The post title isn't an exact quote (because it would've been damn hard taking notes while trying to hold a lit candle (and, more importantly, given the windy conditions this evening, keeping it lit) from the remarks of NIU President John G. Peters at tonight's candlelight vigil at Northern Illinois University to honor the memory of the Hokies who lost their lives a year ago today. But they're a close approximation: I know he used both phrases in his speech, though I can't swear that they were that closely connected. Nevertheless, it's a good description for the relationship that will forevermore exist between our two campuses, our two communities.
We're both members of a club that nobody wants to join--and would to God that NIU and Virginia Tech were the last two ever given the opportunity to join it. We speak each other's language: a language that neither of us was looking to learn, and one that both of us would rather we hadn't had the opportunity to learn at all. But we have learned it, and having learnt it, we cannot--and should not--forget it.
The image is the design of the T-shirts that were handed out to the first 900 people who came to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Commons. I'm happy to report that there weren't any shirts left that I could see, meaning we had at least that many people at the event.
Among them, God love them both, were two Virginia Tech students. They gave up the opportunity to be with their compatriots in Blacksburg at their own vigil today so they could come and support us--even as we tried to show our support for them and their fellow Hokies. Their presence is just the latest in a long line of expressions of support that Virginia Tech and its campus community have offered to us in the wake of our own tragedy two months ago--support for which we are eternally and profoundly grateful, and which we can never truly repay. Somehow, though, I don't think my Hokie brethren and sistren will mind.
Tonight's vigil was a concrete and physical reminder of a spiritual reality that my faith tradition has taught for centuries: that we are all one body, one family--and our destiny is to help one another along the road we each must travel from cradle to grave. Yes, Virginia, you are your brother's keeper--as I am yours. Or, as Jesus told his disciples in Matthew's Gospel:
Ὅταν δὲ ἔλθῃ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐν τῇ δόξῃ αὐτοῦ καὶ πάντες οἱ ἄγγελοι μετ' αὐτοῦ, τότε καθίσει ἐπὶ θρόνου δόξης αὐτοῦ· καὶ συναχθήσονται ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, καὶ ἀφορίσει αὐτοὺς ἀπ' ἀλλήλων, ὥσπερ ὁ ποιμὴν ἀφορίζει τὰ πρόβατα ἀπὸ τῶν ἐρίφων, καὶ στήσει τὰ μὲν πρόβατα ἐκ δεξιῶν αὐτοῦ, τὰ δὲ ἐρίφια ἐξ εὐωνύμων. τότε ἐρεῖ ὁ βασιλεὺς τοῖς ἐκ δεξιῶν αὐτοῦ· δεῦτε οἱ εὐλογημένοι τοῦ πατρός μου, κληρονομήσατε τὴν ἡτοιμασμένην ὑμῖν βασιλείαν ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου. ἐπείνασα γὰρ καὶ ἐδώκατέ μοι φαγεῖν, ἐδίψησα καὶ ἐποτίσατέ με, ξένος ἤμην καὶ συνηγάγετέ με, γυμνὸς καὶ περιεβάλετέ με, ἠσθένησα καὶ ἐπεσκέψασθέ με, ἐν φυλακῇ ἤμην καὶ ἤλθατε πρός με. τότε ἀποκριθήσονται αὐτῷ οἱ δίκαιοι λέγοντες· κύριε, πότε σε εἴδομεν πεινῶντα καὶ ἐθρέψαμεν, ἢ διψῶντα καὶ ἐποτίσαμεν; πότε δέ σε εἴδομεν ξένον καὶ συνηγάγομεν, ἢ γυμνὸν καὶ περιεβάλομεν; πότε δέ σε εἴδομεν ἀσθενοῦντα ἢ ἐν φυλακῇ καὶ ἤλθομεν πρός σε; καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ βασιλεὺς ἐρεῖ αὐτοῖς· ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐφ' ὅσον ἐποιήσατε ἑνὶ τούτων τῶν ἐλαχίστων, ἐμοὶ ἐποιήσατε.
Whenever the Son of Man may come in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon the throne of his glory: and all the nations will be gathered together in his presence, and he shall divide them one from another just as a shepherd divides the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep upon his right hand, and the goats upon his left. Then will the Ruler say to those upon his right: "Come here, you who are blessed of my Father; inherit the realm that was prepared for you before the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; thirsty, and you gave me to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked, and you clothed me. I was ill and you looked after me, in prison, and you came to me."
Then the just will reply to him, saying: "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and come to you?"
And the Ruler will say to them in answer, "Amen I tell you, as often as you did it for one of these the least of my brothers or my sisters, you did it for me."
--Matthew 25:31-40, my translation from the original Greek
The campus community of Virginia Tech has lived out that Gospel pericope. Tonight's vigil was one small downpayment on NIU's attempt to do so. It will not be the last, I'm sure. Nor should it be.