Saturday, March 13, 2010

Chelsea King's Memorial / Life Celebration

I brought my camera, I thought I'd take a few pictures, but as soon as I stepped on the football field I knew I wouldn't. I took Dakota and Evan with me. Evan is Dakota's best friend since 5th grade, and was on the cover of the Union Tribune yesterday as you see to the left, as he walked in front of Chelsea King's memorial in front of Poway High. I was shocked to see his face as I looked down at the paper during my morning Starbucks run.

I have never- never- heard such silence in such a large group of people ( 5,000? ). As the service began, there was simply silence. A moment of silence. I shut my eyes to move my mind over the landscape, to see if there were any shuffling feet, coughs, children's complaints or even sobs that I had missed, but no. Utter and complete silence. It was appropriately magnificent in it's respect toward the enormity of not only the family's loss of their Chelsea, but of her loss, the loss of her young, vibrant life, the loss of an entire future stretching out ahead of her- just at her fingertips- so close that she had flown 5 months before to Seattle to view a college. That close.

The football field including bleachers is low to the ground, circled by very large and tall trees, so that the feel of the sky is expansive. A blue, blue sky, with billowing clouds that occasionally moved over the sun and left us trembling in the chilly breeze, and then would suddenly move to illuminate us with dazzling warmth and light. As the entire crowd of us held aloft our sunflowers in memory of Chelsea, the sun broke through, and the moment was awesome. In the old sense of the world: filled with awe. Awe at not only the grossness of the violent crime and the loss of Chelsea's life, but awe for our own hearts, full of compassion and love. We looked at each other as if to wonder: Is this what we are really capable of? When Chelsea's uncle, Mother and Father all expressed, over and over, their thanks to the community, how the love and support has made it bearable, and when the pastor said he has never seen parents handle with such strength and love such a horrible loss and that this was made possible ' because of you, ' he said, stretching out his hands, ' because of the love and compassion they are carried on, ' ** I wondered why we cannot offer this soul strength to every parent who loses a child. Or more to the point, why we don't. Can we? How would we do that? What would that look like? Who would organize it? I swept my eyes over a stadium full of beautiful people and wanted so badly for each parent who has lost a child to feel this, when they began their long journey of grief.

Certain moments were painfully poignant. When Chelsea's boyfriend spoke, and ended his piece by saying he would remember her ' like she was the last time I saw her, the day she disappeared, when we ate lunch together in the quad. ' those quiet, sympathetic tears of pain began down my cheeks. For Chelsea. For all she had not experienced yet, and the tender and sweet and passionate beginnings she had just begun. 17 and eating lunch with her boyfriend on the quad, and then a few hours later raped and murdered and left buried in brush by a lake. This is what happened to her. Why? Partly because such things will happen no matter what. But that is the ' things we cannot change' part of the Serenity Prayer, isn't it, and all real adults know that life would be unbearable and chaotic- more than it is- if there were not a legion of adults who move into action when it is needed, who look at ' the courage to change the things we can ' and who move that way; Chelsea's mother Kelly said that she was beginning her walk in that direction with the urging of her daughter's voice in her ear, and that one day she would break into a run... and we would all move toward the finish line together. That is courage. Even if- please mercy- she cannot do it, stating it out loud as her intention is so incredibly brave and inspiring I will never forget it.

Tyler is Chelsea's little brother. At just 13 years old he is dealing with a tragedy and an evil most adults never have to face in their life. He began so honest and raw that I heard open sobs erupting around me. ' The last two weeks I keep getting asked one question over and over...Am I OK? .... No, I'm not OK, because I lost the best thing in my life, that's Chelsea. ' His stricken little face. His parents flanking him as he walked to the podium and mike. The interjections of 'like' in his speech. The incredible vulnerability and beauty and confusion of his spirit, the love. He did not use notes. He spoke from his heart.

The montage and accompanying music of Chelsea's life was somehow the most painful part of the service, from my perpective. I bowed my head as the camera zoomed in on her tiny baby face smiling and cooing and kicking, to cry and show respect. Respect for a loss that has no ending and no depths too far to sink. Chelsea's dad said ' I have enough rage in me to march into and back from Hell a million times...' and I saw in his shoulders, his hands, his face and the timbre of his voice that he was controlling a rage unfathomable to me, a rage that he said he was choosing to turn towards change. Change to protect the children we have. Change the laws to keep child predators from living in our communities. Here was a man, I could clearly see, that loved his daughter as much as is humanly possible to love another person. He cherished her.

A beautiful and joyful song played against pictures of Chelsea singing, dancing as a little girl, giggling, making funny face after funny face surrounded by gaggles of other girls making faces, camping, loving on her parents, kissing her dad on the mouth, being loved, and loving. The images and speeches revealed a girl who absolutely loved every second of life. She would have made an excellent traveler, as she was capable, by story, of turning challenges and failures into laughter, and if that was not possible, into a lesson learned. She soaked up life. Absolutely soaked. it. up. She was intellectually curious and a ravenous reader and student, cramming in novels and studies and experiences and losing sleep. ' It was as if, ' her Uncle said, ' she knew... '

Chelsea's life long friend spoke. Three of her girlfriends spoke, her Uncle spoke, her boyfriend, her cousin, her peer teacher, and a teacher who at the end of his piece, read from an essay that Chelsea wrote on the work of Tolstoy. She wrote about facing death. She wrote about the horror that filled her to think of it. She wrote of how she didn't think of death, as a young person. She wrote of how Tolstoy believed the antidote to death was brotherhood. And then she wrote that he was missing a piece, that living such a structured and pointed existence did not leave room for an essential piece of life- the joy of spontaneous experience, the joy of celebrating the daily and smaller gifts of life, the joy of the unexpected and embraced.

What a girl.

She wanted to major in college so that she could combine her passion for environmentalism and writing.

The service ended with Tyler releasing a dove in symbolism of releasing his sister to Heaven. And then Chelsea's parents. And then an entire flock of doves were released and flew over our heads in incredible winking silver and white duckings and swerves and then the moment they hold aloft in perfect synchronicity, right over our heads, as we held our breath, and prayed as best we could for the best we could hope. For Chelsea, for her parents, her brother, her family and friends, my sympathies, my love, my action for change. May you find comfort in each other.

** All quotes are faithfully paraphrased. I had no recorder or notes.
Ms. Moon said...

Thank you for being there and for writing about it and for giving us this gift of sharing it all.
I think that humans can sometimes be so much more than they know. It is sad that it takes such horror and tragedy to bring it out in us, but still- it is there. It is there.

Angie Muresan said...

Oh Maggie. How heavy my heart is. Just as you, I am crying for her, and for all the joy she hasn't yet had a chance to experience. Thank you for sharing this.

Elizabeth said...

Thank you for sharing this sad and amazing occasion with us. How blessed we are to be alive. I will think of Chelsea and her family and pray for them.

anymommy said...

Your words describing the service were captivating. I sit here with tears running down my cheeks, mourning her loss and wishing there was a way to prevent this kind of pain from happening anywhere.

Lydia said...

I saw a reporter outside the fence with the field stretching in back of her and beyond the field was a sea of people in bleachers. I am so glad you attended with Dakota and Evan, and brought back this soulful report for us. (The newspaper photo of Evan walking in front of Chelsea's poster is a photojournalism masterpiece.)

Thank you for describing it for us, Maggie. This was a beautiful beautiful post. One thing you said stands out for me above all the rest:
She would have made an excellent traveler.... That remarkable observation is so comforting.....

Lydia said...

I saw a short TV report by a woman standing behind the fence with the football field stretching in back of her and beyond the field was a sea of people on bleachers. I am so glad that you attended with Dakota and Evan, and brought back this report for us. (The newspaper shot of Evan walking in front of the poster of Chelsea is a photojournalism masterpiece.)

Thank you for this beautiful post, Maggie. One thing you wrote stands out for me: She would have made an excellent traveler... I find this remarkable observation so comforting.....

Ocean Girl said...

Maggie, thank you. I am lost for words for how you wrote and also for the picture of Evan.

My prayers are with the parents and brother.

Violette said...

Sometimes loss can change our lives. It's such a tragical story. I was really touched when I read it..

Annie said...

Thank you for writing this beautiful tribute to Chelsea, and to her family. You paraphrased everything lovingly, and the quotes from Chelsea's own essay are important words to share.

Ida Mae said...

Thanks you so much for writing about this. It pains my heart to think that one human being can do such horrors to such an innocent soul. I wish from the bottom of my heart that it wasn't so.
~Ida Mae
http://www.treeswillbend.com

That one girl said...

Geeze, I can't even read through this whole post because it's so sad let alone deal with the realities if something like this hit someone so close to me. My heart goes out to everyone in her life and of course Chelsea. So, why is it illegal to lock our kids in basements?

thenextarrow said...

thank you for taking the time to write this. i'm sure it was quite difficult to write and i am floored by your eloquence and detail. i usually have more to say, but all i can think is...thank you.

xo Alison

Jessica said...

This is so overwhelmingly sad. Please convey my deepest condolences to Chelsea's family.

Ellen said...

What a day for your community...but what strength and support you gave and were given...I am truly at a loss for the right words...but my heart hurts for her family because to get up each morning knowing this child of their's will not be there...the tears the tears...

just making my way said...

Even though my heart is breaking for Chelsea, her family and friends, I'm so grateful that you shared this with us. She will never be forgotten.

kdk said...

Now that I'm a mother, these stories hurt that much more. What an unbearable thing to experience in life. I always think how one moment could change the course of so many lives. Maybe she didn't go running that day? But it changes nothing to think like that. In the end, we have no control over these things. We only have love to support one another when they do.

Millie said...

What a beautiful rememberance piece Maggie. Your writing is deep as the ocean, yet in many ways as light as a feather being carried along in the breeze. Chelsea will always, always be remembered by those who's lives she impacted in so many positive ways.
Millie x

Petit fleur said...

Chelsae and her family/friends remain in my prayers... I just don't even know what else to say. I'm just so sorry.

What a beautiful dedication Maggie. You are a powerful voice in the world. And you use it to the fullest.

Peace & love,
pf

clearness said...

They ran a tidbit about the celebration of her life on our local new station. I live in Missouri. She sounds like a very special girl.

krista said...

you write with so much honor.
my heart shakes with pain for the families of all our lost children.

ZDub said...

Thank you for writing this.

So very tragic.

Love to you.

Laurnie said...

This gave me chills at first, and had me crying by the end. So tragic. I hope you dont mind that Im going to share it in my blog today

Eppyville said...

Unimaginable...my heart goes out to anyone who has ever had to experience such a tragedy. I wish that this pain did not exist in our world...thank you for sharing.

Chantel said...

I'm here via Laurnie, and so glad to simply be reminded that life is stunning and magnificent...and fleeting. The beauty...and the horrific monster.

I will pull my children closer today...hold them a few minutes longer.

Lanine said...

Just so devastating awful. I think we forget sometimes when we listen to the news- that is someone's child.

The pale observer said...

Well I couldn't help but spill my hot tears down sad cheeks reading this. My son died at 6 years old. Because of how he lived, and the larger than life personality he had, some also said, it was if he'd known his time here was short.

But still, as the parents left behind, the sadness and emptiness is unfathomable even to us!!!

What a sad story this is. I hope Chelsea's parents can influence some change in the laws that save at least one beautiful life.

Thanks for sharing this moving experience!

Gillian said...

OH dear. Thanks for sharing Chelsea's story. What a girl. So unneccessary.
xoxo

mosey said...

Thank you for sharing this, Maggie. I was on the other side of the globe at the time of the Memorial, but Chelsea was on my mind many times.

Carol said...

I'm sitting in front of my computer in Brazil and still, I felt tears in my eyes as I read your writing... Chelsea must've been an amazing girl, and even if I didn't know her, I hope she rests in peace.

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