I snap a picture of the red leaves that are shades from pink to crimson against the oranges, yellows, and browns that crinkle my back yard. I keep looking for the right angle, and pretty soon I've taken ten pictures and now I'm late. I was up at 5:00am and did morning pages, laundry, and dishes; I've packed the Envoy with chili fixings for the pre-vigil supper at Outreach. Doesn't matter when I wake up, it's never early enough, I think as my feet scrunch against the gravel down the lane.
I need to give my daughters and husband rides home after school because the truck is still broken down. Moira has a friend coming home with her so they can bake for book club, and then Moira will catch a ride with her friend's mother for her play practice at 7:00pm. Arwen has fiddle lessons, and I can get a ride for her to lessons, but can't find one for her to get home. I phone Fort Music and it works out that Arwen's teacher can run her home.
The plan is coming together, chili already bubbling at Outreach, but now Michael is dragging his feet to leave the school. I stand at the doorway of his classroom, the girls already outside.
"I'll get a ride home," he says.
I glare. "Okay," I say, then turn my back and leave. Thanks for all your help, I think.
My cousins; Jade, my intern; and I share chili at the Outreach. I collect bowls and keep up with the dishes. Nobody else shows up to join us for the forty-five minute drive into the city, but one of my friends I met through the Outreach is walking by, so I call him in for some chili. We catch up. He's been down in the states, working. Now he's back.
As we're loading the two vehicles, Jade says, "What is the definition of the word, vigil, anyway?"
"Guess it's like a gathering... Angela," I call, "Is vigil a French word?"
The three of us have different uses of the word vigil: spiritual context, candle imagery, and staying up all night, but none of us know what to expect from tonight's Sisters in Spirit Vigil.
Jade and I are on highway ten, driving into a warm, golden evening. "Perfect harvest weather," I say.
"It is. Ironic thing is that so many people didn't get to put in a crop this year, and now they have harvest weather and no crop," Jade says.
"Beautiful night," I say. "It's weird how I'm trying to do something right by going to this vigil, but in order for me to get here, I got frustrated with Michael, rushed around all stressed, and now I'm trying to switch gears."
We see a few people standing in the middle of Victoria park, so we walk in that direction. Angela has the baby stroller to carry supplies for her three kids, and provide a ride for her youngest if she gets tired. The kids spy the play structures. Jade and I stay with the stroller and chat. We see long, thin candles being distributed. More people are coming; a family with lots of kids; a young couple; a tall man who seems to be alone. Angela returns with the kids and we are given three candles. The wind blows out one, and we try to relight with another. We have to shield the flame with our hands.
A man calls, "Gather round that tree." The crowd of about fifty forms a circle. The man with a hint of black, southern preacher charisma, welcomes an elder who leads a prayer. My candle goes out, but I quickly light it from Jade's candle. The speaker shares a message with themes of unity, kinship, comfort, peace, and then addresses the men in the crowd about the need to change male culture. My candle is still glowing, but wind gusts jump over my cupped hand. The speaker introduces a young woman who is there with her family and siblings. She shares her story of losing her mother fifteen years ago to violence. Another woman shares her story of a daughter who has been missing four years. My candle dies and I don't relight it. The daughter and mother hold pictures of their loved ones.
We follow at the end of the gathering to the edge of Victoria park and onto the sidewalk. We walk toward the first corner, stopping across from Knox Metropolitan Church. Using a weak amplifier, they read the names of women, either missing or murdered. We walk along the sidewalk, and Jade's friend from home who was meeting us, finds Jade. They hug and they must not have seen each other for a long time, because they really hold on to one another as I continue on toward the library corner of Victoria park. Jade and her friend catch up as the list of names linger on the night air. Pamela George is the only name I recognize. Murdered. Jade and I exchange a glance. She had written a report on the overt injustice surrounding Pamela George. I had told Jade of the day I'd assigned a web research project about missing aboriginal women, only to find out, mid-class, that Pamela George's daughter was my student.
We walk through the new downtown, with decorative lights changing colour along poles. The kids, my cousins and others, run, playing tag, some posing for family shots by the fancy lights. Angela leans over to me. "Ivan just asked me what murdered means," she says. We come to the Scarth Street corner of the park and a new list of names. Missing. Murdered.
As we continue to the fourth corner I recognize an old friend I haven't seen in years. "Mona," I say. We catch up and I learn that she's the president of the Regina chapter of Amnesty International. "I'll have to introduce you to my intern," I say. "She wants to start a club at our school."
At the final corner, we hear new names, and then Amber Redman. Murdered. This beautiful girl was from Fort Qu'Appelle, her family still living at Standing Buffalo. So close to home. Murdered.
We walk back into Victoria Park and gather around the tree again. I look up along the trunk and see metal ants fastened twenty feet up. They are dark, but I can make out their insect forms. A tall, pretty girl steps into the circle. She holds a hand drum. She explains that an elder had a dream that she should have this drum. She begins to sing. Ivan turns toward the grownups and stage whispers, "That's the most beautiful song I've ever heard." His mom and I nod in agreement.
There are a few words at the end that I can't hear and then the circle breaks off by twos and threes and families and couples. Jade and her friend have tears in their eyes. Appropriate, I think, but then Jade says, "Calli just came to tell me that Brendan is gone." A childhood friend of Jade and Calli's was in an accident last week and now it's all over.
We say goodbye to my cousins and Jade and I go for coffee with Calli. We order fun drinks, sit in the vault at the former bank turned java bar. Jade and Calli tell stories and comfort each other as only old friends can, through laughter.
I look up the word vigil and the idea of remaining awake while others sleep stirs into my imagination like a shot of caffeine. The words purposeful, guard, observe, and pray swirl together. The Latin root means alert or lively. Wakefulness. As I think back on the evening, I find myself waking to the blessing of family. The need to connect. The shortness of life. The comfort of sharing. The healing of walking. The power of candles. And I guess it doesn't matter how late or how early a person wakes up, it's just in the waking that there is hope and possibility.