To Honor the Fallen
On the eve of what would be a beautiful weekend a man did more than speak his mind.
On the eve of Ramadan, Islam’s month of fasting a religious celebration, two young women road public transit.
On the eve of Memorial Day weekend two more men fell in defense of this country’s values.
These three statements collided in a tragic event which occurred less than two miles from my home.
I reside in an affluent neighborhood in North East Portland, Oregon that borders the Hollywood District. This weekend I volunteered at the Hollywood Farmer’s Market; residing in this fairly commercial neighborhood the market serves several neighborhoods. The MAX , a light rail line, runs through the middle of these neighborhoods. Skirmishes on public transit are not uncommon, the skirmish during Friday’s commute home whom seemed far from common. A man erratically ranting allegedly threatens two young women of color, one wearing a hijab. Hateful words among MAX riders. Three men approach the man to simmer down. A knife, some slashes, an escape, a death at the scene, a search for alleged perpetrator, a death at the hospital, a man in custody, a man healing, a community disrupted.
The first news report I heard went Friday evening was as follows: “NE 47th is shut down between Halsey and Glisan due to a police action.” My first thoughts concerned my friend Pat coming to my house after work. An impromptu dinner planned. Did Pat plan to bicycle the whole route or take MAX line part of the way. She arrived. We drank wine, spooned warmed asparagus soup and relished a bit of prosciutto. My dog Layla gave a longingly look at our plates. I mentioned the police action and Pat shared that she noticed some things during her travels. Then she checked her phone for any Tri Met reports. She rattled off several incidents.
Later that evening the news reports rolled in. An altercation, a stabbing, the stabber escaped, one died at the scene, one died at the hospital, one survived, a man in custody. Traveling east bound on the Green MAX line two young ladies sat; one wearing a head scarf. A man began harassing them. Three men decided to call out the disrespectful behavior. No one would have predicted a knife would be used in response.
Portland has been called a crunchy granola city, but that belies the complicated history of racism in Oregon and the whiteness of Portland. It sets aside the plight of Chinese and Japanese Americans earlier in our state’s history. There exists a diversity of political opinion in my fair city, some of it louder than I would like. Opinion does not justify violence. Two men die less than two miles from my home because they valued liberty from verbal abuse.
Via Facebook a friend invited me to the vigil for the two that died and the three that survived. I chose to attend as this event occurred in my backyard. The dead men deserved to be honored. These citizens deserved my recognition as they who stood up for the values of my country. These values are called into question with acts of hate and acts of selfishness. As an elementary school student I said the following every morning:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Throughout US history the words liberty and justice inspired people to fight for rights and at times go to war. On Memorial Day my nation pauses to recognize the men and women who died while serving in the armed forces. These men and women took an oath to support and defend the constitution against all enemies — foreign and domestic. When called for armed action they go out to serve and protect. Some of them do not come home. In Portland this past Friday, as citizens the three men did not refrain from protecting two young women of color. Two of them did not go home.
Many speakers at the vigil challenged me to take action, to do what these men did on the Max Train. I pray that I will have the courage. I am reminded of the Prayer of Saint Francis which includes these lines:
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offense, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
My faith teaches me that forgiveness is central to moving forward. The this act of violence I know many will find that hard, including myself.
The time 4:30 pm- folks heading home to get ready for the beautiful weather, to get ready for a religious holiday, to get ready to honor the fallen. A man began harassing two women of color, one wore a hijab. Three men decided to call out the disrespectful behavior. No one would have predicted a knife would be used.
Today I honor the fallen.
Anne Meixner lives and works in Portland Oregon as an engineer and writer. She regularly posts stories from her life as an engineer at The Engineers’ Daughter.