There’s no clapping at a vigil. Everyone stands in an understanding of silence, of acceptance, of inclusion. No judgment, neither good nor bad. Our thoughts, unfettered, guide us towards what is beautiful, inching humanity towards peace.
In times of tragedy I write. I’m an emotional person but I find it hard to express physically, and I find it fake when I try to articulate it verbally. And so I write.
This weekend, I knew I would have to try and process what all had happened. The news trickled in while I was in a car, belting along with peppy music, and I was struck at how my life could go on seemingly seamlessly while the lives of those I loved could be in jeopardy. I was so grateful for social media in those moments, because my connectivity reassured me. And I realized how precious each life is, how important to me my friends are, whether I knew them for only a year or have grown up alongside them. To me the attack on Paris served as a commentary on my own life, and on this world we live in, and finally gave me a reason to stop and think.
It’s been a while actually, since I’ve taken the time to reflect and write. To jot down feelings beyond a few platitudes. Partially, it’s because I’m busy. Freshman year of college has swept me into its whirlwind embrace and I’ve flung myself happily into the chaos. But it’s not just that. I haven’t felt motivated in a while. Call it writer’s block or what have you or blame all the essays I’ve been writing but I haven’t felt the need to write in a while. And any time I’ve tried recently, the words have churned out formulaic, trite or oddly in rhyme.
I also no longer feel as obligated or drawn to sharing everything, be it my feelings or experiences. Now more so than before, I’ve encountered moments I don’t want to capture. Moments too precious to sum up in words, or a picture or even video.
Yesterday night, after the attacks in France, Kenya, Beirut and too many other places over the weekend, I attended an interfaith vigil in the memory of those victimized by the violence. As I stared down at my candle, watched the flame flicker, sputter and struggle to stay alive, I let the words of my peers wash over me and felt a deep rooted sense of peace. Coming back on campus that afternoon from a weekend away had truly felt like returning home. It’s not a feeling I can capture in a photo, though I have tried many a time in vain. It’s having people shout your name when they see you in the dining hall and getting flustered from having to give so many hugs in response. It’s spending an hour criss-crossing campus to say hi to everyone I missed, to catch up on their weekends, because two days a part feels like a lifetime. So, surrounded by this love, I didn’t record the vigil. I thought about it, but nothing I did would be able to convey how proud I am to be a part of this community. How happy I feel when my best friend on campus throws her arm over my shoulder and we walk, intertwined in silence, to the library.
While I haven’t attended pooja (a Hindu religious service) in what must be years, hearing Sanskrit, though not in the hushed voice of my grandmother but the strong lilt of a classmate, rise into the inky air above the candle-lit students at the vigil, comforted me. It’s as if the universe was saying here, have a piece of home to weave into your new nest. And with each prayer from a different faith tradition, I breathed a little deeper. I’d somehow chosen to continue my education at a Jesuit university, after 13 years at a Christian day school, despite the fact that I am not Christian. Yet standing at that vigil, I was reminded why that hadn’t mattered because religion here is not exclusive. It’s how the University shares its values with the world and welcomes others.
Nobody claps at a vigil because we’re too busy admiring the great depth of human compassion. No judgment, no validation, because we just put ourselves out in the open, let our thoughts take flight and marinate in our gathered community.