Celeste Zappala's response to being honored as one of the Prophetic Voices of our day, by The Shalom Center on February 5, 2006.
Thank you to all of you for being here, and to Arthur and The Shalom Center for all of the extraordinary work that they do.
Congratulations to Cindy and Judy and Jeffrey for all their amazing efforts.
My I introduce my youngest son Raphael, my daughter in law Selma, my son Dante and the little peace baby we will greet in July.
Though you name me in this award, please know that it is our whole family’s effort along with their dad Al and their step-mom Joan.
I also want to tell you that I so wish I was not here for the reason I am: I know that you understand.
Know that there are three who stand with us in memory and spirit: Seth Dvorin, son of Sue Niederer and her husband Greg; Casey Sheehan, Cindy’s son; and Sherwood Baker.
They are our beloveds and among the 2250 American soldiers lost to this war of madness.
Three who should be here -- Sherwood, Casey and Seth -- three of the tens of thousands who should be among the living and are not.
Our sad chapter began on April 26 2004, when we learned that my son Sherwood had been killed that day in Baghdad while helping to look for the weapons of mass destruction. Opening the door that night to the sergeant major and his dreadful question, are you Sherwood’s mother? That was the first step into the other universe of sadness.
That night, some of you walked through that same door to us as you came to bring comfort and solace, you dear friends who had been fighting against this war before it began, trying to uphold sanity and peace, you who knew and loved Sherwood came into our grief and held us up – sustained us through the most terrible days of our lives and stood with us as we made a choice to speak out against the injustice of this war.
We are blessed as a family to live in Mt Airy amongst so many caring dedicated people- we are grateful to be part of the first United Methodist Church of Germantown – and so many are here today from the congregation, along with our pastor Michele Barlow – so many others- the community of faith, the beloved community has been there with open arms, open hearts and powerful witness – we have never felt alone with your love surrounding us
We are grateful and blessed to be part of this peace community of Philadelphia – you are each an inspiration.
When Sherwood was killed, few Gold Star families had spoken out against the war, I remember thinking that Fernando Suarez de Solar was brave to speak and when I heard Sue Niederer speak boldly of the loss of her son in February 2004 I remember thinking about the lonely courage that took and hoping it would never be a decision I would have to make. I did not know then that Sue would become one of my sisters in sorrow.
I had joined Military Families Speak Out before Sherwood left and been sustained by that ever growing collection of families who know first hand the brutal reality of the war of choice.
Latter in the summer of 2004 I met Cindy and some of the other Gold Star families and that began the extraordinary journey that took us from Washington to Crawford TX where Cindy lead the stand outside the Bush ranch, and challenged George Bush to tell the world what noble cause is worth the sacrifice of our sons and daughters and the best Americans?
This has been a rough trip for all of us, and nothing we can write or say or do – no amount of logic or righteousness gives us the thing we want most, the lives of our sons -- the chance to see them grow old and have lots of kids, the chance to share holidays and silly conversations and most of all to hold them and tell them we love them. That has all passed away with them-believe me when I tell you that despair is a companion who always seeks us out, beckons and awaits at the corner-
And the force that bows that despair is the powerful love of the community and for me is the faith that says the light does shine in the darkness and the darkness can not overcome it.
And we -- all of us -- are the powerful source of living light, along with people all over our country and this world who will stand up for peace, against the despair, hatred, and injustice that warp the hearts of so many and the inequality that generates rage everywhere.
A rough trip this is, long and strange- I almost daily say to myself, How did I get here, how have these things happened, how could anyone ever have imagined the events that have broken us and healed us too?
Some of you may know that Sherwood was in his own wonderful and quirky way a champion for justice and an instigator for change. You may know that the school district in up-state Pennsylvania where he attended school did not observe Martin Luther King's birthday.
So Sherwood made it his personal mission to protest to the school board and write to the newspaper to teach about Martin Luther King.
So at Sher’s memorial service at our church, FUMCOG [First United Methodist Church of Germantown] Dick Cox read the words of his friend Martin Luther King
It really boils down to this, that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in to a single garment of destiny whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality.
I so believe we are all tied into that single garment of destiny, as much as we would want to turn away from it, as much as we would not choose to wear it, we are caught and woven by the each other's destiny, and it is in that weaving that we must come to acknowledge too that we are not powerless in the shaping, that love is more than an active word: It is indeed the only power we possess, and it is also the challenge to hatred and stupidity.
So it is with deep gratitude that I stand with my family and with you today, in this corner of the beloved community taking strength and inspiration from each other, facing the tasks that lay ahead-promising to holding each other up, while we all walk by faith not sight
On the path that someday leads to that promised land, the place that King dreamed of and prophets described and that whispers to the human heart when despair is strangling us.
The place where love triumphs and the garment is complete.