This poem came out of the March 6, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired and sponsored by janetmiles. She listed three people who barred the doors to their respective classrooms during a school shooting, and I wrote about the one who snagged my interest when I first heard about this incident some years ago: Professor Liviu Librescu. You might also like to read another reference, "Tales of the Tzaddikim."
Professor Liviu Librescu survived the Holocaust.
He came through a labor camp and a ghetto,
and like carbon crushed into diamond
his mind shone with a sharp fire.
He studied aerodynamics and aeroelasticity,
the sky's mysteries as clear to him as the air itself.
He refused his allegiance to the Romanian Communist Party
and his career stalled, tumbling him out of academia.
He turned in midair, chose a new course,
made headway to Israel.
In time he came to the United States,
serving as a Professor at Virginia Tech
in the Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics.
On April 16, 2007, Professor Librescu
was teaching a solid mechanics class
in Room 204 in the Norris Hall Engineering Building.
When the gunfire began, he recognized the sound.
He wedged his body across the door
and shouted for his students to escape,
barring the way while they fled through the windows.
He was shot five times, and died,
along with 31 other victims.
Of the 23 registered students in his class,
only 1 was killed.
To those survivors, he is a hero,
without whom they would not be.
Professor Liviu Librescu
was 76 years old when he died, having
walked through the valley of the shadow of history.
How precious is a life that has seen such things,
held fast against the day it would be needed,
thinned down to a shield for one shining moment?
No sooner does a righteous man depart this world
than another arrives to take his place, just as good and worthy.
The works of those departed continue to inspire,
for the righteous are considered as alive
even when they are dead.
It is said that there are 36 righteous men
for whose sake the world is not destroyed.
More precisely, they are the ones whose path
takes them where destruction may be prevented.
Their actions divide the light from the darkness;
their thoughts uplift the minds of those who know them.
They walk in silence, for the most part, petty saints
hidden from the awareness of mortals.
Only in extraordinary moments may one be revealed,
as the corona is only visible
when the black disc of the moon
blots out the sun's light
to show its halo against the high altar of space.
We will not know how many were in that classroom
until next the moon crosses the sun.