I stood in the rain last night here in Chicago under a tree filled with 500 wooden stars. Each star listed the name and age (when known) of a person who was killed in Chicago so far this year.
The vigil was organized by members of Occupy Rogers Park and the crowd was small but hearty. As I looked up to watch Jim G tie the 500th wooden star to a tree branch, I thought of each of the lives represented. I thought of the 17 year old who would not be able to attend his senior prom and perhaps the 28 year old who would never be a mother. I thought of the 6 year old who won’t be playing in the snow this winter and the 50 year old who won’t get to hold his grandson again. I was overwhelmed with anger and not yet grief.
When I got home, I did what I always do when my feelings threaten to submerge me. I turned to poetry to try to make sense of the world. I reached for the complete poems of Dylan Thomas and read “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.” Below are two verses that always speak to me:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
I let the words of the poem wash over me. I felt the anger slowly seeping from my pores. I took deep breaths.The Overpass Light Brigade took part in the vigil. It seemed fitting somehow. Everywhere they go, they illuminate the pressing social issues that we confront. They literally bring light.
So it was that last night a group of us gathered to remember the fallen, to lift up their names and to refuse to avert our gazes. Bearing witness has a way of changing the moral trajectory of the universe. I believe that profoundly. There is a short story that I appreciate by Sharon Mehdi called “The Great Silent Grandmother Gathering.” Below is an excerpt:
Network news broadcasts all led with the same story: In towns and cities across America, hundreds of thousands of women, many of them grandmothers, gathered in public parks, school yards, vacant lots, and on the steps of churches, synagogues, mosques and Buddhist centers. They carried no banners, shouted no slogans and belonged to no organizations. When asked why they were gathering, one of the grandmothers said, “We’re saving the world.” The FBI is investigating.
In our small community gathering, no one carried any banners or shouted any slogans,
though I think that many of us belonged to several organizations. We stood in the rain together to remember. We stood together to re-commit ourselves to action. Some of us were there to rage against the dying of the light. Perhaps a few even came to save the world.
A young man named Malcolm London who is a talented artist spoke at the vigil. He shared an arresting and deeply moving poem titled “A Change Gone Come” with us. I encourage you to listen closely. In his words, you’ll hear the cries for justice of many, many young people in this city. Malcolm is like the dozens of young men who I meet in the course of my work. He knows what it is to live in a war zone. He knows what it is to struggle. He is resilient and brave and talented. He is what keeps me going even on days when I worry that the light is dying…
Update: Here is a short video recap of the vigil: