Vineyard Struggles with Fallout from Tragedy

Vineyarders Turn to Churches for Peace and Comfort

By ALEXIS TONTI

The couple came into the church well after the service had started. They sat near the podium, where the Rev. Judith Campbell was speaking. The man watched a spot between the floor and the altar. His eyes were red, and he did not blink. The woman remained composed for a few minutes but then began quietly to cry, working a tissue in her hands, folding it into squares.

Reverend Campbell had shared the couple's story earlier. They came from Westport, Conn., and their Island wedding was planned for this Saturday. But they had associates and friends in the financial district, friends who were invited to the wedding - one, close to the bridegroom, who worked near the top of one of the towers. On Wednesday morning, they still did not know.

They also had family from Switzerland flying in for the occasion. They did not know if they would be able to make it, either.

The couple had decided, however, to continue with the wedding. They agonized, Ms. Campbell said, and they decided to have the ceremony even if it was just the three of them on the beach. As she said throughout the service, in this time of sadness and grief, following evils that cannot be undone, we must do what we can to fill the world instead with good, with kindness and love.

At the Unitarian Universalist Society church on Wednesday morning, a service of hope and healing was held in the wake of Tuesday's tragic events. Rather than leave the rows facing forward, the pastor arranged the seats in concentric circles so everyone could see one another. Tissue boxes and hymn books were placed around the room.

In the middle of the circle, Reverend Campbell readied the altar. She set a basket of candles on the table along with a sand-covered plate on which to stand them. The organist began to play as people arrived. A woman in black, already crying, sat in one of the few chairs in the back, a friend at her elbow for support. Acquaintances hugged, squeezed a hand as they passed by and took seats.

Ms. Campbell stepped behind the podium. "I want you to feel comfortable," she began. "As comfortable as any of us can be today. We will hold each other, and pray and sing and sit in silence with our thoughts. And in the end, we will gather as humans have always gathered, and share some food and some comfort."

She stepped to the altar. "I light this first candle," she said, "for all of the broken hearts that are out there today. And in here. Now is the time for sharing, and silence, and then we will begin again."

She invited people to light a candle and, if they wanted, to say a prayer and share their feelings. A long silence followed. A dark-haired woman finally stood, lit the second candle and left, offering only a thin smile and glassy eyes.

Another long pause. A middle-aged woman stepped to the altar. "The longer I sat there, the shakier I got," she said. "My husband John, his good friend Daniel, he was his gym buddy, he was on Flight 11." She inhaled, eyes on the ceiling.

"I'm trying to explain to my daughter why people around the world hate us so much. I didn't know what to say. I kept her home from school today. You know, different schools teach different things, and I didn't want her to go to a place where she might hear about hate.

"I'm sure we all know people who were touched by this tragedy, but our children are the ones I'm worried about right now. I'm lighting this for them."

After she sat, people were less hesitant to offer their thoughts:

"For loss of innocence. My 23-year-old watched people jump off the towers. My 22-year-old walked home from the Capitol."

"I pray that the President be guided by compassion and wisdom."

"A prayer for peace, preservation and prevention."

An elderly woman stepped forward. "My heart is pounding and my hands are shaking," she said. She rubbed the thick metal bracelet on her left wrist. "Today happens to be the anniversary of my husband's death. He served during World War II, at Pearl Harbor, and he flew planes from Hawaii to the Phillipines.

"He made these for me, from debris that he picked up." She held up her left arm and also pointed to a pendant that hung from a chain around her neck. The woman's words wandered as she worked out her thoughts, equating Tuesday's tragedy and its implications with that earlier period of our history, her feelings at that time brought again into sharp relief by the recent events.

In between personal testimonials, Reverend Campbell led the group in song and offered her own reflections. Then two women approached the altar at the same time, one red-haired, the other the woman in black from the back of the room.

The red-haired woman's words tumbled out. "I came here because of the violence of New York, after being mugged several times, I just couldn't take it.

"How could the world be so beautiful and yet so full of violence? I don't understand. When I heard, I sat on the beach at Aquinnah and I just couldn't speak. The whole world is going to change. My generation has not dealt with this. Older generations, they have Pearl Harbor and Vietnam and Korea. The scariest thing I grew up with was being afraid of a nuclear war, and now. . . .

"I worked in a store across the street from the World Trade Center. I knew people who worked there, they came in all the time. Why am I here? I feel so guilty.

"I light this for everyone at home," she said, touching her candle to the flame of another.

At her side, the woman in black fought for control of her tears. "May peace return once more to our planet," she said. They embraced before sitting, this time next to each other, holding hands as the service continued.

"Help me to get over any spirit of vengeance."

"For the transcendent wisdom to overcome the violence within and to look to ourselves for small changes."

"For New York and for all those struggling in it."

The woman whose husband lost his friend spoke again. She related the story of the peace crane, an origami bird that has come to symbolize nuclear disarmament. She carried a box full of the delicate paper creations, which she had made, and urged everyone to take one as a symbol of peace.

In closing, Reverend Campbell also passed around a box, this one of acorns. "Take a little acorn as a symbol of how something small can become so very large," she said.

"Each act of kindness or love that we perform or offer to another will send out its ripples to the ends of the earth. If we all do it, if we all are kind to one another and give love whenever and however we can, I pray that the world will be so full of our ripples of loving kindness that there will be no room left for evil thinking and evil doing."