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In Memoriam
Matthew Shepard 1976-1998

Section 16 of 16


hen it is all said and done, there is no way to restore or make restitution for the wrongs of the past. There have been countless thousands of victims of hate crimes, millions if you expand the scope of your awareness.

Some of the victims, like Matthew, had names, could be individually identified, and received posthumous attention from a momentarily sensitized world. Others of the victims were unearthed, years later, from crude clandestine mass graves.

Sometimes the victims were targeted individually, like Matthew, because they were gay, or black, or Muslim or Jewish. Many times, other millions were victims of wholesale genocide. Some times, they were targeted specifically because they were "innocent bystanders", a newer form of terrorism.

 

One of the hardest lessons of youth is to come to terms with the fact one cannot, acting as an individual, bring a stop to the injustice in the world by sheer force of will and persuasion. It is better to persist in doing what one individual can rationally do, than to capitulate and give up completely.

Like so many other good people who have been stirred by this tragedy, I did not know Matthew personally, but identified with his struggle and admired him for it. I have no idea what Matt's political or philosophical convictions may have been, but I have read repeatedly that he was a gentle person, kind and supportive.

I have a feeling he would have approved of much of what is written here.

I would argue elsewhere that it is proper to meet force with preventative retaliatory force, and I have in mind a specific legal strategy for accomplishing that, but, for Matt, it is too late for all that.

Matt was said to have been small in stature, but bold in kindness, and there was no police force or court of law to protect him from violence in that field in Laramie.

It is enough that we work to achieve the ideas we believe in, to cherish and nurture the best within mankind wherever we find it. Somehow, I think Matt would have agreed with that too.

I think there are few of us who did not see photos of Matthew Shephard, in the press, revealing a youth with the telltale expression of one who has already endured incredible trial and suffering. It is the expression of sadness one occasionally sees of another who is almost without hope of happiness in this lifetime. To see another photograph with almost a radiant smile is only to accentuate the contrast. Life as a gay person or other minority can be filled with every bit as much hope and love as with any other person.

There is another unsung tragedy in almost every gay persons' life which usually bears testimony only in counseling groups and very close friendships. That is the unseeing rejection by loved ones, unearned scorn and punishment by friends, and societal disapproval and sanctions which accompany the apparently sudden "coming out process" of a gay or lesbian youth.

Because of this, the high school and college years, which are supposed to be the most exciting social and intellectual years of the beginning of adulthood, instead contribute to depression, withdrawal, and an unusually high gay teen suicide rate.

I don't know the particulars of Matt's development years, and from every indication Judy and Dennis Shepard were supportive parents. I do recognize that haunted look when I see it, as I should, in the social corners and closets of the universe everywhere, on the streets, in counseling centers, and in the obituaries.

The social costs of that haunted look over the centuries have been unimaginably staggering.

I would want to say that I understand. I would want to say that we do know that look, yes, yes, of course it has happened, we have all heard about it, it was someone else we once knew or cared for, for surely we must have been one of the lucky ones:

There are times when one is compelled to express an astonishing regret for having enjoyed life so much, or at all. I remembered the bittersweet picture of a magnificent five-mile long undiscovered valley, a whole afternoon's journey laid out before my naive and trusting eyes. It was the only time in my life I perceived the future directly, clearly and distinctly, and I was not frightened.

There are no words, no ways, no things to take back or make it all right again. May Matthew Shepard rest in peace.

Perhaps Matt's death has helped some of us grasp the fact that what happened to Matt, as impermissible and unthinkable as that was, can happen to anyone from any walk of life. If we discover new strengths and goodnesses which enable us to enrich human life in ways we were incapable of before, then I would think this further evidence Matt left this world a more hopeful place than the world into which he was born.

 

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