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.