Lying Down On the Job – Vigil for Victims of Gun Violence

Reflections on Lying Down On the Job –

St. Paul’s participates in an annual Interfaith Vigil for Victims of Gun Violence on Martin Luther King Holiday of each year on the lawn of the State Capitol.

“So we have to get down now?” I said to no one in particular. My heels had been sinking into the soft cold lawn for the entire prayer vigil. I’d resorted to standing on my toes until the end of the service. But then our convener announced, “well, it seems we have some time left. I had decided not to announce this until I was sure we could do it… but we’re going to have a lie-in.” A lie –in is when you lay down in solidarity with someone for something. This was a little less emotionally manipulating than it could be. We were not advocating lying down to mimic someone felled by a gun. We were lying down to embody the actual amount of time it takes to secure a gun license in Virginia. A voice beside me said, “we’ll do it together.” And then some unknown woman stood next to me in her nice black pea coat, and got down in the dirt. She was a little younger than me, and her hair was done up nice for the occasion, but when she laid down she contorted on her side – and stretched her arm out in my direction. So we did it together. Me in my ridiculous heels, black tights, black dress, and clergy collar – we hit the ground. But then the real thing happened. The ground was cold, my coat was warm. I found her hand and rested it in the wool of my coat.  And I held hands with this unknown woman for what seemed like an eternity. The old rabbi lying on my other side in his nice khaki slacks and brimmed hat was working hard to deflect the nervous chatter of a woman behind him. “Is the rabbi lying down? Oh good, if the rabbi can lie down, then I can lie down… I have bad knees but the rabbi…” He breathed audibly and sighed, “Lying down gives you another perspective.” And then it got uncomfortably quiet.

I worked on holding this other hand. Not squeezing or letting go… not moving or removing my presence. Then I took a peek at the microphone stand past my feet. The event leader was walking up and taking a breath, “thank you,” But then he shorted all exclamations of relief or frustration, with, “believe it or not that was just three minutes.” Three minutes, that was it. I pulled my myself and my partner up. She had tears in her eyes. I too began to chatter nervously at her open emotion. I learned that this woman had lost someone years ago in a shooting, and she was scared everyday for her own son. She said she couldn’t get over the sadness for all the mothers she saw on tv. “All the mothers…” Then I just hushed up – I gave her a long hug. She was just my height. On my way back to the office following our lie-in. I saw an older couple sunning themselves on a bench. They wore the bright orange NRA stickers on their chests that indicated they’d been there since the morning’s gun rights’ protests. I slowed when I walked past them and turned my head, “Good afternoon,” I offered. “Good afternoon,” they cheered back. And then I heard the address I’m still not used to, “Reverend. Reverend!” Was that woman really calling me? Sucking in my breath, dreading a conflict or debate out here, I stopped and turned back. Her voice was so quiet I had to get close. “Come here”, she said. “Turn around, you,” now holding out her arms, “you have dirt on you.”