Vigils for a Hero

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“… He was the ultimate example… showing love, and compassion….” I said. She nodded her head as both of our eyes became moist once again…

Following the beheading of our local Eccles taxi driver, I was in conversation with one of his fellow taxi drivers, also a neighbour and friend taking care of the family dog as the family are thrown into the public realm.

She talked of her last conversation with him, as he prepared to go on what was to be his last mission, both his and her eyes were moist. Now, thinking of him again, she nodded in recognition at my words – words I had read that morning in the paper ‘Good Society’, words written about Jesus.

Ricoeur, so I am told, observed that while life is simply lived, we attempt to make meaning of life’s events only after the fact. This I recognise in our grieving community. Telling and retelling, constructing and reconstructing  our individual and communal  stories. Like the four gospel stories, trying  to make sense of the life, suffering, and death of Jesus, we are trying to do similar!

The storytelling is happening in different forms. The yellow ribbons cladding streetlights from one end of the town to the other, excluded at the silent space of the local mosque and the streets where the Yemini community dwell. Likewise, the grassroots vigils held on Sunday nights on the local rec, have now become places to reflect and remember.  In the town centre at the Cross, opposite the taxi rank of subdued taxi drivers,  the communal story continues, and is a focus with its hundreds of flowers and cards, and the occasional box of pampers – symbolising our humanitarian aid worker, and a mobile phone on a wooden plaque telling the simple story of ‘Gadget’ our local hero.

Holding a Syrian child in his arms, he invites us to a human response and challenges  our religious and racist prejudices, and all the other unnamed and unrecognised prejudices and fears.

The Christians have got it right, some of the time, as the Churches Together gave a rapid response holding a service of reflection in the local parish church, and opening the church doors for the week offering a place for the lighting of candles, prayers and silence, as local people poured in to sign the book of condolences, creating space to tell the ongoing story. And I find space to  remember my own story of family brutality and understand that we weep for now,  but we are also expressing layers upon layers of unresolved  individual and communal grief  in the story of life.

I am touched by the bravery of Barbara, Alan’s wife, and Lucy and Adam, his children, in the public eye: at the grassroots vigils they seem at home in, alongside embracing new found Christian and Muslim friends, with dignity and vulnerability at a memorial service held, beyond the town, at the British Muslim Heritage Centre, a service organised by friends and humanitarian aid colleagues.

It’s Monday morning, at the gym, class is cancelled, this creates time, before too long I am embracing my Muslim friend, and we weep. She too is a neighbour to our hero, as are her children, she too cares about the children of Syria…. she too is full of love and compassion.

Angie Tunstall, Eccles, Manchester

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