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Interfaith Community Vigil - 7/17/2015

We come together tonight, as a community, as a city, trying to make sense of yesterday's tragedy. We look to Thursday's events and wonder how we can ever be the same place we were just a mere two days ago.

To me, as I have thought about our task, it has seemed to me we have many obligations in the time ahead: We must comfort and support those who have lost; we must recognize the heroism of those who stopped this attacker; and we must stand together to bear the burden of our common experience.

First and foremost, our sympathies go out to the families of our slain Marines. The brave men and women who comprise the United States Marine Corps are our country's finest. They know no peer, no equal. President Reagan once said, "Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But the Marines don't have that problem."

That certainly applies to the four young men who lost their lives while serving their country. Sargent Carson Homquist. Lance Corporal Skip Wells. Staff Sargent David Wyatt. Sargent Thomas J. Sullivan. They were extraordinary people who volunteered to fight for our freedom, and their senseless murder leaves behind four families to whom every single one of us owes a debt of gratitude.

We must pay that debt in full, giving them the care, attention, and love they need to recover from the devastation they have suffered.

This evening, we also recognize a sailor is fighting for life in a nearby hospital. A Chattanooga police officer also works to recover from the effects of his wound. We pray tonight for their speedy recovery and pledge to use our combined efforts to aid their families as they nurse their loved ones back to health.

I also wish everyone could have heard the courageous tales of the Chattanooga Police Department officers and Hamilton County Sheriff's deputies who thought nothing of putting their bodies between innocent lives and danger. In a moment where it would have been easy to delay, or to let the enormity of circumstance drown their judgment, they valiantly and heroically confronted danger, following their training and silencing the attacker.

We should all take a minute and recognize our local law enforcement's contribution to our city and country.

The sense of violation we all feel today cannot be healed individually, with each of us left to piece together our broken hearts alone. We can only alleviate the pain together, as a city and as a community.

In the Jewish tradition, when someone experiences loss, the mourners are joined by friends and relatives, a community coming together to help ease the intense loneliness that accompanies tragedy. We do not come to distract mourners from their pain, but to sit in sorrow alongside them, share their agony, and let our thoughts linger together on the profound sense of loss.

The impact of the warmth of human presence during this time is immeasurable and provides assurance to the mourner that our world is not a cold and hateful place. Rather, it's a place where hope, love, and friendship overcome. This signals to the mourner that returning to society is not insurmountable, and that they will always be embraced with open arms.

With an event as immoral and deplorable as the murders that took place in our city, our common pain will be felt for a long time. But our presence here tonight, as well as the numerous spontaneous acts of compassion we have witnessed in the last two days, provides a small reminder to the victims' families that we are sitting alongside them to share in their pain, to help carry the heavy burden of loss and, importantly, to remind them that the world is a place where kindness and justice will prevail against hate.

I pray that the memory of those we have lost will be a comfort to their families and friends in days to come.

As I close, we thank the many men and women and their families who continue to live in our city, selflessly defending our freedom in the Armed Forces. The line of the United States Marine Corps is long and unwavering. The cause for which they have served and died does not exist solely in distant fields.

Tripoli. The Ardennes. Guadalcanal. Iwo Jima. Beirut. Fallujah.

Tonight, in eternal gratitude and in sorrow, we add another.


Photo by Phillip Stevens and Matt Lea