We come together today with weary hearts. We have lost so many friends this year, so many loved ones. Today, death hangs heavy in the cold air… death and injustice. They hang like strange fruit from the trees. We carry in our bones the grief, the loss, the memories. We carry in our bodies, our lives, the ways we were changed by the people on this list. They taught us how to love, how to laugh, how to struggle, how to weep.
Poet Adrienne Rich writes, “My heart is moved by all I cannot save. So much has been destroyed.” And today, our hearts are moved. Many of the people on this list died before their time. Some were found in campsites, others on park benches. Some were surrounded by friends when they passed, others died alone. And while their names are on our lips, we look around our city here in the heart of downtown.
We look around and find that we’re surrounded by new development, we’re surrounded by public money pouring into new high-end condos and centers for entertainment while our friends die without homes. We’re surrounded by the sound of bulldozers leveling small homes to build larger, more expensive ones in their stead. We’re surrounded by a society that is defunding housing, mental health care, substance abuse programs, and food assistance and increasing funds to jails and prisons. And we watch as the body count rises. Yes, so much has been destroyed.
So we stand here in this cold and ask why. We stand here and wonder where is hope? We wait with open eyes looking for a sign, looking for something, someone, to break into all this suffering and violence and bring good news.
And as we wait, our mind fills with the memories, the stories, the lessons learned from our friends who have passed. What did Delores teach me? To love. What did Jamie teach me? To laugh. What did Diane teach me? To struggle. What did Robert teach me? To weep.
So we stand here in the shadow of coffins, in the shadow of progress and development, and realize something else. In our grief, we are not alone. In our anger, we are not alone. Look around at your brothers and sisters gathered here today. Some of us are friends, some of us are strangers, but we’re united in our love for the people we came to remember. We’re united by our hunger for justice, our hunger to create a better world where people aren’t found on benches and in campsites, alone.
So in this season of winter, Advent, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, where we await good news and liberation and warmth, let us rekindle the memories of those who have passed and let us rekindle the spark of hope in our own hearts. We are not alone.
Together, let us bear witness to the reality of the streets in a city that does so much to push it out of sight, out of mind. Let us wade through injustice and grief, through violence and death, and let our feet pound the pavement in protest, in prayer. Let us feel our collective lament, our collective love, and our collective power and wield it to bend handcuffs into house keys. And then together, with God’s grace, let our very breath, our very marrow, our very being, be the in-breaking of hope, equality, and justice in this world.
As we read the names of all the departed, let us recognize that they are, in many ways, present with us today, that their stories of struggle and loss and hope will continue on with us, and that our memories of them will fuel our work to create a better world.
Written by Rev. Lindsey Krinks