The silence was obvious as we all stood watching the empty podium – with only the sound of the bells tolling in the background and the wind in the trees and filling the great flag like a sail.
Either it was just me that felt out of place, standing on that field, or we all felt awkward waiting.
Then starting softly, rising slowly, came We shall overcome – lingering on the last word (you know the song), from a choir somewhere distant.
We shall all be free...
But we still are, despite what’s being said.
We are not afraid.
That, I cannot say. It was said better, and long ago, by Pliny the Younger:
Est dolendi modus, non est timendi. Doleas enim, quantum scias accidisse, timeas quantum posit accidere.
“Grief has limits, whereas apprehension has none. For we grieve only for what we know has happened, but we fear all that possibly may happen.”
I see perhaps two sets of wet eyes in the whole bunch.
...the choir just launched into God Bless America. Like I haven’t heard that one before.
This all seems forced – even the weak clapping that follows.
I think I came here more out of curiosity than wanting to grieve, or than believing mourning would solve anything.
Five days ago, did I picture myself on a field, shifting nervously from foot to foot amid a horde of bowed heads and closed eyes? Flinching a bit under each solemn ring of that bell?
They might be saying something. Men are standing up there... but it’s faint, muffled; a prayer, maybe?
I don’t know.
But they should have said something, that’s for sure. The weak choir and the silence just weren’t enough.
A photographer, perched on the wall, snaps photos of those gathered.
I can see the headline now: “Students and Faculty Mourn”
--Bow Heads in Remembrance.
And that was it. Most of us shuffled out.
We looked like we were coming from a funeral, and I suppose that was the point. Instead of flowing black veils and dresses, there were Billabong shirts and “hoodies;” instead of black ties and straight-pressed slacks, bright Khakis and Chinos.
The teachers, too, were there. They walked in pairs, mostly, talking to each other. I noticed how they tried to look dignified, but their eyes held less certainty than ours. It was the youngest there that seemed to have the resolve. The teachers tried to maintain their authority, and made it seem like they knew what they were talking about when they utilized pretentious verbiage and pompous diction in dissertation of the preterit occurences.
At this point I realized the cold. It had seemed so refreshing this morning, but now it nipped at my exposed forearms.
Here, where I am now, in the Hub, sitting and tuning out the organ music in the background, a man sits down with his young son on his lap, eyes somewhere else. They’re right next to me, and for once I don’t feel discomfort at the closeness.
The little boy, head crowned in the same wheat-gold curls as his father, turns shining blue eyes on me and says simply, in his shrill little voice, “Hi.”
Someone else sits down across from them.
“Hi.” And then another one – “Hi.”
But none of us look at him. None of us can.
The big screen has someone in a lofty voice saying all can find solace “in the spirit of God.” But almost two syllables – “Gaw-uhd.” Praise Gaw-uhd!
People like to throw around the word diabolical. And the word Gaw-uhd.
This little boy none of us can look at doesn’t know either word.
While I grew up on Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers, he’s growing up on Peter Jennings and planes crashing into buildings.
And yet as far as I can tell, in spite of all of that, he only knows one word. The only word he needs.
His father left about five minutes ago, carrying him off, looking like he had somewhere to be.
Yeh-yus, there is hope for our nay-shun!
Oh, and something about “the uncertainty of life.” Well, there was something certain in the way that man shifted his boy on his lap like a burden, like he didn’t know what to do with him. There is a certainty that, as the white-haired preacher on the big screen says, he is an old man and has preached for a long “tahm.”
You shall live forever with Christ. This seemed less televangelistic.
There is a certainty he will die. There is a certainty he will rot. But I won’t take his words with me, today. I won’t remember the forced choir or the echoing bells that are still chiming outside. I won’t remember words, except for one. I won’t remember faces, except for one.
All I think I’ll remember from this day... is a fearless smile, and “Hi.”