Today's mass murder at Virginia Tech hit most of us in the gut. I don't apologize for becoming inured to the daily reports of atrocities flowing from Iraq or the Darfur region of Sudan. We have six billion people on this planet and every second more die. It simply isn't possible to react to every tragedy or outrage that happens daily. I refuse to live life as Woody Allen described it when he said something like, "I can never enjoy a meal as long as I know that someone somewhere is starving."
Yet occasionally, events like Columbine, the Shuttle explosion, and today's massacre come across more vividly, like high-definition reality.
I suppose that media psychologists could explain this. It's not hard to imagine that some people seem so similar to our own friends and neighbors and children and some situations seem so similar to our own that the fact of tragedy seems more real. By contrast, everything we hear about remote regions of Africa or the Middle East often seems so foreign that even tales of tragedy seem abstract.
Hinduism teaches the concept of Maya, described as the illusion that reality is made up of separate selves and things. One point of enlightenment is to realize that this is an illusion. The apostle Paul wrote of believers as all one body. Statisticians see groups as having tendencies and know that, for instance, 2% of any group is going to die before the age of 50, even if they can't tell you which 2% it will be. Religion, psychiatry, and statistics have different ways of making the point that we share a fate and our individual experiences are, at some level, random variations of the human experience. It's not just that good and bad fortune is unpredictable - it is that, at some level, we share one another's fortune.
If there is any good to come out of tragedy's like today's it is simply this: it tears away the veils of Maya, reminding us that whatever we think makes us different is trivial and insubstantial in contrast with what makes us the same, .