Silent Memories

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Silent Memories

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Heather McCoy

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Heather McCoy

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Originally written Jan. 7, 2010

I was at NIU today to return a book to the library and pick up a few others that had come in. It’s the week before classes start up again for the spring, so campus is quiet. I also took a walk over to my old classroom building to see if any of my favorite professors were in their offices, but it seemed as if nearly everyone had already headed home for the day.

On my way, I passed Cole Hall, the site of the shootings of 2/14/08. It too was silent, but of course that silence was more palpable than anywhere else on campus. Though nothing about the case is unsolved—other than the shooter’s motives, which may never be discovered—Cole Hall has been left a veritable crime scene. No one really knows what to do with it; it would be wrong to ever use the building again for classes, to reopen those tainted lecture halls (renovated or not) and release the Pandora’s box of terror-filled memories. On the other hand, the ever-present higher education issue of classroom space is exacerbated by the removal of two of NIU’s largest lecture halls from use.

So here it sits, empty and untouched. Next to it sits the shooting memorial, which was erected months ago but I had yet to see. Here, five sturdy slabs of gray concrete forever stand inscribed with the names of the victims. The stones’ solidarity, pronouncing “Forward, Together, Forward,” (NIU’s rallying cry throughout the tragedy’s aftermath) reminds visitors of the enduring spirit of a university community pulled together in times of tragedy and of the lasting memory of those now gone. Next to the concrete stands a silver statue: five diamond shapes arranged to look like flames of fire pointing heavenward. They too stand silent witness to the solidarity of the thousands who were on campus that day.

The whole memorial garden is covered in a blanket of snow, much like campus was the day it all happened. I remember the snow from that day because I remember students’ stories about crimson drops and streams of blood in the snow as their terrified peers literally ran for their lives. Then, the snow amplified the horror and coldness of the moment; today, it serves a much different function. Today, the snow is cleansing. With no footprints to soil the purity of it, the snow just blankets the monuments as it blanketed the ground that day. Reminding everyone who passes of the cyclical nature of everything.

Reminding us that, despite it all, time goes on.

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