“You Yourself Must Change It”

What would it mean to live
in a city whose people were changing
each other’s despair into hope?–
You yourself must change it.–
what would it feel like to know
your country was changing?–
You yourself must change it.–
Though your life felt arduous
new and unmapped and strange
what would it mean to stand on the first
page of the end of despair?
-from “Dreams Before Waking” by Adrienne Rich

Today’s NYT Magazine printed this as a wish for the people of Newtown as they deal with the aftermath of the tragedy there. It struck me particularly today, the day of Mike Chiapperini’s funeral. For those of you who aren’t local, Mike was a police officer and volunteer firefighter in Webster, the town where I worked for a decade before I started at HPL this past summer. Mike was on the town safety committee and taught our annual mandatory workplace violence classes. He was a funny guy with a sarcastic and dry sense of humor, and he was a dedicated public servant who cared about people. He would talk about watching out for “creepers” (a term I started using myself after hearing him use it), and in one memorable class, he labeled an area of the library the “creepy cubby” and suggested that we always check it out at night in pairs. We’d giggle sometimes when he said these things, and I remember him saying more than once, “Now listen. I don’t want to have to come here because one of you is hurt.”

He meant that.

Mike was one of the two firefighters murdered on Christmas Eve when they responded to a call for a house fire. The other firefighter was a 19-year-old boy I never met but who dedicated his life to public service at a startlingly young age.

It has been jarring watching this story unfold here, where it is happening, while watching the parallel coverage in the national media. What is reported and what is are two different things. The stories I see focus on what went wrong, on the shock and sadness of it all–and it is shocking and sad beyond reckoning. A week later, it’s not even a little less horrifying. But there is such hope, too, as the people of our region have been picking themselves up and doing something. They speak their support, and they’ve showed up for vigils, the wakes, and the funerals. They have started a fund for Mike’s children and the West Webster Fire Department. Various fundraising efforts are happening to help the other people who lost their homes in the fire that day, to help them rebuild.

Mike would have contributed to such efforts, were here among us to do so.

I’m sorry he’s not.

12 thoughts on ““You Yourself Must Change It”

  1. Thank you Adrienne. It has been an incredibly difficult week. Mike was just as you described: fun but serious. I’m not sure how our community will move forward but move we must.

  2. Jason, Thank you, and yes.

    Thank you, Little Willow.

    Tanita, “Though your life felt arduous/new and unmapped and strange” made me think of you and our transitions this year.

    Terri, My heart’s been with you all this week.

  3. Recommended reading by my friend Trish Wager (holistic life coach) for the New Year:

    Journey to the Heart by Melody Beattie. It’s a little jewel of thought provoking passages. Each day there is a passage to read, starting on January 1st.

    “Don’t let the lessons, the experiences of the past, dampen your enthusiasm for beginnings. Just because it’s been hard doesn’t mean it will always be that difficult. Don’t let the heartbreaks of the past cause you to become cynical, close you off to life’s magic and promise. Open yourself wide to all that the universe has to say.”

  4. I loved that Adrienne Rich quote, too, Adrienne. Because of your blog, I knew where Webster was when I heard about the awful tragedy. So, so sad.

    I am looking forward to the beginning of the new year tomorrow. I don’t know what it holds, but I know I’ll be reading!

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