Monday, February 20, 2017

Evening of Reflection ~ Open Arms Candlelight Holiday Memorial

Americans, at least White culture-wise, place a high value on celebrating Christmas, in all its forms, be they secular or religious. Perhaps for some it is increasingly either a time of reflection or a time for joy, and simply enjoying. On a cold winter eve, December 15th, I attended the 3rd Annual “Evening of Reflections” Memorial at the Eastern campus of Wayne County Community College, WCCC, in Detroit.  The memorial is for those who grieve and/or who support those who grieve this time of year. For Death takes no holiday and whether you have lost a loved one at this time of year, or any time, St. John Providence in the Detroit area has provided a grief support network for children and the families of children.
I attended through notice by my friend Sandy North who is a guiding force behind Remember Me Quilts (RMQ) who presented three of their wonderful and heart-felt quilts. The quilts are dedicated to the innocent victims of gun violence and the potential waiting list for having a loved one is a long one in the Detroit and metro community. While not quite as high a murder rate as Chicago’s, Detroit’s murder rate is very high. You must be a true and innocent victim of gun violence to be placed on a quilt.
Remember Me Quilt's Susan McCabe and me
No gang members, criminals or the like will get their pictures immortalized. No one killed in the act of any crime can qualify for this honor. Simply put the men, women and children whose likenesses adorn the quilts were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and lost their life over it. I first met Sandy, and Susan McCabe of RMQ at the 2014 NAIN connect conference in Detroit, when I began my Interfaith work. The work of Sandy, Susan and other members of the group have always moved me. I strongly support Remember Me Quilt as it supports the lives of people shattered by the deaths of their loved ones.
Remember Me Quilt has attended each Evening of Reflection because their mission aligns with the Open Arms support groups so well. While this evening’s event allowed grief and a supportive community it was, as I said earlier, a time for some deep reflection.  Opens Arms as a part of the St. John Healthcare system provides a number of critical support services, some of which are even accessible through the Detroit school system. But on this night the message was all about domestic abuse and the lives and toll it takes. Once the event started, we witnessed a number of personal testimonials from widows, mothers and mostly other women who have suffered or beheld the suffering of their children or other family members over wrongful deaths and other abuse. I’ve lived in Detroit all my life, actually in the city or Hamtramck, its enclave-city-within-the-city for 50 years before moving to a nearby suburb, so I’m no stranger to how bad it can get. Still I was wrenched and surprised at the details of deaths and abuse suffered by women and children in the city. 
Participants remembered their beloved dead.
Throughout the evening several speakers spoke of the support for domestic violence and the need for its victims to seek help immediately in most cases. All too often I heard how someone just gave that one last chance to their seeming repentant, but ultimate murderer. Chilling and sorrowful, yes, but a resolve and strength in this community was amazing and glorifying to see.
I personally don’t have much for the holidays, certainly Christmas. For whatever reasons most of the deaths or hardships of life have occurred to me in the season of joy and brotherhood. I don’t resent people being or celebrating their happiness or spiritual feeling because the darkest night of the Solstice does turn towards the Light and I know that if what I seek is not within myself I shall never find. I just find distasteful this coercive or conformist attitude that suggests people like me are horrible if we’re not happy at this time.
The program included short speeches by WCCC and St. John representatives as well as other guest speakers. There was also several musical and dance performances. Young adults and teens from several area schools and churches were delightful, especially the Praise Dancers from City Covenant Church.
The expressionistic "Praise Dancers" performed.
After the speeches and performances the entire audience was invited to the great Hall and Main Lobby of the campus, where also were several displays and tables including the Remember Me Quilts. I instinctively found Susan and Sandy and stood next to them and other RMQ volunteers. Everyone was given a battery votive candle and starting with the first person we went around and each participant remembers someone they lost. I was proud to speak for the victims on the quilt I stood by. There were so many people it seemed like forever till the circle was complete. On a very dark and cold night, in December, in Detroit, a light shone, gathered more light until itself and blazed brighter.
Chandler Park Academy Varsity Choir
 As a final, ceremonial moment the Chandler Park Academy Varsity Choir, who had performed earlier, sang a final song that summed up the beauty amid the sad and tearful memorial.

To see more beautiful pictures from this event go to  Thanks to Karlest Ford for permission to use these photos.

In Her Service,

Oberon Osiris, National Interfaith Representative

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