You know how random memories just spring up when you least expect them? Today’s had to do with a writing assignment my 4th grade class received. We looked at a mimeograph (remember those? I can almost smell the ink) of a man treed by a bear. Our teacher explained we were to write about what was happening in the picture from either the point of view of the man or the point of view of the bear. In a class of twenty kids, I was the only one who told the story from the bear’s point of view.
As we recover from the massacre at Virginia Tech, I wonder what the Cho family is going through. How do they mourn a son and apologize to a nation? Because the feeling I get, is we would like an apology. How do they go to work or greet their neighbors outside their house? When the reporters couldn’t get to them the day they announced the name of the shooter, they interviewed their postman who said they always seemed polite when they received packages. I know I’m always polite when I receive a package. Really, unless you’re the Grinch, who isn’t polite when receiving a package? Next, reporters flew out to a poor neighborhood in Korea to ask those people if they remembered the family and if I’m not mistaken, what we got from those interviews were, “well, they couldn’t afford a nice place and instead chose this apartment that was partially underground.” Off to find the Korean Grandfather who added the killer, “…was a serious boy” or something like that. It seems like the next bit of information I had about the family was brought to me by a reporter who had the sister’s work announcement. In it, she talked about how proud she was to have graduated from an Ivy League school and to be in the position she was in with the government. And I thought, in that brief moment her life was going well as she looked towards a promising future. In that moment, she wasn’t defined as the older sister of a mass murderer. When her colleagues look at her now, do they see their former co-worker and all of her achievements, or is she now only “Cho’s sister”?
To this family, I would imagine Cho was a son, brother, grandson, neighbor and not a major headline. And again, I wonder how they as a family move forward, especially since it seems fairly obvious that the media would like them to atone for their son’s actions. We would like to vilify them, see their three heads – the monsters that begat a monster.
I would imagine they will be forced to move, to change jobs and it’s likely they’ll have to change their names if they want any sort of peace – all because their son did something so amoral, so heinous and so unconscionable that they are put in the spot where they now bear that tremendous burden of responsibility. A responsibility that will never allow them to mourn for their loss openly – something we take for granted when it comes to our own losses.
It is fortunate, that they have such a common last name that once they’re resettled will allow them to blend back into society – unlike a name like Oswald. A friend of mine once attended school with and befriended Lee Harvey Oswald’s daughter. He never knew who she was while they were in school together. Once she left, the rumor’s spread (and very well could be the reason it was time to move on). Here’s a girl not really old enough to have known her father, but had her secret been revealed, she would be plagued by questions from her peers and from the media. And all she wanted to do was live a normal life and attend college – not become the second shooter from the grassy knoll – not be defined by something she had no part in.
While I could easily rant about the media, it wouldn’t be fair. We direct the media and we, as a people, strongly believe in a good lynching (in this case, a media lynching of the family since the Cho took his own life). Raise the pitchforks, light the torches, someone is going to pay and we’ll ask our questions later and I find that kind of sad.
I guess that says something about me – I’m always trying to see the story from the bear’s perspective. While I’ve wondered what would happen if the press could reach the Cho’s, I also wonder how they move on, how they grieve someone’s death they likely cared about and how they bear this terrible burden of shame?
These are all excellent questions. I remember reading an article that mentioned Cho’s sister and feeling full of pity for her. I can’t imagine what it would be like to show up at work in the morning and have everyone looking at you as if you owed them something because someone in your family did something horrible.