“Patience and persistence have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish. A little knowledge that acts is worth infinitely more than much knowledge that is idle.” -John Quincy Adams
Most of the time when we begin a project, we have no real idea of where it is going to take us or if we will ever truly get across the finish line that we set at the beginning. So it is both surprisingly bittersweet and also a relief to find myself at the end of this long winding path that has been the Positive Change Memorial Courtyard. Initiated four years ago by the tragic loss of two remarkable young men who were swept into the sea and perished in front of their friends, we started the Positive Change Club at South Eugene High School to create a special space to honor their memories. The memorial services surrounding these untimely deaths were the most powerful, moving community events that I had ever attended, creating a sense of connection that deserved to be sustained. But as the project evolved, it has become so much more than that.
As we planned and raised money for the courtyard to be done, what became clear was that it was a much bigger space than its original intention- it was a place for everyone who had lost someone they loved. The largest donation that came in and which literally saved our Kickstarter efforts came from the mother of another student from the same class who had died a couple of years before. She sponsored our fountain with a quote that reads “What matters is how you walk through the fire.” This quote inspired me during the project as the enormity of the commitment became clearer. And yet, with each step, people kept coming forward and showing up in huge ways, inspiring me with their selflessness and their commitment to honoring the memory of someone they loved and lost.
This is a fiercely powerful combination in the workings of the human heart- the need to connect with our lost loved ones and the need for being included in a community. It is built into every religious practice surrounding death. We need each other more than ever, to anchor us here on earth, giving us the strength to shoulder the lives of the people we love who have passed away. During the years of working on the courtyard, I lost both a dear friend and my father to cancer. Although I didn’t understand it at the time, doing the work of moving gravel and concrete in and out of the courtyard during these losses was healing. Thinking of them both now, I realize how present their lives are to me in the courtyard. There are dozens of stories like this in this special courtyard and today, at the dedication, seeing the tears of both joy and sadness on their faces showed me this truth- that how we hold and honor the memories of people we love happens most deeply when we come together in community.
I thought that I began this project years ago to teach the kids what I had been studying about positivity for years, when in fact, the Courtyard project and the students have taught me that the hard work of building communities. It is one relationship at a time in which we find our place on this spinning planet. As hard as it was to get the kids out there hauling rocks, the hours we had laughing and sharing food while we toiled was the work of remembering. Giving ourselves to the work of the world, especially work that connects both the dead and the living is one real way that positivity lives in us and turns us into our best selves.
I have loved this work and it has loved me. I am infinitely grateful to be living in a dedication to love and positivity. If ever you are in Eugene, get in touch so I can walk around the courtyard with you….