Gently rest in this place, you are safe and, Matt, welcome home!
Bishop Gene Robinson
I had the honor of attending the service of thanksgiving and remembrance for Matthew Wayne Shepard at the Washington National Cathedral yesterday. It was particularly touching in light of my recent visit to Laramie Wyoming, the site where Matt was brutally murdered.
It took twenty years for the family to settle on a resting place for his ashes. They feared protests and desecration and that was understandable. Matthew became a symbol and a lightening rod. His father had to wear a bullet-proof vest under his suit at Matt’s funeral as protestors hurled hate at those attending the service. When the owner of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando expressed surprise that there was no memorial for Matthew in Wyoming, Judy Shepard responded — “you don’t understand, Orlando embraced you. Wyoming did not embrace us.”
Matthew was embraced yesterday. The service was attended by thousands. For those of you that have not been to the cathedral, it is glorious. Its nave was filled with moving and joyous music, inspiring remembrances and tributes, scriptural readings and impassioned calls to action. Most of all the cathedral was filled with love. There was simply a mother and father with tears in their eyes and a community that gathered in remembrance of this ordinary boy and a life cut so tragically short.
I reflected on Matt’s dreams as passages from his journal were read. I reflected on what has been accomplished in his name. The tragedy is still a tragedy. The gains that have been inspired by this heinous killing do not counterbalance the loss – the years of joys and struggles, the love and loss, the life he deserved.
It also inspired me to reflect on my travels over the past year and my own dreams. While I did not set out with any mission other than to let the road unfold, I have returned again and again to the tragedies in our nation’s history. I have been called to witness. Some of this has been covered in blog posts:
- Whose History? – the Oklahoma City bombing site and the National Memorial & Museum
- Conspicuously Silent . . . No Longer – the opening of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice
- Wounded Knee and Little Big Horn – A Stark Contrast
- Averting Our Eyes Yet Again – Laramie Wyoming
Other stops reside only in my personal notes and memories but are no less powerful – a sunny afternoon sitting by a marker on the small Roubidoux river in Missouri where Native Americans took respite for a night while on the Trail of Tears.
Now that I am home, I am sifting through my experiences over the past year and over my lifetime. I pick up and contemplate various options for my next adventure from a shift to social work to executive coaching to a new run at public policy and electoral reform to further exploration of mindfulness and meditation.
But the one thing that calls to me is the need to reflect further on how we can best bear witness to our history, to create welcoming spaces and vehicles for reflection and learning, to build bridges and to grow individually and as a nation.
I’d appreciate your advice, connections and inspiration on that journey.