The MoveOn and Take a Stand Day peace vigils were tonight, all around the country. Truth be told, I am not sure I would have made it to our Greensboro one had it not been a) a few minutes from where I live and b) partly organized, or at least actively publicized, by a friend. We stood with candles and signs on the edge of the road, at the intersection of two major thoroughfares, on a bit of green at the edge of the campus where I teach. I had gone from lunch meeting to office hours to a class full of first-year students and technical malfunctions in a room with broken air conditioning to an early supper at home with a friend from church, part planning meeting (for something prayerful) and part "whew!" at the end of the work day. I should add to the friend "and with the cat." She loved the guest. She is not shy, this one.
At the edge of the road, still holding our signs, we read dates of deaths and names of home towns. Of U.S. soldiers. This was a MoveOn script. We read of the dead and the wounded in circles of ten or twelve. Some voices were soft, others strong. Many cars honked at us and our signs, in agreement, it seemed, for the most part. We read of the dead and little by little, people began to add to the script. "And no one counted the Iraqi dead that day." "There is no mention of anyone else." "On the same day, Iraqis were wounded and killed." "Mercenaries died." "The Iraqi dead included women, men, and children."
"On that day, how many also became refugees?"
"There is no mention of the nature of their wounds."
"No one has shown us their flag-draped coffins."
Round and round the circle went the voices and the place-names. Many were places I knew. I have friends there. Thibodeaux, Louisiana. New York, New York.
I remembered the reading of the names from the AIDS Quilt commemoration, the Names Project.
I remembered the wall commemorating the U.S. dead in Vietnam, all those names.
I remembered standing at another corner on another bit of green in another part of the country near another college when I was a student, thirty-five years ago.
We only read the hometown names. We did not have the humans' names. As the vigil was ending a young Black woman --perhaps a student at the college-- was sobbing, a friend consoling her and stroking her back. Did she lose a brother? A sister? A father? Did she grow up on a base? Or did the occasion alone cause her tears?
Even less do we have the names of the Iraqi dead or the place of their birth and death. Relentlessly, the small circle in which I found myself raised the presence of the un-named. Tired from holding up signs, hot in what is now an official --though still green-- drought zone, not openly religious or liturgical, the group raised the presence of the absent, the dead, the ones with neither name nor place, its ritual no longer awkward, even when one of its members paused, hesitating as she or he improvised. Prayer is protest. Protest is prayer. Lament is opposition. The stones cry out.