The Virginia Tech shooting: For all those who passed away, I pray for peace for you with God and for comfort for your loved ones here on earth. For all those who were/are wounded in body, mind and heart, I pray for peace and resilience for you and your families and friends.

Waleed Shaalan would be the closest person I “know” to this tragedy – he was a member of the MSA at Virginia Tech and so, knew the nephew of a childhood friend, also at Virginia Tech, who I had lost touch with until just last month when I sort of reconnected through facebook. Here’s an excerpt from the tribute to Waleed on facebook:

Waleed Shaalan, 32 years old, first stepped onto the Virginia Tech campus in August 2006. An international student originally from Zagazig Egypt, with no family members in the United States, Waleed was quickly adopted as an essential member of the Blacksburg Muslim community. Among those mourning his death are his two roommates (Fahad Pasha and Irfan Waseem) to whom Waleed was their loving older brother, cook, academic and spiritual mentor…Though he had a hectic schedule, juggling classes, PhD research and TA responsibilities, he always made time for the people around him. Waleed was known for his broad smile and wave that he gave everyone.

Waleed left behind Amira his wife of 3 years, and Khaled his one-year old son. Waleed will always be smiling in our hearts.

Fahad was the last person to have spoken to Waleed [and] he remarked, “He was studying late for an exam the morning of the incident; it was about 4 am when I last saw and spoke to him. We were talking about how amazing it would be once he brought his wife and son to Tech after the summer. I could never have imagined that in 5 hours he’d be gone forever.”

There were indications he died trying to protect another student from being killed. An excerpt from The New York Times:

He was gunned down on Monday while he was studying in Norris Hall, but witnesses say he died a hero.

According to Randy Dymond, a civil engineering professor at Virginia Tech, Mr. Shaalan was in a classroom with another student when the gunman entered and opened fire.

Mr. Shaalan was badly wounded and lay beside the other student, who was not shot but played dead, as the gunman returned two times searching for signs of life. Just as the gunman noticed the student, Mr. Shaalan made a move to distract him, at which point he was shot a second time and died. The student believed that Mr. Shaalan purposefully distracted the shooter to save him, Mr. Dymond said.

There’s an MSA National Memorial Fund for Waleed’s Family set up.

Reading about senseless tragedies is difficult; I feel it’s particularly so because we cannot move into action to help alleviate or lessen the pain.

Tom Harpur, a religion writer, had an article (many years ago) about this feeling of helplessness. He talked about how he was looking at a picture in the newspaper of an Iraqi child wounded in the war and discussing with his wife about that terrible feeling rising – a feeling that his hands were tied being all the way over here. They both decided to offer a quiet prayer for the child – an unknown person, but still a person – to channel their feelings from despair to hope. From then on, he decided to do this when he encountered stories or pictures which he felt he could not move to action on except, and what an exception, through prayer.

Though I read this article when I was in my teens, it has always stayed with me. Responding to situations out of our reach through prayer is powerful. It is an action which, once taken, can bring real results, God willing. Certainly one of these results would be to keep us connected to “unknown persons” as opposed to just turning the newspaper page on them with a sigh.

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