Baumgartner Vaughan: After darkness, light

May. 31, 2014 @ 06:23 PM

Carolyn Hemingway. Antonio Dixon. Those who perished at Dachau during the Holocaust. Those that gave their lives for their country during war. Within less than two weeks, I covered four assignments that each had the same purpose – to remember those who were killed. One was a funeral. One was a national holiday. Two were vigils. Each of the four events were held on sunny days. Each of the four events remembered those who died not in peace, but by violence. Each of the four was emotional for those who were connected to those who died.

It was for me, too. Reporters act as flies on the wall when there’s an event we write about, off to the side watching and recording what’s happening. It’s not like my feature stories, where I usually sit down with subjects and talk for a while. A news event is a time to reflect back in the newspaper what’s happening here. We observe, we report, we ask questions, and then we go write. We also bear witness and share what happened with those who weren’t there. At these four assignments, I witnesses the best of humanity in situations that follow tragedy. For the ashes from the Holocaust, the burial was a mitzvah by many people who came together in an act of kindness. For Memorial Day, it was a ceremony honoring those who sacrificed themselves for our country.
When I cover the vigils – the ones organized for homicide victims by the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham – those that attend aren’t just the friends and family of the person who was killed. People from the community show up because even if they didn’t know the person who died, they know that he or she mattered. And they know that the people left behind matter, too. In moments of darkness, there is also light.
Because if we stop caring, if the people stop gathering in a circle with candles to comfort – what then? If people stop taking action to right wrongs, what then? If people stop wanting to change the world, what then? The past few weeks in Durham have been plagued with several shootings, some bloodshed ending with death.
In a city, in a country, where bloodshed can take on the unfortunate feeling of regularity, we must remember it is not something to just accept. It leaves behind holes in people’s hearts, but it also brings out love for each other. At those four events – the two vigils, the funeral, the ceremony – those who came were there because they still believe in love, in honor, in kindness and in duty. They still believe in life.
Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan may be reached at or 919-419-6563. Follow on Twitter: @dawnbvaughan.