Yesterday, I finally took down the Christmas tree ornaments. It was January 10th. When I put everything up, back before Christmas, I had intended to leave the tree and the house decorated until January 6th. It's the "12th Day of Christmas", after all, and I'm also too lazy to get everything undone before then. This year, though, I was days later in getting this somewhat melancholy chore done. I guess it's because, for me, time sort of stopped on January 2nd.
Early morning, Monday January 2nd, I got a phone call from my mother, a long time resident of the Woodland Heights neighborhood in my city, Richmond, VA, asking me if we knew Stella Harvey.
For Richmonders, the rest of the story will seem sadly familiar. My mother related to me that 9 year old Stella, and the rest of her family (parents Bryan and Kathy and little sister Ruby) had been found murdered in their home on New Year's Day.
After that call, everything seemed to stop.
Stella was born just a few weeks before my own daughter. They attended the same elementary school. Her mom, Kathy, ran a cool store in my community called "World of Mirth" in which I loved to shop. Her dad was a well known, talented musician who had also been a fixture in my world within a world, the Fan District and greater Richmond music and arts scene. I had crossed paths with these people for years. The connections, both direct and indirect, were numerous. I did not know them well but they were a predictable part of my universe.
The days that followed that terrible news were filled with tears, phone calls, vigils and obsessive attention to the local (and national) news. Terrible details of the brutality of the crime. Terrible images in my imagination of their final moments. Endless speculation about the identity of the killer(s) and their possible motives. I struggled mightily to try to understand who could do such a ghastly thing to such lovely people. I think everyone who knew them, and many that only knew of them, were engaged in the same.
Time seemed to stop.
Despite the terrible sadness I was feeling in that week that followed, I was amazed and deeply touched by the beautiful things that were revealed around me. The love and care between the people in my community, the loyalty to the dignity and memory of the Harveys, the diligence of the local print media in covering the story with the same sense of dignity and care, and the determination of those that were suffering to push ahead and make a beautiful legacy for these people and push off from the images of the horror that Bryan, Kathy, Stella and Ruby suffered.
I attended both of the vigils. The one at the Unitarian Church was the better of the two, in my opinion. It was good medicine for people in terrible pain. Quiet, brief, dignified and poignant.
The second vigil, outside of the Harvey home, was more of a neighborhood thing with a considerable amount of the focus being on the issue of neighborhood crime. Understandable. Also, there was a noisy generator powering a giant array of police lights. That was pretty distracting.
But, something really special happened after all the talking and speeches were done. People began to surround the front yard of the house itself and place their candles, pictures, notes, flowers, etc, all around the perimeter of the front yard.
The house itself, a dark and empty thing...seemed as though it was also dead. It had been lurking throughout the week, a dark and foreboding monument to sadness and death (it seemed to me) but the neighbors and friends spread their loving trinkets and expressions of grief all around. It felt as though they were banishing the bad mojo, and allowing the home to be what it was before: a place where love and compassion lived every day.
After the vigils came the memorial, which I did not attend. I decided to stay home and make cookies with my 7 year old son instead. I needed a breather. Then the arrest came.
With the memorial over and the arrest of the alleged killers, it seems that many of us are trying to push ahead. Time really didn't stop, after all. Here it was, January 10th, and my tree sat there, covered in ornaments and the lights on my porch still twinkled.
So I put the ornaments away, took down the porch lights (most of 'em anyway). It's time to turn around now and look toward the future. It's time to take this experience and figure out what it will mean for me, in my own life. I know I want to always remember what wonderful people are all around me, all of the time. I won't forget the deep love I felt connected to as my community shared its grief. I also want to remember the terrific example that Bryan and Kathy set: to live your life well, laugh a lot, and be generous with your gifts. Remembering that and living it honors their legacy. I imagine they would be proud of it.