Yesterday I found out, unexpectedly, that I would be home from work today. Realizing today was the 26th I realized I’d be able to go to the memorial service for Matthew Shepard at that National Cathedral. Not just any memorial service mind you, but one to commemorate the internment of Matthew’s ashes in the crypt of the cathedral twenty years after his death.
But then this morning rolled around and I found myself busy getting lots of stuff done and, as is usual when I work from home, I was unshowered and hadn’t even brushed my teeth. I decided I would skip the service. Then I saw a headline in the Washington Post that said that hundreds were expected for the service. And I thought of the huge nave of the cathedral. A building that holds thousands, and all I could think about was just a few hundred people in that huge space. I couldn’t let that happen. I could at least make it a few hundred plus one. I threw on some clothes, brushed my teeth, and ran out the door, I didn’t have much time to get there. I almost went back inside to grab some Kleenex but didn’t. That turned out to be a mistake.
When I got to the cathedral, the very large parking structure was full. Annoyance was quickly replaced with gratitude, knowing that a good size crowd had turned up. As I walked up to the West door I joined a steady stream of people making their way inside, police checking backpacks and large bags. The central nave was full and folding chairs filled the two long side aisles. By the time the service started about 15 minutes later the place appeared to be full.
I was weepy from the moment I entered the church. All I could think about was the juxtaposition of a brutalized 23-year old alone on a cold road in Wyoming in 1998 and a warm cathedral full of 2,000 people, bishops, and television cameras in 2018. An honor Matthew, and thousands of other brutalized people deserve, but one which would be gladly traded away if they could all still be with us today.
I wept and wept. At times unable to see in front of me and having not one shred of Kleenex.
I wept for Matthew.
I wept for Matthew’s family.
I wept for all those who are alone, and hurt, and finding this world more and more hateful.
I wept for myself. I wept for all of us. Every single one of us. Five hours later I’m weeping again.
The police officer who found Matthew strung up on the fence–still alive–told Matthew’s mother that there was a doe who appeared to have bedded down for the night near Matthew. The contrast of the beauty of creation side by side with the horrific evidence of human cruelty is breathtakingly sad.
At the end of the service as the procession came up the side aisle where I was seated at the end of the row, my desire to look at the faces of Matthew’s parents and pay silent respect was overtaken by the thought that they didn’t need to see the pain in my eyes and the tears on my face. Their pain goes far deeper and is more profound than I could ever understand. I only saw Judy Shepard’s black shoes.
Before the procession came up the aisle some gay dads with their infants were asked to move their double wide stroller out of the way.
A Catholic nun held her rosary.
A young gay couple in front of me held hands.
A young person with purple hair wept.
An openly gay bishop carried the remains of our brother who didn’t live long enough to see what he could become.
And I wept.