Tiny almond-shaped eyes - chocolate drops full of innocence, ignorant of the violence that brought us all together - peered at me over her mother's shoulder.
She wore a yellow romper and sky blue bonnet, such a contrast to the black and white donned by the rest of us who formed a circle of love and support to a grieving mother, father, sister, brothers...
Black and white. Bad and good. Death and life. Sadness, happiness.
Yellow and blue, colors of springtime, of rebirth, echoed in the sprays of flowers edging the site, and the flowers plucked from the stands and tossed onto the casket.
We had seen a short blurb on the Sunday evening news about the stabbing that left two dead over the weekend in Austin. A gathering of friends to remember the third-year anniversary of the death of one man's mother, an argument, a drawn knife, two dead, several wounded. So tragic, so sad, but soon forgotten in the rush of our lives.
It was several days before Tom learned via email that one of the victims was the little brother of a friend, a former co-worker at a small engineering company, where the employees became like family and stayed in touch over the years.
She was the big sister of six little brothers, a surrogate mom as the family followed her to the Austin area. Tue was the youngest, still her baby brother at 28.
His funeral Saturday morning was one of the most beautiful I've ever witnessed - a full Catholic Mass, all in Vietnamese. Thanks to the unity and consistency of the Catholic Mass tradition, we could still follow along, understanding with our hearts if not our ears.
We filed to Communion along either side of his casket, and it struck me how appropriate it was, a reminder of the life after death we all profess to believe, a reminder of the communion of saints.
After the service, we joined in the procession to the cemetery, where I spotted Miss Innocence dressed in Springtime. I also noticed a young boy, probably about 4 or 5, and I knew Tue's sister, mother, father and other friends and family who watched him grow must be remembering him at that age, when the thought that he could be taken from them by such senseless violence years later was unfathomable.
Nothing is lost by peace; everything may be lost by war. ~ Pius Xll
They probably already knew the truth of this statement better than most, those who escaped war-torn Vietnam in hopes of a peaceful life for their family.
I couldn't understand the words spoken at the grave site, but I understood the gestures, the faces contorted in sorrow, the wails of his mother that touched my mother's heart and brought tears to my eyes for her pain and loss. Tue was just a few years older than my oldest son.
One brother hobbled on crutches, injured while trying to break up the fight to protect his little brother. Tue was also about the same age my brother Buster was when he became a victim of a violent act, only his was a gunshot. Buster didn't die right away; he spent several years as a quadriplegic before we lost him.
I still feel that loss, and my sister's heart wept for Tue's sister and brothers.
After the service, we joined Tue's friends and family at a luncheon. The need to join with others, remember, laugh, celebrate transcends religions and cultures. We spoke to Tue's family and friends, including one who was there that night ... the night two of his friends were killed.
Please keep them all in your prayers.
Tom dropped me off later at a restaurant just a few miles down the highway for a birthday lunch with dear friends. Despite being stuffed from delicious eggrolls, crab soup and shrimp salad, I savored the meal I shared with them and our Mexican Martini toast.
After a morning of such forceful reminders of life's fragility and uncertainty, their faces and the sound of their laughter felt more precious to me than ever.
Death leaves a heartache no one can heal. Love leaves a memory no one can steal.
~ a headstone in Ireland