos of those that were lost, to learn about their lives. It especially struck me how one professor survived the holocaust lost his life while trying to protect his students from a madman. One of the professors had published in one of my client's scientific journals. It is all so close to home.

Please keep Virginia Tech students and their families in your thoughts and prayers and help us in uniting to support the families in loss.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The vultures descend

Thirty-three people are dead. Many more injured.
All at my beloved alma mater.

The headlines and media personality are what are really surreal to me. I'm sitting here trying to get some actual news - who did this? Why? Who was injured?

What do I get instead? Matt Lauer reporting on how long it takes to cross the Drill Field. Bryant Gumball practicing his "serious concerned" look. Double-yuh reading a script. Every major media personality descending upon my favorite small town. Today more than ever I reaffirm why I abhore American media. I want the news, darn it. I don't need to know how it makes Larry King "feel sad."

In the days and weeks to come, I know this tragedy will be analyzed, again and again. I know that many will come forward with their stories, and, like many, I will feel forced to watch it in some hope of making sense of what happened.

Just a minute - here comes Dr. Phil to help us "make sense of it all." Oh thank goodness.

Soapbox and media orgy aside, my most heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to everyone who lost someone they love today. As a fellow Hokie, my condolences go to the students and alumni who are reeling from it all. To the mothers who lost children, the wives who lost husbands, the girls who lost the loves of their lives... I am so incredibly sorry for their losses. I'm sad for those who got up, went to class this morning, and expected a German lesson, but lost their lives.

And finally, a note to one of my favorite people who should have been in Norris this morning, but chose to skip class. I'm so glad you're a slacker.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Rocky week

I haven't posted lately because things have been a bit on the glum side lately.

Easter was fine. We got together with both families. Stress abounded, tensions were high, the usual tears were shed. I threw out my back. Sadie and Katie are exhausted and today has been a long lesson in payback for not letting them get enough sleep yesterday. It was a typical holiday (sigh).

The friends that we made at UVA Medical Center are still there with their little girl, Maddie. Maddie is a day older than Sadie. They are at the end of their journey with Maddie, and she is preparing to leave this world. It's eating at me that such a perfect little baby has had to suffer, and that Jeff and Kathy couldn't be normal parents. I feel so guilty that Sadie is OK, when Maddie is not. I feel so badly for them that this is their only child, and they have barely had time to hold her, and never had a single "normal" moment without tubes, schedules, meds and stress. They are having a tough time letting Maddie go, and understandably so. I just hope that she is not suffering, and that Jeff and Kathy will have the strength to be able to say goodbye on their own terms. Please keep her and her parents in your prayers.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

10 Reasons I Will Never Go to Walmart Again.

Today I was forced to go to Walmart. I have managed over the past 6 months or so to avoid it except on two occassions. The local Walmart is less than 5 miles from my house, and open 24 hours. With "rock bottom" prices, it is tempting for one to think it is worthwhile and safe to go there. I've never really loved Walmart. In fact, I barely tolerated it to begin with . But today I topped 10 reasons, so I officially am beginning my personal boycot of Sam's Evil Empire. Here's why:

10. It's dirty. Ewww.

9. Bad business ethics. Booo.

8. They're morons when it comes to logistics. Sure, it may cut costs, but don't be stupid about it. Restocking at the busiest time of the day (e.g. 4:00 on a Sunday afternoon) is not smart or efficient. C'mon people.

7. The obvious shoplifting that occurs around me is downright annoying. People don't even try to be sneaky. (Example - conversation overheard today "Should I get the red or orange?" reply "It doesn't matter, just take 'em both. You're stealing them anyway.") I could make off with an entire cart without being noticed if I didn't have these annoying things called morals. So I stand in line and pay while watching others walk away with hundreds of dollars in merchandise - right under the rent-a-cops noses.

6. Apparantly, being in Walmart gives parents full rights to let their children run through the aisles screaming, without supervision. In fact, it seems to be encouraged. I understand if you can't get your baby to stop screaming (believe me, I really understand). However, once they're 2 or so, enough is enough. No, tying them to a cart is not a solution.

5. I really don't save anything more than shopping at my local Target. Unfortunately, Target doesn't have all the food items yet (specifically produce), but they added wine a few weeks ago (yay Target!), so we're getting there. Please, Target, please. Stay open till 11, add produce and meats and you will see an even bigger percentage of my paychecks!

4. Walmart is ugly. Just walking in there makes you feel cheap. It smells like I imagine Bangladesh smells (my friend who lived there several years called it the armpit of the world).

3. The parking lot is scary - potholes, carts everywhere, shady people hanging out in their cars just watching you... and no matter where you park, you're at least a mile from the store.

2. They purposely put everyday items on opposite ends of the store (dog food, baby items, groceries) to force you through the maze of madness. To get dogfood I had to walk through toys. To go to the diapers I had to trapse through electronics and tents. To get food, I had to go through bedding. I just don't have time for that crap.

1. I like to go shopping without witnessing two arrests, a near brawl, surly staff, abused children and migrant farmers trying to cop a feel. Is that too much to ask?!

So next time I need food, I'll pay a fortune at Ukrops and talk to all the old biddies who want to tell me about their favorite types of cheese. If I need personal care items, I'll head to Target and sip a Frappaccino while checking out the latest in the growing line of designers that have sold out to mainstream America.

And, if I'm in the mood to see first-hand action rivaling the Springer show or COPS, I'll head to Walmart. Seeing that I hate those shows, you won't be seeing me in Walmart any time soon.