Last night I was a witness to a really moving event on campus. Students who had been friends of Andrew Pillow’s, the student who passed away last week, organized a candlelight vigil for him at 8 pm. While I know some of the students who were his friends, this was a student-planned and student-run event and I did not want to insert myself in the middle, but I wanted to be there off to the sides just for moral support.
The vigil was held on Poteat Field. There are a couple of bleachers there (as Poteat Field is used for a lot of intramurals, and students sit on the bleachers to watch). The candles were on the bleachers, and students started there, got their candle, and then moved on to the middle of the field. They formed a large circle. It looked like there was somewhere between 150-200 students present.
I was far away enough not to be able to hear them, but it did not look like anyone was talking or leading any kind of remarks or prayers. From my vantage point, it looked more like everyone was having a silent moment of togetherness.
When it looked like most of the students were assembled in the circle, a handful of students brought a large red Chinese lantern into the center of the circle. (If you’re not familiar with the concept, it is sort of like a mini hot air balloon; you put a candle or a sterno burner in a holder at the bottom, and the flame heats the air, which expands the balloon and causes it to rise in the air).
It looked like a pretty big lantern, and once the flames were in the bottom holder, it started to slowly rise and wobble a bit. I confess I was worried that it didn’t have enough light to lift it – and I did not want to see this beautiful thing crash to the ground and burn. But as if by magic, it lifted and rose, and the students let it go.
Everyone in the circle watched this beautiful lantern rise. It rose slowly, and from where I was sitting it looked like it wafted up gently over Poteat Hall, and then it went by the spire of Wait Chapel. It was such a poignant, beautiful moment. It felt to me like the spirit of Andrew had made one more lap around the Quad and the Chapel before drifting upward. All eyes followed the lantern until it rose so high it was out of sight.
At that point the crowd began to disperse, some keeping their candles lit, some blowing them out. There were hugs, and from my perch it looked like people were somber, but OK. A couple of students I knew walked up to me after it was over and it was really, really good to talk to them. They appeared to be doing as well as could be expected, but still in shock, still sad. As you would expect.
The students did a great job finding a way to come together and honor their friend. This was a beautiful tribute, and one I felt honored to witness.