This is where you first reach in a moment of implausible tragedy. Not for some instruction manual. Not for some complicated philosophy based on another’s hypothetical understanding of the hell that surrounds you.
That’s where you grasp.
"I learned a very big lesson in my time at UNLV," Jim Weaver was saying Sunday. "That if you do what is right, you don’t go wrong. We did what we thought was right in resuming some of our sports and suspending others. The university community and the community at large have embraced it. You just do the very best you can. There is no preparing for something like this.
"There is no textbook."
His voice is firm. His words seem more rehearsed than spontaneous, like a man who has been asked about death the past week as often as a child might inquire about schoolwork from a teacher. The telephone line is clear, and yet an understandable hardness is within it.
That’s what disaster creates — this instinctive strength for those in positions of authority to defer their grief for the sake of others. To lead while others mourn; to be the shoulder on which others cry.
Weaver is the former UNLV athletic director who has held the same position at Virginia Tech since 1997, one of many on the Blacksburg campus who has tried answering questions which have no rational replies and aiming to offer comfort where none seemed available in the hours and days following Monday’s massacre of 32 victims by a deranged student.
Still, he recognizes what history has taught us in the aftermath of such terrible episodes, be it Sept. 11, 2001, or Hurricane Katrina or now as the college resting at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains somehow tries to recover and move forward. In these times, sports matter.
Not in an overly momentous way. Not in any manner that will lessen the pain or erase the memories or silence those unremitting gunshots recorded on a cell phone. But in a fashion that allows so many briefly to wander from the sadness.
Perspective about sports shouldn’t be some difficult concept to grasp when such bad things occur. They are, simply, one of many factors that can play a part in the healing process.
"I don’t think there is any question that bringing back some of our sports this weekend gave the community a chance to unite for a few hours and allowed them to do something other than watch all the media reports on television about" the shootings, said Weaver, the AD at UNLV from 1992-94. "Athletics represent a university in a very, very special way. It is the spirit of a university. In this way, it can bring us a sense of normalcy."
He knew playing baseball against Miami on Friday night was correct when he saw all the young children running and playing at the ballpark and a crowd five times the regular size having showed up, just as he knew canceling the remaining days of spring football practice was appropriate.
He knew resuming softball games was important after his department (from which none of the victims directly were involved) helped convert the school’s basketball arena into a setting for a memorial service, after it oversaw the construction of a stage for President Bush to speak from, after those spots on campus normally reserved for cheering suddenly were transformed into ones for weeping.
He knew making the irrelevant seem meaningful among all the candlelight prayer vigils and 32-second moments of silence was best.
"We all have a value system we work from," said Weaver, 60. "To know right from wrong when you have to make such decisions. You do the best you can and stand by it. … I’ve had some calls and e-mails of support from people in Las Vegas, for which I am very thankful."
His voice changed tone a few times during the conversation, once when he said the women’s outdoor track team had just clinched an Atlantic Coast Conference championship and the men’s golf team had tied for one. A sense of pride was in his words. A hope. A desire that sports can help make things better when the sorrow seemingly might never end.
"A tragic week for everyone," Weaver said. "People grieve at different rates and in different fashions than others. All we can do is to look out for the welfare of those affected and of our student-athletes and staff members. Be there for them with counseling and other services.
"All we can be is be a good partner to the university and do anything we can to help."
No textbook exists for this, no instruction manual, no philosophy worth following.
That’s where Jim Weaver looked first when deciding to resume playing games. It was the only reasonable place to grasp.
Ed Graney can be reached at 383-4618 or email@example.com.ED GRANEYMORE COLUMNS