Several Memorial Days ago, when I was working for the state House of Representatives, the names of beloved dead were projected in the rotunda of the Capitol. A group of chamber musicians played while high up on a wall scrolled names of fathers, mothers, soldiers, sisters, brothers, friends.
Earlier that week, in response to an e-mail about the project, I wrote and asked if it was okay to add my brother’s name, even though he wasn’t a soldier. The project organizer replied immediately, “Of course.”
At the appointed time – I think it was late afternoon – I sat on the Rotunda steps amidst a crowd of people and waited for his name to appear. When it did – John VanTine Braunlich – I cried.
Yes, it was just a scrolling of names, of words, but each name had people attached to it, people who didn’t want their family or friends forgotten.
Words have power. We’ve all heard this, and it’s true. I felt better (and worse) for seeing his name in a public place. It comforted me, and in a strange way I felt vindicated. John’s name on that list meant I didn’t make him up. I didn’t just imagine racing snails and eating peanut butter toast and playing Batman and Robin with him. Those three years actually happened. He was here. He lived.
Why is this so important? Writer Annie Lamott’s friend Tom, as quoted in Grace (Eventually), says ‘why’ is not a useful question. So let’s drop it, and just know that there is something powerful in the reading of names, the speaking of names, in memorials, be they of stone or pixels on a wall. I wanted others to know Johnny existed, though it was long ago.
We are all, ultimately, ephemeral. We all laugh, we all cry, we all love, we all die. That’s the way it is on this planet. With such major similarities, why focus on the minor differences?
Here’s my list (to date) of beloved dead. They are not forgotten. Feel free to add your own, or sing them on the breeze as you go about your day.
John VanTine Braunlich, Emmett Ocean Shé, Bianca Kitty, Hazel, Dumbala, Mary Cat, Coe Coe, Noah, Maureen Marten, Rosemary & Paul C. VanTine, Sidney Duzen, Aunt Jean, Great Aunt Maude VanTine, Great Aunt Terry Magonigle, Nana & Grandpa Braunlich, Father Tavard, Bronco, Julio, Gordo, Grey, Carolyn’s sister, Sophie’s Chris, Jacinta McKoy, Sasha, Gene, John Lennon, Martin Luther King Jr…