I was very moved this morning by the news that over five thousand people had gathered yesterday for the funeral of the three students who were murdered on Tuesday in a brutal attack at Chapel Hill, North Carolina. This is on top of the three thousand who attended a candlelit vigil for them on Wednesday night.
I didn’t know these young people, but they were clearly much loved and respected by their community. The people who did know them best, their friends, relatives and fellow students, describe them as inspirational, happy, caring people.
Deah Barakat, aged just 23, was known for his charitable work and volunteering which inspired others to do the same. Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha was his 21 year old wife and they were described as very much in love and recently married. Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha was Yusor’s sister and was devoted to the couple. She was only 19.
A neighbour has admitted killing them apparently. How and why someone could do such an awful thing is beyond my comprehension. Maybe he is mentally ill. Maybe he is evil. Maybe he was jealous of their youth, happiness and popularity. Or, maybe he was prejudiced because of their religion, they were Muslims. Whatever the reason, he is in the minority of wicked people who are destroying our world, and our ability to live together with peace, justice and compassion. And today the world is a sadder place because of his actions. As John Donne said in his famous poem
“Each man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind”
But the crowds of people who gathered to pay their respects and honour their memory are, in my opinion, the normally silent majority who, though usually powerless to make change, are prepared to stand in solidarity when something is clearly wrong.
This is the mark of a caring community and a civilised society.
It is up to each individual of whatever age or background to decide whether they wish to be anti-society, or part of the silent majority who want to make the world a better place for all; not just for the people who look, think, dress and act like themselves.
I would ask today that we think about it. And, in recognition of the tragedy that has befallen these lovely young people and their families, let us all do something, however small, to make our bit of the world a better place; a place where everyone is respected for their humanity, and is treated with dignity. Find someone who needs your kindness, a child, a young parent, a teenager, a troubled adult, a carer, a frail, disabled or elderly person, and give them your time and attention. Listen to what they are saying and make them feel that they are valued. That their lives, however different matter to someone.
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.