Unforgettable “Yes, I know where it is,” she told me. To my surprise, she’d agreed to meet me at my clean, small, but nondescript hotel located a few blocks from pricey beachfronts in downtown Tel Aviv. “My son will take me,” she’d said.
Thanks to arrangements made by the Chabad Rabbi at the University of Virginia, I’d been able to correspond with her, the wife of the late Professor Liviu Librescu. In addition to my condolences, I had told her of the certificate I had for her. Friends and associates had joined me in donating a garden of at least 100 trees as a yahrzeit memorial for her husband and the others who fell in the Virginia Tech massacre.
I didn’t know what to expect as the three of us sat at one of few tables on the patio just off the entrance to my hotel. Her son’s car was parked less than fifteen feet from us. To my surprise, I didn’t feel nervous while saying hello and shaking hands with Mrs. Librescu and her son.
After I told her about presenting a certificate similar to hers to a representative of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg following a memorial ceremony in conjunction with the national officers of Hadassah, I handed hers to her.
“Thank you,” she said, quietly, yet clearly. ”This is so meaningful.” Her son read the certificate with her. Although she seemed sad, as I’d expected, she wanted to talk, appeared concerned about making me feel at home. Within moments, I realized how strong and courageous she was. She shared stories with me about her life with Dr. Librescu while at Tech. Hers was a voice of reason and intelligence.
For almost two hours, in the embrace of a clear and temperate late September sky, we chatted. Some of what she told, regarding important encounters of Dr. Librescu, I have yet to write about. Her reminiscences were that personal. Inspired and touched by her candor, I felt honored to be there with her and her son.
Memories of that conversation were impossible to repress when a friend stopped at my store for a rare visit. Like me, he’s an adjunct professor. Unlike me, he’s teaching a course in anatomy. Briefly, we’d talked about the inexplicable shooting at the movie theater in Colorado.
There’d been a connection of thoughts that had led to that, including mention of the harm done to survivors of such a ghastly attack. That’s when he told me that his youngest child was an incoming freshman at Virginia Tech.
I didn’t mention Mrs. Librescu. Indeed, I suppressed an image of her eighty-year-old husband barricading himself against his classroom door to protect his students. Gunshots had ripped into him instead of them.
I may have blinked as my friend transitioned to a remark about a state police officer who was one of the first responders at the Tech massacre. “I talked to him,” my friend said.
He paused. “The officer told me of a scene he’ll never forget.” As I listened, I sensed it was one my friend also might never outlive.
“Cautiously, he entered the room. Dead bodies were everywhere. But what shook him most was the incessant sounds of their cell phones that lay ringing on the floor.”
Hearing that, I too was shaken.
I still am.
B. Koplen 7/22/12