My under-the-weather wife and I walked in the door to our house at about 5:45 Sunday evening, exhausted. Another marathon weekend was in the books. We had driven to my hometown of Bryan/College Station Friday after work, and spent the evening singing karaoke with a couple friends and my parents. The next morning we headed further south to Baytown, where we celebrated Father’s Day early with Amanda’s father with a day at the Kemah Boardwalk that included feeding the stingrays with my niece. When we got home, we found that a sudden storm had detached a branch from a nearby tree. Luckily for the limb, its fall was cushioned by our car. We packed up the next morning, swung through Bryan to eat lunch with my dad for Father’s Day, and finished up the trek home. Somewhere around 14 hours in the car made for a tough weekend, but we were happy for the good times we got to share and the great people we got to see. I was ready to hunker down for the night, watch the NBA Finals Game 7, and relax for a few hours before the work week began again.
At 5:53 Sunday night, I heard from a friend that at 6 there would be a memorial vigil in remembrance of those killed in Orlando the week before. It felt right to go.
I didn’t know much about the service before I arrived. I’d never visited the small church that hosted the vigil. I wasn’t sure how well attended it would be. I didn’t know how long it would last or if I would know anyone there. But it felt right to go.
The time there was both somber and moving, powerful and heart-wrenching. Yet for all the words that were spoken, what stood out to me through it all was how many folks I had met through my work as a Community Coordinator had come to pay their respects.
A pastor from a downtown church met me in the foyer and directed my friend and me to an open seat. He has been talking to CCC about how to engage his church in the work of meeting their neighbors.
Councilman Bruce Kreitler represented the City of Abilene on behalf of Mayor Norm Archibald. On a pretty evening in the fall of last year, I met the Councilman in the Stevenson neighborhood, where he participated in our National Night Out event. On Sunday, he expressed his gratefulness for being able to be a part of the memorial, both to the audience during his remarks and to me personally afterwards.
A friend I had met through Abilene’s City University program stood to speak the names of some of those lost in the attack. This man, who so often was quick with a kind smile, seemed a little more reserved Sunday, especially when reading personal details about the victims. Since our time in City University, he has gone on to manage a Pride club here in Abilene.
Several paid staff from my church were in attendance with their families. Amanda and I gravitated to this church precisely because they had a vision for being better neighbors and community members, and here they were on a Sunday when they had no doubt been working hard, showing up to mourn with those who mourn.
A reporter from the Abilene Reporter News stood in the corner, watching the scene unfold. He worked hard to put together a top notch story about community advocates for better representation. Maybe he was there for the story, but the way he quietly took in the scene made me believe he was there for more than just a paycheck.
A few friends from Freedom Fellowship were sitting in these pews. That little church has buried a lot of good people in the few years I’ve been a part of their number, and their willingness to stand with the hurting is undiminished, even in the face of great pain.
Finally, one of the teen counselors who worked with our Caring In Action camps last summer was part of the program. Though her voice quivered ever so slightly while reading the names, ages, and a bit of the victims’ stories, her bravery and compassion in the face of overwhelming sadness was inspiring.
Seeing so many acquaintances, colleagues, and friends, as well as so many people whom I do not yet know, reminded me that community really is a tapestry woven together by many different strands. Many of these folks in attendance hold very different beliefs about LGBTQ rights, social responsibilities, and religion. But community does not mean uniformity; it’s about differing people coming together to make their block, their neighborhood, their city, their country, and their world a better place. May we find common ground. Common ground on which to stand. Common ground on which to mourn. Common ground on which to embrace. Common ground on which to sing. Common ground on which to build community.