It was an intense hour. Tears rimmed my eyes most of the time, once they slipped out. This evening, I took part in a candlelight vigil.
We lit candles and kept them lit in the wind – together. We remembered the children and adults dead in Newton, Connecticut. We remembered our neighbors in New York and other places. And we rededicated ourselves to working to end the gun violence that haunts our country.
Social media brought the word … at least to me.
Rutgers Presbyterian Church posted the announcement on their Facebook page: a candlelight vigil would take place at 5:00 P.M. at the corner of West 86th Street and West End Avenue to honor the memory of yesterday’s victims in Newtown, Connecticut, the victims in the shooting in Portland, Oregon earlier this week and the memory of all victims of gun violence. The vigil would also provide an opportunity for participants to rededicate themselves to working for an end to such violence.
I read the post in Strawberry Fields – and decided I had to be there.
Arriving a few minutes early, I discovered a group gathering at the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew which stands on the corner. Many people brought their own candles. Because some had brought candles to share, those of us who had not brought our own were given a candle.
The number of participants increased – people of diverse ages, races, and faiths. Shortly before the appointed hour, we lit our candles and assembled on the steps of the church.
Opening words were shared, the host pastor welcomed the group and articulated his vision of a country and a culture where we have greatly diminished violence in general, and gun violence in particular. Individuals shared their pain for the people of Newtown, of New York City, and of all places whose lives have been seared and forever altered by gun violence. Linda Rosenthal, New York State Assembly Member for the district, spoke, noting that this event marked a beginning and that she intends to help the community engage in conversation and action to end gun violence in our city and country.
As participants engaged in the hope expressing, hope sustaining communal activity of keeping our candles lit in the wind, we voiced further concerns and hopes. We prayed additional prayers. We identified ideas for actions:
- signing petitions such as this one asking the President to recognize that now is the time to begin discussion on gun control
- engaging in conversations within their community and faith communities (here are some Presbyterian resources) on what steps to take
- working to expand mental health care and to ensure access to such care for all
- encouraging Mayor Bloomberg to become more intentionally involved in the issue; and
- coming together again to plan and organize.
Small steps, but steps.
Then we walked up W. 86th Street to Broadway. Passers-by joined the group. At the corner we stopped. More passers-by joined the group. They received candles as they did.
We sang – old songs for certain – but we sang. “If I Had a Hammer.” “We Shall Overcome.”
Near the end of “Down by the Riverside,” as we pledged to study war no more, I looked across our group and saw a mother tenderly kiss one of her children, then her other child. Tears slid down my cheeks.
With the promise that we would continue what had just begun – and the announcement of the Facebook pages where next steps will be posted – the event ended. We stood together for a while. Then we went our separate ways.
The brief hour soothed my angry, aching soul. But it did not comfort me. And I will act.
See you along the Trail.