June 2, 1997- January 29, 2013
One year ago today, Hadiya Pendleton was murdered in front of her friends while she was taking shelter from the rain. She was an honor student who had recently performed at the President’s inauguration. Her mother describes her as “quirky” and I think I know what she meant. Hadiya must have been funny, excited, fretful and serious in the way that only 15 year-old girls who are high on life can be. Hadiya was six days older than my daughter.
It was around this time last year that I got in my car, set my VZ navigator and drove from the suburbs to attend Hadiya’s wake. For me this wasn’t “a tragedy”; it was and is deeply personal. The author, John Green, has reminded us that “there’s a fault in our stars”. The world is out of balance on a cosmic level. The air is poison. The earth is rancid. The center cannot hold. That is my theological position at this moment.
I arrived just after the crowds had momentarily thinned and went straight to Hadiya. I saw that a mother in the throes of grief selected a dress in her daughter’s favorite color that was appropriate and yet youthful hoping that her baby would have liked it. I could tell that her parents carefully chose her coffin. The very last thing they could do was pour every ounce of love into this parting gift. This going away present to a daughter who was too young to leave home for good. These endless details are what occupy the life of the newly bereaved, and serve to keep them from going permanently insane from the shock of hearing, “I’m sorry she’s gone”. Although, I really don’t know. I can only write what I think. My only daughter was allowed to turn sixteen.
After awhile, I met Cleopatra Crowley. I could tell immediately that she’s a lot of fun when she’s not mourning the death of her only daughter who was murdered for something as tragic and pedantic as “being at the wrong place at the wrong time” (what a useless phrase we’ve come up with to make sense of a world unhinged). We talked about fifteen year-old girls. I said, “I’m sorry for your loss”, and I then I went home to soak in my daughter. Cleopatra has gone on to sit with the First Lady at the State of the Union, she has marched, set up foundations and fundraised. For a solid year she has done all the things we expect of the families of victims we turn into celebrities to do. And she has done them because memory is everything.
I think of Hadiya a lot. I thought of her when my daughter headed out at the crack of dawn to get her license on her sixteenth birthday, when she blew out her candles, when I see her whispering to her friends, when she’s “so stressed out”, when she announced that she got her first real job complete with a uniform, when she was inducted into national honor society, when she laughs, and especially in those moments when she’s completely unconscious of just how amazing and beautiful she is. I drink her in and catch my breath, and think of Hadiya. Always of Hadiya.