September 09, 2004

In memorium

The Vigil

Tonight was pretty interesting. I got there a few minutes before the vigil was due to start, and people were milling around the front of the church where it was taking place. Some people had their candles already lit, so I asked someone for a light and waited to see what would happen next. More people filtered into the yard and the group got bigger than I expected, but in a good way.

I didn't hear anyone actually say anything, but all of sudden right at 8:00, it seemed like the whole group turned and walked toward the street, lining up along it with candles lit. I heard one woman kind of whine, "I thought we were going to get into a circle..." but she was pretty much ignored.

There was a solemn moment, when I felt like we all were thinking about why we were actually there. Then a horrific squeal split the air and we all turned back to the church steps with a group cringe where the pastor was trying to use a bullhorn to address us. He quickly abandoned the bullhorn, so of course we couldn't all really hear him. But I did catch him thanking us for being there, reiterating that it was meant to be a silent vigil and he liked that we had moved to the street like that. We all turned back to the street, candles aloft, some people holding signs, some people holding two candles. There were candles of all varieties, but I do believe mine was the only purple one.

We were all settling into it, getting a sense of how it was going to go, when I noticed a young girl there with her mother who wasn't really getting the "silent" part and Mom wasn't reminding her. When she busted out with, "Does anyone know any anti-war songs? 'Cause I sure don't!" that was when I decided I needed to find a different place to stand.

As a matter of fact, a lot of people didn't really get the "silent" part of the whole thing. In a world with a cell phone stuck to its ear, I guess the only bad thought is now the unexpressed one. At least the two ladies I ended up next to managed to chatter sotto voce.

The reaction we got was, thankfully, universally positive. There wasn't much at first, apart from a general slowdown of passing cars. Then I heard from a passing car, "Bush sucks!" Now, there really was nothing political in what was going on -- there were no election signs, no partisan indications, nothing controversial -- but a few people passing by did so with less than favorable things to say about Bush.

The only time I had a twinge of worry was when a guy in an old pickup truck almost screeched to a halt in front of where I was standing and I thought, "Uh-oh, here we go." But then he bellowed, "It's our motherfucking president's fault! That's what it is. Blame that mother..." which trailed off as he accelerated down The Alameda. I think we all kind of breathed a sigh of amused relief because it wasn't what we expected.

The darker it got, the more people seemed to be willing to honk, which was the most common response. In between the cycles of the nearby traffic lights, when few or no cars passed by, it was easier to focus on the why of the vigil and reflect on the lost lives. During those times I found I was locking my knees, so I had to concentrate on not doing that, because that can be a one-way ticket to passing out if you do it long enough.

After a while, I felt comfortable enough to bring out the digital camera. There had been people taking pictures on and off, so I didn't feel too conspicuous doing so by that point. Right as I was taking the first one, my candle -- which had been burning a bit more rapidly than I would have liked -- finally dripped over the little paper wax-catcher ring and burned my thumb a bit. Ouch, but I got a semi-decent shot anyway. After taking a few more, my little paper wax-catcher ring caught on fire because the candle had really burned down, so that curtailed the photo-taking for a bit. While the picture I chose to show above is not what you would call a technically good one, it was the most interesting of the ones I took and, to me, best represents the sense of being there because it wasn't so much about the faces of the people, but the signs and the light.

After about 20 minutes, we saw a smaller group of candle-bearing people coming toward us down the other side of the street. They lined up across from us, though it was clear they were part of the same group, and things got quiet again for a little while. After a while, one of them crossed the street and let us know they had come down from the nearby highway overpass and they were ready to go back that way and wanted us to join them. I wasn't sure if people were going to go, since it was about 15 minutes until when it was all supposed to be over. But I figured it was in for a penny, in for a pound, so I joined the migration.

Once we got there, horn honks were in abundance, from the street and from the highway below us. People got a little chattier, and I found myself next to a guy who I had overheard right at the start, asking the guy now on the other side of him the same question he asked me: Are you with MoveOn? When I answered in the affirmative, he said, "Right on." I don't think he saw the irony in that response.

It was beginning to look like things were winding down and a few people were heading off when, right at 9:00 -- a full 15 minutes after it was all supposed to be over -- along comes a news van. Right On Guy got a little excited and I think he was ready for his moment in front of the camera. But it never came. For some reason, the camera guy and reporter chose to go to the other side of the street, even though there were far fewer people on that side. The street is a rather broad and busy one, so I didn't blame them for not wanting to cross in the middle of the overpass. They took some footage of us from afar, but I know my new friend was disappointed.

Once they left, and people's candles were starting to burn down and sputter out, more people started to drift off. Mine was down to an interesting half-inch, which had become affixed to the charred little paper wax-catcher that I was using to hold it, when I decided to call it a night, too.

If we accomplished anything by making people think about where we're at with this war -- both those of us there and those driving by -- then it was time well spent.