vig·il /ˈvijəl / noun: a period of keeping awake during the time usually spent asleep, especially to keep watch or pray.
September 11, 2016 will mark 15 years since the tragic events of September 11, 2001. My children have grown up in that time period. The global events that occurred as a result of 9/11 will continue to affect my children and generations to come. Another terrible event occurred just this year in Orlando, Florida. There has been extensive analysis and response to both of these events that bookmark my childrens’ childhood. But it was two local vigils that occurred in Seattle on the days following these two tragic and terrible events separated by 15 years that I hope my children and others of all ages will remember, learn from, and in the process find continued meaning, hope and solace - for these vigils represent a profound and fundamental opening of the heart.
In the days following 9/11/2001 there were many spontaneous and quickly planned memorial events across the nation. A couple of events occurred in Seattle – at Alki Beach in West Seattle and at the International Fountain at the Seattle Center. Flowers were the tangible symbols used at both locations to express grief, empathy and compassion. At the Seattle Center, it is estimated that over 30,000 people placed flowers at the International Fountain over a period of several days, in what became known as the “million flower vigil”.
Following the Orlando shootings this year, another large group gathered in Seattle’s Cal Anderson Park. Lit candles and cell phone flashlights were the symbolic gestures at this gathering. In addition to speeches by elected officials and community leaders and spiritual songs played over loudspeakers there was a spontaneous, collective counting of numbers representing those killed in the shootings.
Those in attendance at both of these vigils reflected the diversity of people in the Puget Sound region since both of these tragedies had a profound effect on humanity regardless of age, race, sex or any other identification. It is notable that the events of September 11 and Orlando happened at opposite ends of the country from Seattle, yet these local vigils are evidence that distance is no factor in how the human heart responds.
There has been another path espoused by some following these terrible events, particularly by those seeking political power. It is a path that has no relationship with the awakening of the heart that occurs at the vigils, but may start from vigilance - an increased watchfulness for perceived danger, and de-volves to rhetoric that espouses vigilante-style actions born out of fear and ignorance. It is very troubling that this is a path that has occurred many times in history. One might think the lessons learned from the horrendous results of the consummation of this path would prevent it from happening again, but happen again it does.
It is clear that there is much social, economic and political work to be done to repair the world. At the same time, I believe that the best hope for humanity in the aftermath of the terrible events that are occurring with increasing frequency is found in the awakening of the heart. I see this awakening clearly and vividly in the faces of the people in the Vigil photographs.
We must be wakeful, we cannot afford to sleep. If we perpetuate empathy, maintain compassion, keep the heart open… …peace might yet be possible.