Ex unitate vires

The elephant in the room

Andrew Breland

On Tuesday morning, most students woke up to a series of emails detailing a potentially scary but all-too-common occurrence in our society. A suspicious package was spotted outside the Village Starbucks. In a fashion similar to the TSA at Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport, Case Western Reserve University police closed in on the package and determined it was not a threat to the campus. This was not before, however, waking and evacuating the students lucky enough to live in Houses 3A, 4, and 5.

To those of us lucky enough to not live there, our sleep or morning routines went uninterrupted. We got up on our own schedule, or maybe that of our alarms. Some of us walked to class. Others rode a greenie. Still more stayed in bed until noon or later, relishing the last possible day of sleeping in—sleeping off the excitement of the first night of class, extracurricular activities and fraternity rush.

Monday was altogether a good first day of the semester. The weather was beautiful if not a bit warm. Cleveland exhibited a day of sunshine and clear skies, to which CWRU students responded by sitting on the quad, outside dorms and in other grassy fields on campus, enjoying the fleeting last days of summer. Aug. 25 was a day we could all remember in January when the snow approaches knee height, the temperatures dip below zero and the campus as a whole exhibits the enthusiasm and energy of a large rock.

If Aug. 25 was the example day, the next day made up for it in a big way.

After the perceived bomb threat, an episode most of campus probably found more amusing than frightening, we all received an email from President Barbara Snyder. This email was more than likely followed by immediate google searches. As news spread of the night’s events, students clamored for more information.

Of course, the email contained the announcement that overnight four CWRU undergraduates were killed in a plane crash. The reactions to this news ranged from incredulity (who dies in a plane crash?) to outright shock (how does something like this happen?). Even if students had never met those involved in the accident, they understood the gravity of the situation. The teary-eyed faces and aimless stares around campus that day told the whole story. Something was wrong and the whole of the CWRU community was feeling the impact.

That’s an important fact though. It is very rare that a community as diverse and disjointed as our own can unanimously understand anything. Students interpret things differently. This time something was different. It was especially notable that evening as hundreds of students came out in support of the brothers of Zeta Beta Tau; two of the victims were brothers of the CWRU chapter.

The fact that the support did not only come from the Greek community is amazing. Students, Greek and non-Greek, broke what are the “traditional” boundaries of the college campus and came together when our community was at its most damaged and vulnerable point.

The support on Tuesday and in the days that followed brought to mind a CWRU tradition. In September, hundreds of students will participate in the Case for Community Day. The event, run by the Center for Community Partnerships, challenges students to volunteer to make a difference in the Cleveland area—our “community.”

It is apparent, though, that the community defined by that advertisement is not necessarily the one to which we belong. Our community after this week is more than your residence hall or suite. It is more than your 500 Facebook friends, 1,000 Twitter followers or the other 1,200 people in your class at CWRU. Our community is the group that came out Tuesday night to support our injured brothers. Yes, that night our whole campus became brothers with each other. It did not matter what letters, if any, were on your chest. That night, we were all a brotherhood. We were all a community.

But with that bond comes an even higher charge. It is simply not enough to attend a vigil, pray for those we lost and hope the problem dissipates. As a community, as a brotherhood, we owe each other far more than that. In the coming weeks, we will find that this cataclysmic shock to our soul will gradually get easier to understand. Campus life will return to normal. In the short term, fraternity recruitment, largely put on hold Tuesday, has resumed and will conclude next week. Classes will continue on. Any academic delays due to the accident and resulting issues will be absorbed into the regular calendar. But the event will remain. In the meantime, we owe it to each other to be there as a resource.

One of my favorite songs is the classic “How Do You Keep the Music Playing.” In a particularly evocative rendition, Aretha Franklin, in a duet with Tony Bennett, asks the opening questions: “How do you keep the music playing? How do you make it last? How do you keep the song from fading too fast?” Ostensibly a song about love, the song seems particularly befitting to our current situation. In the face of tragedy, how do we keep the music playing? How do we make sure our work, lives, and community are not irrevocably torn apart by these events?

It is more important now than ever to be involved, to be engaged, to make sure things move on. It is important to not forget, but equally important to not let tragedy and sadness consume us.

Community, nay brotherhood, is built in times of emotional stress and difficulty. Tuesday was one of those days. Tuesday we became community.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Andrew Breland is the senior opinion columnist. Contact him at awb69@case.edu.