We will prevail

On April 16, 2007, a student at Virginia Tech, had killed 32 of the university’s students and professors besides himself. The tragedy had plunged the academic community at the university into sorrow and grief. The entire nation was deeply moved by this tragedy. Amidst this morning rose a voice that was strong, powerful and defiant with a touch of rebellion. It was Nikki Giovanni. She was addressing the thousands who had gathered the next day at the memorial service for the shooting victims. She was asked by the president of the university to give a speech at the memorial service. As Nikki Giovanni is a professor at Virginia Tech, she was herself deeply affected by the tragedy. She found it very difficult to write a speech. Instead she composed a poem. In fact it was a poem chant. In her very opening lines she takes the tragedy head on and accepts the reality with courage to ‘stand tall tearlessly’ and with humility ‘bend to cry’. She said,

“We are Virginia Tech.
We are sad today, and we will be sad for quite a while.
We are not moving on, we are embracing our mourning.
We are Virginia Tech.
We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly,
we are brave enough to bend to cry, and
we are sad enough to know that we must laugh again.
We are Virginia Tech…”

In the lines that follow she conveys the message to her listeners that even as the tragedy is very personal, yet they cannot afford to indulge in the pleasures of self-pity. And so she tries to connect to the tragedies suffered by other innocent people like them. She said,

“We do not understand this tragedy.
We know we did nothing to deserve it,
but neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS,
neither do the invisible children walking the night away to avoid being captured by the rogue army,
neither does the baby elephant watching his community being devastated for ivory,
neither does the Mexican child looking for fresh water…”

In these very powerful lines the poet by embracing the sorrow of others, transcends from the personal to the universal. Even as they grieved, by reaching out to the sorrow of others, Giovanni tapped into the fundamental goodness of humanity that resides deep within every human heart. Some of her closing lines are as follows,

“…We are strong, and brave, and innocent, and unafraid.
We are better than we think and not quite what we want to be.
We are alive to the imaginations and the possibilities.
We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears and through all our sadness…
…We will prevail…”

Many speakers spoke before her including the president of United States. But it was the lone voice of Nikki Giovanni that not only raised the spirits of the students and teachers at Virginia Tech, but also the entire nation. It is these rare voices like Nikki Giovanni who help us rise above hatred and intolerance. They help us to accept the reality around us and embrace our fellow travellers, on our life’s journey, with sympathy and goodwill.

“Our philosophy is the acceptance of life for the transformation of life and also for the manifestation of God’s light here on earth, at God’s choice hour in God’s own way.” ~Sri Chinmoy

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