After dropping Seth at a rest stop near Princeton, the rest of us made it back to campus a couple of hours ago. I’m glad to be out of the van (and showered!) but already feeling a little nostalgic for our intrepid quintet. It was truly a pleasure to travel with these folks.
Thought I’d share some thoughts on Sunday’s vigil from my journal:
“On this fresh, cool morning the spirits of thousands of the people of Latin America are among us.”
A Honduran activist gave us this message as we gathered in a light rain for the vigil. Soon after, we began the long litany of names of those who’d been killed by SOA graduates. We carried crosses bearing the names of the dead, and for two hours we raised them as each name was read and sang “Presente.” As we listened to the names and sang our response, I imagined the dead – women, men, children, teenagers, the elderly, babies, the unborn, the unidentified – standing at the gates of Fort Benning, confronting the violence and injustice that had silenced them. The mood was somber, but there was hope, too, because we were remembering those who were meant to be forgotten. This act of remembrance was in itself subversive. But even more than remembering, we were bringing their names directly to this place that played a significant role in their deaths – and continues to perpetuate the same violence today.
Catholic activist Kathy Kelly, who spoke just before the litany began, reminded us to feel the grief of the deaths we were remembering. Her remarks made me think of the Gaza presentation Emily, Steve and I had attended the night before. The presenter had told us about a group of Gazan youth who, on a recent trip to Poland, had asked to leave an amusement park early. These youth, whose lives at home are so vulnerable and uncertain, told their chaperone they were afraid to feel happy. As Kathy Kelly reminded us, some of the people most traumatized by violence become numb. Feelings can become too destabilizing and risky. But those of us removed from the violence can afford to feel the grief that it evokes. It was a good reminder, as we called out “presente” on behalf of the dead, that we too were called to be fully present to the tragedy that has occurred (and continues) in our names.