Coded gray.

Tuesday 24 April 2007

Liviu Librescu

Pic of the day: I usually don't steal pictures, but for the good of all I'll make an exception. This picture comes from Virginia Tech's website, but you may have seen it around. Hopefully we'll continue to see it for years to come.

Who to remember

It has been some days since the mass shooting at Virginia Tech. The tragedy is slowly fading from the news, and soon it will be forgotten by most of us. Not by the students, the teachers, and the families. And not yet by politicians who want to milk it for their own ends. One of them will say: "If weapons had been harder to get, the murderer would not have had them!" And another will say: "If weapons had been easier to get, the students would have had a fighting chance!" And nobody will have learned anything. After a while, it will happen again.

It is no loss if the Korean student is forgotten. There will always be victims who feel that they have a divine right to revenge. I know such feelings from my own youth. Perhaps I will feel them again if sufficient injustice is done against people I care about. But I don't really think this is a good thing. I don't think we have anything to learn from this guy.

It was Al Schroeder who once wrote in his now discontinued journal "Nova Notes": In the middle ages, people studied hagiology - the study of saints. These days we study criminology. (He may not have been the first to notice this, but that's where I read it.) In all fairness, the middle ages were no paradise on earth. It was surprisingly violent by our standards, and alcohol was involved in not a few of the deaths (and probably many of the births as well). Even so, I think we may have lost something with today's tunnell vision focus on the criminals.

And so I wish to remind you all of Liviu Librescu, an everyday saint who became a martyr at Virginia Tech in April 2007. Good men will remember him when his killer is reduced by time to "just another crazy guy" or even "who?".

Liviu Librescu was a Jew, growing up in Romania before and during the time when that country allied with Nazi Germany. As a result, the boy was interned in a labor camp, but survived. Ironically he died on the day of the year when Jews all over the world commemorate the Holocaust. I am sure he would have preferred to live many more years, as would most of us; but when push came to shove, the 76 year old professor chose to block the door with his own body while shouting for the students to flee through the windows. Librescu was shot through the door with five bullet and died there and then. But 22 of his 23 students survived.

Integrity was not something that came to him at the end of his life. As a highly gifted and respected academic in Romania during the communist years, he was expected to swear loyalty to the communist party. He refused, asking instead to be allowed to emigrate to Israel. He was fired from his job, but (perhaps due to attention from abroad) was allowed to leave the country later.

A remarkably productive scientist, Librescu was still active in his mid 70es and contributing to his field of science. It would have been rational for him to seek to save his own extraordinary life rather than the ordinary lives of his students. But at a moment where there is no time to think such things through, he immediately risked his own life.

I don't even know to what degree Liviu Librescu was an observant Jew. But as far as I am concerned, it matters less what we think about God than what God thinks about us. And whether or not you believe in a personal God, I sincerely hope you belive in Good. And lest we ever forget, there are men and women like this through the ages to remind us. Whether we call them saints, heroes, paragons or role models... they are lights in the dark; and no matter how long we study the dark, in the end it is the light that will show us the way.

Yesterday <-- This month --> Tomorrow?
One year ago: Fast forward
Two years ago: Mahoraba
Three years ago: Visiting real life
Four years ago: Backside students
Five years ago: Nice spring day
Six years ago: Sometimes I wonder
Seven years ago: No Witnesses
(Eight years ago: Still on vacation.)

Visit the archive page for the older diaries I've put out to pasture.

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