I may never have known you in life, but you have touched my heart and soul in a way that will never be forgotten. This is my tribute and my promise . . .
Somewhere beyond the farthest sky
a soul has found its home
A young and shining heart that will
no longer with us roam
Embraced in loving arms you've found
the Love that does not end
Where hopes and dreams eternal dwell
where hurts unearned can mend
Yet still your light shines brightly here
and flames of silver mark
The gentle glow of heart and soul
that guides us through the dark
No evil will can ever mar
the love that holds you near
Nor hate or shadows ever dim
your light that shines so clear
Rest easy now in angels' arms
as songs of light unfold
And know that we will not forget
nor memory grow cold
For you the journey's ended now
in Love's eternal home
Though in our hearts and in our souls
will you forever roam
by Rick Hutchings, October 1998
On October 12, 1998, young Matthew Shepard passed away, a victim of the senseless hate and intolerance sweeping our nation. His name stands now at the head of a list that has so many names - A LIST WHERE EVEN ONE NAME IS TOO MANY.
In the wake of his passing, Matthew has touched the lives of many across, not only the United States, but around the world. The outpouring of grief and love, for Matthew and his family, has been tremendous. In this time of sorrow, so many have pulled together, for candlelight vigils and prayers. It truly has been moving.
But, it is never enough. The memory of Matthew - and everyone else whose life has been marred by the ugliness of hate - must live on. We must take a stand against hatred and intolerance, to do everything possible to prevent this tragedy from happening again.
Matthew Shepard was brutally tortured and pistol-whipped, tied - naked - to a fence, and left to die in the freezing Wyoming night. Why? Becasue he was gay. Would he have been the victim of such brutal violence had he been straight?
The answer, most likely is, "NO."
The hate didn't stop with Matthew's death. Anti-gay protesters gathered for his funeral to demonstrate and shout messages of hate and bigotry. They had no compassion or concern for Matthew's family and friends who were already devastated by his death.
Although gays and lesbians are not the only targets of hate, sexual orientation-based hate crimes are the third-most common of such crimes (race and religion are the top two). More alarming, violence against gays and lesbians is on the rise in this country! We must draw the line somewhere.!
The senseless and tragic death of Matthew Shepard has moved many across the nation and beyond to tears. Like so many others, we have come together to share as we mourn the loss of a young man, a beautiful spirit. Together, we send forth our love and our prayers to Matthew’s family and closest friends. For each of them, and for everyone else touched by the evil of hate, we shed our tears.
When will the tears stop? How many more must we cry until the hate ends? How many more Matthews out there have to be lost? How many more families have to be torn by grief? How many more times must we gather in mourning? Will the tears ever be allowed to stop?
Even as we cry, we must remember that our tears are not without a power of their own. Each one we cry in the face of such a horrible tragedy is a symbol. A symbol of the caring human spirit that’s in each of us. A symbol of the love and sympathy we offer to the families of Matthew Shepard and all others whose lives have been devastated. A symbol to Matthew himself, and anyone else lost to hate, to let them know they are not forgotten.
Our tears - each one of them - is a reminder that, because of our love and compassion, we are not alone.
For Matthew and all others taken from the world by hate, our tears are a promise. A promise to never give up, to go forward, to do whatever it takes to overcome hatred and intolerance. A promise to keep his - and their - memory alive in our hearts. A promise that we will never surrender to the hatred around us. A promise that, someday, we will finally claim victory and justice for them - on the day hate itself dies.
And, for that death, there will be no tears.
I hope and I pray that day will come soon. That no one else will ever be forced to endure the violence and horrors brought on by hatred and ignorance. When we can finally be ourselves without having to fear. In memory of Matthew - and for the sake of those not yet fallen, I pray that day comes soon.
The day when the tears can finally stop.
In 1998, a young man was lashed to a wooden fence, laid out as if for crucifiction, rejected by a society that refused to accept him. He dared to be open about his difference. He wanted love and acceptance for all. He did not judge or condemn.
For so long, fundamentalists have been denying gays and lesbians the promise given all people by Christ. They have held close the Cross and its symbolism, rejecting us as unworthy and condemning us. We have not been welcome in their churches or anywhere else where they hold the dominant voice.
On October 6, 1998, that changed. When two men lashed Matthew Shepard to that fence in Wyoming, they shattered the lies and illusions fostered by the fundamentalists. How? In their attempt to make an example out of Matthew, they sent a different message to the world. By invoking the image of the Crucifiction, they made the connection we have been fighting for.
I'm not in any way proposing idolizing Matthew on the same level as Jesus. Christ was the Messiah and Savior, and He knew that to be his destiny. Matthew became a martyr whether he intended to or not. Ultimately, however, there is one common thread. Both have served to unite people who were downtrodden and to jolt the majority into a new awareness.
Let's not overlook this symbolism.
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Sadly, Matthew Shepard is not the only victim of violence born from hate and intolerance. A Wall of Remembrance has been created in an attempt to honor the men, women and children whose lives have been taken becasue of hateful violence. The true count of lives lost may never be known, but even one life is too many to sacrifice to hate and intolerance.
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