Dear Friends, Yes, astonishingly, it has been six years since Morgan’s remains were discovered on Anchorage Farm in Albemarle County. Gil and I want to thank each of you who has helped us on this difficult journey. The unprecedented love, and support you have lavished on our family is truly humbling. Your kindness, compassion, and prayers have been imperative to our very survival. We are so very grateful. Much love and blessings to all. 241 Gil and Dan Harrington
No mo doe – or Mogo
I have observed with curiosity and horror-a
what results when deer meets car-a
she was hit at high speed
left on the road side to suffer and bleed
and in 2 weeks there’s hardly a trace
weather and scavengers help to erase
this dying place
only a few ribs and vertebrae
left for them to clear away
the doe was beauty personified
soft flanked, big eyed
effortless she cleared the fence
to meet her fate
on the car’s grate
tragic destiny – but accident
Morgan, I hate that your life was taken with intent
and your body also tossed away
to decompose and decay
your story Mogo
quite different from the doe
not accident with S.U.V.
but murder by S.O.B.
took you from me
how can it be?
What to wear
What do I care
So foolish, in a mess
Can’t figure out how to dress
I’m going to meet a killer
Don’t want to overdo
like I dressed up for the rendez-vous
with the guy who murdered you
want nothing to obscure our pain
so I’ll stick with neat and plain
know he’ll be sporting stripe and chain
I want to show strength and courage, too
How does that translate into a shoe?
flats will have to do
I want to look composed and calm
though my mind thrums alarm
and my very cells clamor for just dis
I’ll emit an unwavering incandescent message of loss and grief
versus murderer – worst kind of thief
It doesn’t matter what I wear
when I’m sitting there
I know this
I’ll be clothed in righteousness
and he’ll be unmasked and naked for the world to see
festering in infamy
and the meter’s running pal
time to pay up
judgment is coming and you will atone
for every scream, every moan
every snap of broken bone
We know now that we will survive, but still have to figure out how to actually live and flourish post you. The means is literally at hand. I got your gold signet ring back from the Virginia State Police recently.
We all have the same ring and choose to wear this family emblem frequently. I am finding myself changed by wearing your ring. My
visceral response to it has surprised me a bit. It/you elevates me
through out my day.
I see the flash of gold on my hand as I rinse out a tea cup and I pray “Please Morgan, help me see things more clearly.” I smile to realize that I now pray to you rather than for you, knowing you are beyond all pain and harm, – angelic now.
Reading in my spot on the couch I turn a page and feel the unaccustomed weight of your ring. I am reminded to give thanks for this day, for the sweet light pressure of Kirby’s doggy chin on my leg. Blessing.
Wearing your ring, the one you were wearing when you were beaten, and your heart stopped beating, is my sacred honor and duty. The beauty of it, the pain of it continues to open me and whisper its teaching. I promise to listen so carefully and to stop grasping worry and fear and constructing barriers to wisdom. Hoping that acceptance and understanding will arrive eventually, I hear, learn, and choose to let the negative slip aside and instead allow growth to have its way – untethered.
Always and always,
Sufferin Stew – A recipe for Survival
Take a large portion of tough meat (you!) cut it to the bone
One bunch rough organic stuff
Cover with an ocean of sorrow
Add one lump faith
Bring to a hard boil
Let simmer a long while, steeping in its own juices
Just a pinch of grace and everything softens and melds together
It’ll slide down real easy
It ain’t no roast, but it will sustain, nurture, bless
Please take your place, wait in line
Portions always plentiful and fine
No need to push or be loud
Lots of sufferin around to feed the crowd.
January 25, 2014
The development of spiritual insight requires a persistent diminishment and distillation of self. In our process of becoming, it is the challenges that most often promote growth. I really want to find a way of reaching the point of stretch and change through joy. Such a better alternative if I could only figure out how.
I realize that the point where you collapse and break is a powerful place where expectations are shattered and discarded and so all things become possible. If you reconfigure your very being and allow transformation to occur. The effort of the struggle “strengthens” us in a way.
Our family’s exceptional challenges require and demand exceptional responses. We soldier on a secure in knowing that we are always given the tools to succeed in every place we find ourselves. The trick is to recognize, accept, and use them.
Spirit becomes most evident when more life can’t be managed. In those sharp times, in that dark place, germinates a fragile surrender; and with acceptance, solace.
The Game Preserve
Morgan why couldn’t you have had another life
Find a lucky guy, be a simple wife
Maybe make a baby or two
That’s what I’d hoped for you
But life is a challenging game
Who knew you’d have to leave the game so early
You had a date with destiny on another field
That was your fate
A rendezvous with hate
When you were little, we’d laugh when you’d say
“I’m gonna be famous someday”
Honey you were right
On a rainy October night
After a violent brutal fight
You became front page news
This path to celebrity
Which cost your mortality
My Dearest Morgan,
You had it all, brains, beauty, loving family, and friends. Everything in your life was in order: you had found your passion and chosenacareer, made a home, learned to cook (scrambled eggs anyway), had a passport (you were ready to travel), vaccines (up to date). You were just bursting with potential and ready to unfurl in full glory; but Morgan, you expired before your driver’s license does in 2017.
The only thing you lacked was time, precious time. Such a short life; you were only 20 years old when he killed you. Your time ran out: such a damn shame! What a waste. What vile thing came to this bridge 4 years ago? It was a chilly day, misty and damp, when he slaughtered you and dumped your body like a “field dressed doe” onto the dirt at Anchorage Farm.
The bloodlust of a dangerous predator still bewilders me. I just can’t comprehend the desire to hurt and maim; but evil does exist; I know, and he murdered you.
Honey, we are getting tired, need a break. At times we long to tuck tail and slink away; but there’s still a killer out there whose appetite only increases. His jets are starting to hum and compulsions grow. Is it time? It is if he gets a chance, finds the weak one, seizes the opportunity. Charlottesville, please don’t let that happen. Don’t let him kill again. Be vigilant. Be aware. Know your neighbors. Participate in your community. Please Help Save The Next Girl.
Soapsuds and Wormholes
Trap doors that spring open and hurl you full on into the pain of loss are hidden cleverly; camouflaged so subtlety that you don’t recognize the danger until it’s too late to take evasive action. Protect yourself, head down, Brace, Brace, Brace, here it comes – again.
I couldn’t find my usual laundry detergent at the store last week. What to do? I am a creature of habit, reluctant to switch brands, but overflowing laundry bins prompted a change so I bought another product. Easy, Right? No problem, until I did a load of clothes today.
The new soap’s scent hung in the damp air and permeated the laundry. And it was the exact smell and steamy feel as my sister, Kena’s, cellar laundry room in Zurich. Dead now for 9 years, but that smell sucked me into a wormhole back to a past when we were both young mothers with mountains of laundry to wash together. A time when we cooked gallons of macaroni and cheese, and PB & Jelly (cut only on the diagonal), and pancakes with faces – a busy time. We worked hard and had much fun in the process. The clean soapy smell triggered such a strong memory that I could almost feel the texture and gesture of folding warm towels together in your home with kids underfoot. Nine years ago Kena, before you were whittled away into nothingness by savage gastric cancer; dead at 51; back when there were 4 cousins at play together.
Though bittersweet, I cherish this olfactory memory link to my dear sister Jackie. I would love to conjure Morgan in such a meaningful visceral way also. Too bad that Morgan, stolen from us at 20 years old, was too young to have done so many of life’s tasks , like choosing a brand of laundry soap.
July 24, 2013
Loss is a resolute and determined teacher. Like the pounding surf it can sculpt beautiful shapes; if you can tolerate the process, the destruction and reconfiguration. That is a choice, a difficult daily choice of surrender to what it is, let go of what was and if you are particularly clever at times, there is joy to discover in what is unfolding here and now.
Morgan, you taught us so much. I believe that showing us how to grow strong enough to deal with your death is an infinitely precious final lesson. Morgan your death gives us the opportunity to move into greater insight and greater love.
I get that, I really do and believe it.; though it ain’t always easy to see. Everyday has so many snares that try to pull me into negativity and self-pity. Walking Kirby, I see neighbors strapping grand babies into car seats and wonder why that joy was never meant for us.
Here is where faith comes to the rescue. A belief that the direction of the universe is towards good and wholeness – despite all appearances of destruction, the pieces are falling into place, not apart. You cannot impose your desire on these pieces, they don’t go or fit where you may want; but they slip into the best, most appropriate place of their own accord. Mogo, we miss you terribly, constantly and yet realize that you have made us grow. At the outer reaches of ability you can either fold or choose to grab hold desperately of possibility and so discover character and hope.
July 4, 2013
We are gathered here at the beach again – Dan’s 32nd trip with the same group to these shores. I joined in a bit later, you and Alex later still – first as unsteady toddlers, squealing in the surf and eating fistfuls of sand. I think you loved both the salt and the crunch of it.
As a 7 year old you adamantly dragged your own “surf board” float up the boardwalk and stairs to the ocean. Your skin slowly bronzing, a spray of tiny freckles on your nose, hair white blond from the sun blowing in the wind like an areola of light. The light was called to you – golden child.
Later you were awkward teens; uneasy in morphing bodies, changing roles. Only here the relentless winds and tides blew away pretense and helped you to find/ be yourself in this stark simple place. It was a wondrous and healing process to watch.
That last summer was the best of all – you were so gloriously alive and joy filled, radiantly beautiful. Happiness beaming from you, like a Kleig light. Dan in particular was blessed with the pleasure of spending beach time with an accomplished grown up daughter. You two “grown-ups” cavorted and splashed and played together like children in the waves. Thank you for these precious moments.
This is our fourth trip to Avon, NC since your murder. It’s getting better. We are getting better at feeling the loss, the pain and letting it pass, flow through us like a wave, feeling and not resisting the destructive power which allows us to remain standing in our high tide of grief.
We are figuring it out but it is slow going. Morgan do you remember the scads of pictures I always took – a mama paparazzi, anxious to record every family moment for posterity; I don’t take pictures at the beach anymore; I just can’t find the family.
“Bound by Gravity”
Sorry to be despondent, but this bleak gray month of February has nested in like a boulder, cold, hard, and immobile. I am struggling. Yearning for release from our challenging reality, but bound.
I am tied to the world by obligation: to you and your legacy, to solving your brutal murder, to holding up Dan and Alex through this obscene desecration. I am bound here by frantic canine scratching at the door, brown eyes at food bowl, bushels of dirty laundry cascading like yeasted dough from the hamper. These implied promises hold me fast. I am at core a doer, a worker. I cannot turn aside when duty calls.
It is tempting though. It would be so fine, so easy to let go, to float away. Is this the ultimate power of gravity/sorrow? It holds us here with tethers of love and obligation. Would that the strands might fray, separate, perhaps release, because the tie so often chafes.
We need some magic here Morgan. An arrest would mean a rest. Bring it on. Please?
Always, 241, Mama
Most days my perspective is good. I accept the fact of Morgan’s murder and find comfort in recalling the many positives we have wrestled from that hideous act.
The Morgan Harrington Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine Scholarship
OMNI School Building in Zambia
Help Save The Next Girl Foundation
Familial DNA testing in Virginia
Reviewing those accomplishments usually does the trick and stops my slide into self pity and sadness; but acceptance is hard to sustain. I also have a mental surrender ritual that can sometimes help. I relinquish it all, every part of Morgan I can remember:
Starting with the glorious/alien feeling of Morgan squirming in my belly as she quickened; the baby powder/soap/milky infant smell; toddler starfish fingers clasping fat crayons; school age anxt over mastering the big 2 wheeler bike – soon replaced by 16 year old jitters about driving; and moving away to college, so excited to be independent and proud of your first, and last, apartment.
Then I keep going. I relinquish all the Morgan we didn’t get to have. The flowering of Morgan into adulthood – spouse – children – career; I turn loose of it all, every smidge. And I am empty, but now calm, and that’s a good place; a nice compromise with grief. Next, I fill the empty with busy. Much to accomplish; I must get productive.
This strategy works 90% of the time, until my little determined house of cards is jostled by something, like an anniversary. Three years since your body was found. Then I wobble and go right back down the rabbit hole of anguish. Why Morgan? How could he? Did she suffer? How long? Was she scared, or did the mercy of oblivion come quickly? The nightmare chorus never ends.
I don’t want Morgan photos, or Morgan legacy. I want the REAL, breathing, flesh Morgan here – again. I know. It can never be.
Like Morgan’s childhood 2 wheeler bike ride, I wobble and fall and end up at the beginning, back in the hole of grief. With time it has gotten easier to get up and try again. Looking out at our bird feeder in today’s snow: scarlet flash of cardinal feeding; I see the bird, not spurt of blood. I am grateful.
Wobbly though it is, this is growth.
Our path through the holidays: closed Christmas boxes
We realized soon after Morgan’s murder that holidays would be tricky ground to navigate for our shrunken/triangulated family. Old traditions had to be jettisoned, too painful, and new traditions must be developed.
Our new Christmas traditions involve many firmly closed Christmas boxes. Some of those boxes are memory boxes that we force the lid on to prevent self-injury. Like: I won’t think about the elaborate Christmas rituals that Morgan and Alex invented as children. They not only put out cookies and milk for Santa, but also placed carrots on the front lawn for his reindeer. Dan didn’t mind standing in for Santa and munching the cookies, but honestly I know Dan didn’t love searching the yard with flash lights Christmas eve to locate and nibble the reindeer’s carrots. Nope, won’t open that box.
Some of our closed Christmas boxes are actual boxes – like the box of ornaments in the basement. Can’t bear to see all the kid crafted decorations; though one in particular keeps popping into my head. Probably in 2nd or 3rd grade, Morgan came home proudly presenting the ornament she had made in class. I t was actually sort of hideous. A flattened pop can sprayed with gold and given a shake of glitter as adornment. Every year thereafter I tried to position the darn thing on the very back of the tree to hide its garish awfulness. Inevitably Morgan would seek it out and place it front and center on the tree for all to admire. Definitely must keep the lid on the ornament box.
In fact we don’t even fill Christmas boxes with presents anymore. I use bags instead. See, I am a hasty/ sloppy present wrapper. Morgan took over that task long ago and loved to tie each bow precisely and decorate all the packages like works of art. I just cannot replay that scene. So now all gifts are placed in bags. Another shift in tradition that allows us to skate through this emotionally charged time of year.
I have to think that Morgan, our beautiful shiny out of the box girl, helps us somehow traverse these rough stretches. We are not unscathed by the holidays. Predictably we become a little raw around the edges. Yes, raw, diminished but still whole and moving forward. Raw, but still permeable to the joy of this season of giving. Raw, but so grateful for the time we had with Morgan our precious little girl now placed in yet another closed box.
September 18, 2012
Which seat do you choose? Among all the comfortable chairs in this house, which one is the right one to support me as I open and read the Medical Examiner’s autopsy report for our slain daughter, Morgan Dana Harrington?
It is a thick envelope. The kids always said a fat envelop was a good sign; typically meaning something positive, like an acceptance to college. Thick or pancake flat envelope makes no difference in this missive; it is all bad news. It is stupid of me to be so avoidant of this written document. I have seen the damage, felt the bones, smelled the rot. Still to experience the objectivity and scientific analysis inherent in the autopsy report is going to be so disturbing. She wasn’t a 20 year old white female, 5feet7 inches…… She was Morgan, our baby girl with shiny hair, flashing eyes and such sweet silky soft skin. How could he have ended all that? I will never understand the evil, the cruelty of this killer
As time passes, Morgan, I feel mounting urgency about other young women that may fall in this predator’s path. I feel his blood lust growing and am frantic in my determination to Help Save the Next Girl.
Morgan, your papa and I are tired but remain steadfast in our search for your killer. We work diligently also to change the culture of complacency and complicity that accepts violence against young women as status quo or incidental occurrences. That indifference must be shifted. I refuse to accept the false premise that these lives don’t matter. You surely did.
August 27, 2012
Morgan, my sweet girl, I am not loving the mall just now; see, its “back to school” time at the mall. Remember “back to school”, back before you were dead?
It is a time of new beginnings, and hope, and a passel of jitters thrown in besides. Back to school shopping for the perfect binder; reams of papers, fistfuls of sharpies and pens. You loved to put your binder together and make a plan to attack the new academic year. Remember the flurry of heavy telephone conferences to discuss and debate with all your friends “What to wear the first day? Is it ok to pack your lunch or does that look nerdy? Maybe it is better to buy from the cafeteria? Did you get the “good” math teacher? Where in heck are all the different classrooms?”
Lockers – that was a big stressor when you entered middle school. Could you manage to work the combination lock? We even went covertly to the school building a couple of days before class started (very nerdy) with WD-40 to grease up the lock. We practiced and practiced your combination until the lock sprang open in your palm effortlessly.
Morgan, you were always both anxious and thrilled to start classes again in the fall. You loved all the possibilities and promise of a new beginning that back to school implied. Tragically, all over for us now, no promise, no hope, no beginning, just your end. That’s why I have to stay away from the mall for a bit.
2 4 1
July 10, 2012
Pondering the Ocean
Fate has delivered us an immutable roadblock. I can sit here for the rest of my days and stew over why I cannot have the life I had anticipated, or I can detour and find a new way, even prosper by so doing. It is a choice; switch of perspective. You can feel like a “whack a mole game” or you can decide to feel like a blade that is being honed to strike for good.
Morgan, your death has caused me to strengthen my spiritual struts, to reaffirm my thoughts and cognition. This hideous murder has forced us to change. We attempt to use the loss and pain to break through and awaken. I am learning how to deal with this sad, messy, unsanitized life. Love it all. That is the difficult but necessary response.
Relinquish old expectations, secure in the belief that love always shows up. Pain can serve as a vehicle that allows for love’s transformation. I see the lesson in the sandy beach of the Outerbanks. The beautiful sand and undulating dunes are actually a compilation of massive destruction. So many individual shells pummeled and pounded until at some point they no longer resemble conch, clam or scallop but leave behind a singular identity and become beach. A mysterious process as redemption follows demolition. I accept the lesson; even in the face of the ultimate challenge of your hideous death, Morgan. Life, growth and love are coming around again.
June 27, 2012
Papa and I are with the crew at the beach. It is particularly hard on Dan to be here without you as his special wave jumping water buddy. This was always a magical time of bonding for you and Papa. Laughing and splashing in the surf; both gleeful and childlike in those shared salty, sandy moments. So fleeting that joy. The membrane to earlier times and to the magnitude of our loss is more permeable in this place. We feel the empty space more; even seek it out; like you search the arch of the mandible with your tongue probing vacant space for the missing tooth.
Morgan we miss you like crazy; always will, but we are trying so hard to create something positive and grow, even in our sorrow. The gash, the wound has begun to granulate but the protection of scar has not yet formed. We still feel pretty raw much of the time. Folks say, “I don’t know how you can survive this!” Well here it is, my insight on how to cope with catastrophic loss: “I’ll have my breakdown just as soon as I get this load of towels out of the dryer – repeat as necessary”.
Morgan, so we soldier on, holding fast to the belief; like you clung tightly to your float in this turbulent North Carolina ocean, that the sorrow and pain of loss is mitigated by the promise of rebirth and transformation. The inevitable and ever malignant death is actually the means which allows spirit to rise. We are open to transformation, knowing that love abides.
2 4 1
Scrap lumber, that’s what it really is, a pine board about 7 feet tall and 2 inches wide with a hole drilled in the top. Your grandfather made it. Actually he made two of them, one for each ofyou kids right after you were born – your special “grow sticks.” Poppy made the grow sticks so that the sprint of time couldn’t erase the dramatic changes that babies undergo to become adults. Rather than inscribe a door frame with ascending hatch marks to note yourincreasing height, you always had your grow stick hanging in the bedroom to record that progression. All three bedrooms: The first in Charlottesville that you shared with Alex when we brought you home from the hospital. Your second bedroom was here in Roanoke – a small room, but big enough for your crib and the room you insisted on because it was next to Allie. You took possession of your third and last bedroom, as a middleschooler when you moved across the hall to a more spacious room that would better accommodate sleepovers and loud music. Your grow stick was installed next to the closet and you kept growing and recording the miraculous transformations life brings.
It is infinitely precious for me to translate the scratchy marks you made on that board next to the closet. Naturally the top mark is Dan, tall papa, rock of our family. I remember each and every notation on the wood. How excited you were when you were “officially” taller than me – 3/01. You were 12. As a little girl you were amazed to see the mark that showed “ how big I was when I got borned.”7/24/89 you were 19 ½ inches long. The lowest marks near the ground are really hilarious, where you kept the pet record. I smile to see that our kitten Zeb was 7 inches tall on 9/92. I recall the difficulty your 3 year old self had taking that measurement; though it was not nearly as hard as making your parakeet Opal sit still long enough to be recorded on 4/99.
For the record Morgan, you have shrunk to a dimension of 10x10x4; the size of the cigar box where you now reside.
Memories permeate the marks you inscribed in the wood grain of your grow stick. Contemplating it is bittersweet but the sadness is tolerable because we had much fun with the silliness of the task. What is still excruciating beyond bearing is the flip side of the board. That’s where you planned to chart the growth of your own children, your anticipated family. Those beloveds who will never exist were also stolen from us. The unmarked and forever empty expanse of wood on the flip side is invisibly inscribed with pain, a virtual Rosetta Stone of loss.
In the midst of agony Morgan, your family chooses strength. We choose survival. We choose love. Wecontinue to choose, insist upon, and embrace growth.
Always, 241, Mama
The bad times are laced with anguish and pain, the good times filled with disbelief – still. It is two and a half years since you were murdered and it’s still hard to fathom. The wellspring of your great potential lost. Writing this Morgan, I find myself punching down hard on the computer keys, like a typewriter, as if stroke force will prevent your erasure from the world. How can you be over? How can we shoulder this burden for the rest of our days? But we must. Really, there is no other choice. We must relinquish control and old expectations – over, and over and over, and somehow face a new reality head on.
Our daily landscape is a minefield riddled with objects/thoughts/words that unleash memories which quickly plunge into emotions and grief. Photos displayed around the house that used to comfort now sometimes lash. I catch sight of your beautiful face and smile and quickly try to shake off the horrific mental hologram that seeks to superimpose images of your gap toothed skull. I look at a picture on the fridge and stop myself from the gruesome calendar math inherent in the image. I try not to calculate how many days you had left to live in each and every scene.
We have grown some of the muscles that surviving loss demands. We navigate the tough places and hold feelings in check. Just when I think I have successfully walled off the no longer possible life, I see Dan weeping over wedding dresses shown on TV. Not our path now. So much anticipated joy surrendered. On Easter, there will be no Peeps here. A ridiculous and silly thing to miss, I know, but it is another little whiff of fun we have had to dismiss. Morgan, you thought that Peeps were hilarious: the Easter equivalent of fruitcake, always present and yet never consumed. And so they were a funny inclusion in every Easter basket I ever assembled – another task that is no longer mine to do.
I am grateful that it is easier to hold these feelings in check than it was a year ago. Morgan, our life is not so sharp and fraught with pain. We are making it. Feels sort of like we have moved from walking on shards of glass to merely walking on eggshells. Still a tricky path to navigate and one I so much wish we didn’t have to walk. We miss you always and mourn the loss of joy.
The burgeoning of an early spring here in Roanoke made me recall this
essay you wrote in high school. I wanted to share some of your own words with those who follow the story of your abbreviated life. We miss you every day, perhaps even more so now, when the landscape is awakening and filled with life.
Reader’s Journal #3
11 September 2006
“My Philosophy of Life”
This weekend, my mom told me that my chores would involve outdoor work instead of the usual indoor vacuuming. I was not thrilled about this change from my typical routine and had a bad attitude when I first knelt down to begin gardening. Once my body finally adjusted to the heat and my hand movements developed a circular pattern to spread the soil, I grew comfortable in nature next to my mom. As I thumped the earth around the roots of the flowers, my mind began to wander. It was then that I realized how plants are very similar to people.
Just as people need certain things to survive, plants do as well. A young plant needs serious attention from a gardener until it grows strong enough to thrive on its own. A gardener must position the plant in an area where the sprout will receive just the right amount of sunlight; however, too much sun will cause the plant’s leaves to shrivel up and eventually it will die. Regular water is also a necessity required for plant survival but too much water will wash the roots right out of the ground and kill the plant. After the plant has been placed, and nurtured, the gardener has to step back and let nature run its course. The plant still requires some nurturing and care, but survival is up to the plant. Some seeds never sprout, some blooms shrivel up and die unexplainably, and some plants never seem to grow to the expected size and splendor. There is only so much tending a gardener can do and the rest is up to nature and the plant. A person must be carefully nurtured and have good values instilled in him when he is young and begins maturing. Childhood is a “make or break it” stage in development where the individual is very fragile; therefore, parents must raise their kids with the best intentions. Parents must introduce tools for success to their children at a young age, for example, stressing the value of a good education. If a parent is overly emphatic and insistent about school, though, a child might reject learning altogether. Informing kids about the hardships in life is also something that a parent must do; however, if the parent reveals too much about suffering, the child could become overwhelmed and fearful of the world. Protection from overexposure to danger is necessary to a certain extent to maintain innocence, but there is a fine line between being protective and smothering the individual one tries to protect. Parents lay a foundation for their children, but after a certain point, it is truly up to the child whether or not he wants to thrive. Some kids have many opportunities presented to them but never take advantage of them, some kids drop out of high school, and some kids fail to reach their full potential. There is only so much a parent can do and it is really up to each child to lift his head up and reach for the sun.
I watched my mom clip dead basil leaves and I felt even more confident that my newly discovered philosophy of life was correct. My mom taught me about life and raised me to uphold certain values, but now I’m a senior in high school and I’m starting to make decisions for myself and emerge as my own person. I will always remember what she taught me and keep that knowledge in mind as I make independent decisions. Now I can only hope that the flowers we planted will do the same – but even if they don’t, I still have experienced a growth of insight as well as greater closeness with my mom through this simple gardening project.
When they brought your body back to me
There were just bones to see.
Didn’t look like my baby – Morgan D.
No golden hair, no sparkly eyes
Broken ribs – ugly surprise.
Disposable girl they all said
Skirts too short
Lips’re too red
Askin for it they all said
But what you asked for, screamed for, was mercy and release
Know you got no mercy, pray you found some peace
It’s so hard to do
This life with no you
Saw your friend at a local place
Saw the message on her face
That she’s moved on and we should too
But baby I’m not over the death of you
Gotta shake it off, pity’s no use
We’ve a job to do, still a killer on the loose
It’s another anniversary – not the kind you celebrate
But the kind you sorta hate
Even Hallmark passes here, I’ve looked hard
There’s no “Happy we found your daughter’s body” card
Morgan, I recon a reconing is due
Morgan, he’ll pay for killing you
And have to atone
For every scream – every moan
For each and every fractured bone
My Dearest Morgan,
We have passed the threshold of another Christmas, our third! without you. I realize we have grown stronger from carrying the pain for so long, but it doesn’t get easier. Bad days are still fraught with anguish and good days less desperate though still flat, sad, and laced with disbelief. I know irrevocably, viscerally, that you are dead but somehow still question this reality. How can it be that you are over? Really?
Morgan, you had such a hard time separating. That first year at VT was so rough on you. We thought it was because you were such a homebody, happy to have the foundation of family. I worry now instead, if you knew in an instinctive way that separation would be the death of you. Should we have listened differently?
The gift of loving and relationship brings with it the vulnerability of loss. It is a risk, but regardless, it is worth us experiencing this pain to have had you as our daughter for 20 years. Morgan you brought us much joy in your short life. Astoundingly, even two years after your murder, your positive legacy continues to reverberate across the world – Africa, USA, Switzerland, and Nepal.
Tragedy can either strengthen or destroy. We choose strength. We embrace the transformation that is not beating us down but forging us into tools, honing us as blades. Weapons – that are relentless in our pursuit of justice for Morgan Dana Harrington. Tools – that will hammer and smash the culture of complacency that contributed to your death; determined to Help Save The Next Girl.
October 11, 2011
Morgan you were, and continue to be part of the fabric of our lives. Silly things keep cropping up, like butter. There was always Alex butter (real butter) and Morgan butter (margarine). Now Alex is our only living child and it grieves me a bit to know that this insider Mama knowledge of my family’s preference is now irrelevant. Morgan is dead; get over it Gil! I am seeking closure and instead, at time, feel foreclosure – that all our investments of love and nurturing have been forfeited, wasted.
The anguish we feel from Morgan’s exclusion from our lives is cutting. The foreverness of death looms larger now as shock dissipates. We must change this pain into productivity; that is the way to wholeness and healing. I understand the huge opportunities that develop at times of loss. Like a field, you must be plowed; broken open and raw to receive new seeds that can flourish. We are there. We must surrender and let hope germinate. We must let go of attachments to certainty and allow the full spectrum of possibilities to show up. The harvest of that surrender is our very survival.
There is important work yet to be done as a result of Morgan’s death; both to honor Morgan and to Save The Next Girl: there is a school in Zambia to finish, a culture of complacency to change, and a scholarship to fund in Roanoke, and legislation to support that aids law enforcement and protects young women.
I am at best a reluctant activist. I would rather be on my third cup of tea, reading with a dog in my lap, not working, fighting for justice. But this is what I have been given to do and like every task I put my mind to; I will work hard and do my very best.
Morgan, the world was brightened by your time here and will be blessed by your departure as well. I am convinced that divine order exists. Perhaps we will have an arrest in you case only after we have wrung every possible bit of goodness from this terrible wrong. We are trying baby.
We are all taking on a bit of water just now. I am not exactly sure why. I think it has something to do with the time of year. This is the season when you were killed. It is also the start of school and all the promise that youth entails is on display at every corner, waiting for the school bus – or tiptoeing into the campus bookstore agog at new horizons. Those visas are closed to us now as we try to live an inexplicable life.
I went to Charlottesville yesterday. Just couldn’t stop myself. I had to advise caution and awareness to a new crop of kids in that place where a predator still walks free. I know students feel invincible, Teflon coated, but while a murderer roams they are in actuality – fresh meat, fodder. It is too late to save you my darling, but having felt this anguish, I can’t quit on the next girl.
That’s what my trip was about: “Help Save the Next Girl”. I will not let your murder fade to beige and be swept aside – as suits so many. Towards that end, I went back to the bridge of your abduction. I weeded the boxwood plant and anointed its feet with iridescent glass jewels that catch the sunlight and spit it back like fire. I festooned the gray granite of your marker with multicolored prayer flags that gesture blessings into every breeze. It may be for naught, silly even, for I know they clear away these expressions soon after I leave, but my urge to adorn and make note of sacred ground is a mother’s right, in fact a mother’s duty. Mine to perform – and so I shall.
Still I find it hard to believe that you are over, finito. How can that be? Morgan, you were so big. You drew in all the light and banged it back amped up x 10! So full of energy and life and fun! Now husks of bone and ash. What reality is this? Not the one I choose – but the reciprocal reality is madness. Though I dabble there at times, it frightens and holds little comfort. Pity, or I might take up residence in that space of altered mind where I could conjure you at will.
Morgan, I miss you so.
We are excited. Alex is coming home for a few days and we are planning to take a short trip together. It is difficult to envision such a thing, a pleasure trip, but we must find new traditions for our triangulated family to survive, to one day thrive again. Contemplating these new travels returns my thoughts to ponderings I had of you at the beach a few weeks ago.
Morgan, there are flashes of you all around. I see your rounded toddler legs pumping up and down the beach, splashing in the surf like a little sandpiper. I see your towhead white in the sunlight like dandelion fluff. I see your skin bronzing and freckles dawning on your nose. I see you dragging surfboards and buckets full of treasured shells over the dunes. I remember the grit of sand ridden sheets, of course in our bed, introduced by baby feet at nap time snuggle. I love to think of you grown and sleek in the water jumping waves for hours with Dad and laughing all the while. I see glimpses of you in other young girls, Kate, Eva, Iris. I think of you whenever a gesture or turn of phrase reveals youth and promise. These little daily bursts, trigger my memory cascade.
Morgan, don’t get me wrong, this process is NOT sad. I actually relish these memories and revisiting our time together. I am so grateful for what we did share. A lifetime telescoped into 20 short years. Was it your destiny Morgan, morgen? My morning girl, to leave here in the morning of your life? Perhaps.
We are all in the process of becoming; some of us change more profoundly or more quickly than others. We can only hope to transform into better, more useful stuff. That’s the goal. I understand that sometimes this metamorphosis is thrust, indeed forced on us, not chosen. The abrupt onset of transformation makes it harder to discern the innate positive aspects of change. That acceptance follows at a slower pace.
I remember several years ago pacing the beach, desperate to find one perfect shell to take to the sickbed of my beloved sister, dying at 50 years old. There were NONE. On this barrier island pummeled by tides, the shells are all fragments and bits. I wanted perfect, found none, and was forced to see a different option. We gathered broken shells, strung them together and presented Jackie with a mermaid’s necklace instead. You have to adapt to circumstances – as difficult as that seems.
Those broken shells are beaten and pounded into bits and become so tiny – grains of sand, which coalesce and become the beach we walk upon. That is what we must do. Take the broken pieces, the shards, the grains and build an island. This synthesis is the key to survival and the very heart of love.
We can do it, if you help Morgan.
Stuck at the big 20 – A Birthday Poem to Mogo
It’s another birthday and it ain’t too happy
in fact it feels kinda crappy
see, you’ll always be
They tell me you’ll be forever young
and I just have to bite my tongue
coz from what I can see
forever young ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Morgan, you were such a beauty
but now you’re no way cutie.
I hate to be the one to tell
Honey, you look like hell.
In two years you’ve changed a lot.
There was that awkward stage of bones and rot
and now frankly, don’t mean to hurt
though forever young – you look old as dirt.
Oh yeah, how dumb,
that’s exactly what you have become.
Morgan, you’re 20 and holding, – your destiny.
Wish instead you were holding me.
My Dear Morgan,
We have spent several days at the beach. Initially, the solitude and the slower tempo are difficult for us. It takes a few more days to turn down the staccato cadence of our lives and follow, instead, the measured rhythm of the ocean. These natural rhythms are healing and calming, but hard to discern when you move so far away from source. It is vital for health to find a slower pace. Many treatment modalities are based on allowing intrinsic patterning to reestablish, like defibrillation for cardiac muscle – or meditation for the spirit. Sometimes, we just have to turn off and reboot to factory settings to function optimally.
That is what we do for ourselves here at the ocean. We de-frag the program of our lives by reintroducing the simplicity, strength and beauty of nature into our existence. Funny that it is so hard to give it over to this process. We cling to the distractions and business of our lives like the children playing in the surf cling to inner tubes, thinking that will save them from the force of the tide. It is wrong thinking though. Inner tubes and water wings do help you float in calm water – for a while. Ultimately, what you need to do to survive in water is learn to SWIM. Be elegant and strong – fishlike in the waves. Morgan, you were like this in the sea. Boldly diving into the pounding waves, your hair silvered like an otter’s pelt and your movements as sure and sleek.
Living requires courage; do not just bob along on the surface, near the shore, afraid. Most of us live below our spiritual capacity. Dad and I have been pushed into deep waters and choose to be brave and to swim; knowing that we are here for a purpose and choose to show up and live at the highest level. This is what I learn from you Morgan – and from the wisdom in these crashing waves.
My Dear Morgan,
Goodness, things have to lighten up soon. I am about at my limits of strength and ability to process information. I am just back from a quick trip to NYC to shore up Alex. It feels like I have been in constant motion since returning from Africa – to NYC twice, to D.C., to Charlottesville, to North Carolina…. spinning like a top at times. I have been traveling so much that I’m getting disoriented when I open the fridge and think “but I know I just bought milk. Where is it? Oh, that was another fridge.” Much of my busyness is to stop the despair that Dan and Alex slide into during my two weeks away in Africa. We have all become like delicate plants that wither quickly when nurturing and tending is withdrawn.
So I am on the circuit to do my Mama nurturing, leaving filled refrigerators, clean laundry, and order in my wake. That is a particularly hard task to do in NYC where I have to cart the fixings of every meal through the streets and up three flights of stairs to Alex’s apartment. I found myself considering meals dependent on their weight. Somehow, I couldn’t get Alex to buy into a dinner of rice cakes, popcorn and marshmallows. Pity, it would have been so easy – and light! It is funny to figure out what value you add on. I see that mine is to provide sanctuary to those I love, easing things up a bit.
This is a nice gig to have and pretty intuitive for me. I know how to make the daily grind recede and the sense of home emerge. When Dan and Alex fall in the door, I can be there to catch them with the sustenance of food and music and love all around. Then, they are able to take that nexus of calm and use it as a foundation to take on the world – the next day. With my caring, I chip away some of the anguish from your death and the incessant demands of work.
The habit of joy is so easily forgotten and most difficult to recapture. We have definitely lost our way on this – we have got the work side of the equation down solidly, but the pleasure/reward part is missing since your murder, Morgan. I believe that the way out is to add the grace notes, wherever possible and to guard the space where contentment might grow. Exuding joy into your life is like the letting down of milk; it cannot be forced, but creating an environment of serenity allows the nurture to flow. We need to pay attention to this process and help it along. Otherwise, I fear we are at risk of essentially becoming collateral victims of Morgan’s killer, alive, but without a life. No way, no how, will I let him inflict further damage to us; we will work it out. I happened on a phrase that resonated and that I want to create for our triangulated family: “post traumatic growth”. It IS possible – it even has a name! Morgan help us conjure this reality.
My Dearest Mogo,
I have a streaming of thoughts to you constantly, incessantly. Those thoughts and feelings do not always make it to paper for many reasons. Some of it I know is reluctance to probe the painful places. I think, maybe if I let the feelings alone, pain will dissipate of its own
accord. Instead, I find that the emotions fester. I know it is air and light that retards infection and decay – so I will start.
It has been a hard stretch all around. My trip to Africa was both transformative and instructive as it always is, but my absence was particularly difficult for both Dan and Alex this time. Our OMNI team of 15 saw 3077 patients in seven clinics in Zambia. We worked hard and did much good. Our attempt to address the inequities of destiny is gratifying and frustrating as well. I am proud of the many we did help, but heartsick at the throngs we were unable to serve. We will try to do more, be better, smarter, stronger, and more effective – next trip.
The Morgan Harrington Educational Wing is coming along. In the span of a single year, the site has gone from a grassy field to a building, a big one! With walls and a roof! Some interior work remains, but it is getting close to being completed. So very exciting to watch it grow.
Growth/synthesis/forward motion is imperative to surviving our grief with any kind of wholeness. It is hard to achieve growth and even hard to recognize it when it occurs. I had some insight gardening after my return from Zambia. I was deadheading the spent overblown blossoms of my favorite Peonies and feeling a little sad that I had been absent for
the fullness of their flowering. This brought tears when paralleled with the realization I also will miss the full flowering of you, my beloved child.
It is incomprehensible that these plants, my peonies, will be back next year – as magnificent and fragrant as ever. I will have another chance to revel in their beauty. You however, will not sprout next year and give us another chance to witness and to love. The Morgan form of you is
finished. Over. But here is the very cornerstone of faith to me: the unwavering conviction that the direction of nature/God/the universe is towards growth and good. That core belief makes me receptive to the vestiges of you Morgan that continues to show up. I get that you are over as a person, but as a presence, I am searching for you everywhere and because my eyes are open, I find you.
Morgan you were murdered so young, just 20 years on the planet, but your life, your impact, your goodness continues to reverberate in the world. Our beautiful incandescent girl continues somehow to shine, against all odds, even death. You are part of educating children and physicians, your art are on display, you are changing laws and mores, shattering complacency and building community.
Morgan, you STILL matter.
April 25, 2011
I am packed and traveling to Zambia today. Parting is harder since your death but I am thrilled to go and serve in a direct and gratifying way. Such service really is the savings of us; giving, helps us to keep moving forward. We are at a funny place emotionally; we know we can survive such a huge blow but now we need to decide if we want to or if there is anyway we cannot just survive, but flourish anew.
Looking outside today, the thoughts of flourishing and renewal are prominent. Leaving home is difficult when the grass is so green and, lush and the ground is carpeted with petals and the promise tight peony fists ready to burst open To travel at such a time is a sacrifice; one of many made to accomplish the great good we do in Zambia.
I see the seasons change in our neighborhood; the kids are taller at the bus stop. The rounded earnest baby faces are now spare and self-aware. Girls, I use to see jumping rope and selling lemonade, now have beaux cruising the street – in cars! It is fun to watch; but sometimes it seems like all the world is moving and transforming except for us. Our calendar stopped on October 17, 2009. We are finding a way; but why does it have to be so very, very steep?
Miss you, every day!
P.S. I am hoping so hard that you actually have a school building with walls and maybe a roof.
I have just come back from visiting A. J. in New York to shore him up a bit. Since you were killed, Dan and I have a lower threshold for traveling to see him. We all crave the connection of family more now than ever. Alex is doing really well though, having just remarkable success at work. I like to think that you are helping push that stone uphill from the other side. In many ways the impact of your death is hardest on Alex; he will be without you the longest and is destined to be the last man standing in our nuclear family. It is so hard to be the last one holding all the inside jokes. Allie grieves deeply and constantly, as we all do. When I was with Alex in New York, I saw many sweet little things, like watching him go out of his way on the way home to walk by a wall with prayer flags flying – so he could better conjure you.
My coming home to Roanoke was really rough; re-entry this time was brutal. I realize anew that I am returning to pick up the reigns of a life I never anticipated and flat out don’t like; a life that you are absent from. While away, I can compartmentalize or even confabulate a bit and look away from the fact of your murder. But Morgan, once home, the screaming vacuum of your empty bedroom makes that impossible. The foreverness of your death is more apparent now; imagining the years devoid of you, stacking one upon the other is just overwhelming. How can it be?
How can we manage to survive this blow? We have, so far, thanks to the love of so many; it might be that is the answer. Community and love will carry us when we are unable. NYC was difficult for me to process in part because of the absence of my community. No one knows us there, or the story of your death, or our pain; an anonymity that felt cold and was hard to bear. As soon as I landed in Roanoke, a TSA worker came up and hugged me and whispered “stay strong”. That recognition brings its own cascade of emotion and also reinforces the knowing that I belong here. Roanoke is not a perfect place, but a beautiful community to nurture and raise my 2 beloved children in and prepare them to go off into the world – such as it is. I am so grateful for the precious fleeting time we had together here.
We are trying so very hard to soften around this sharp place. Let it be a needle joining the scraps of our life into a new quilt, not the scalpel that eviscerates.
So much love my sweetie,
We were there, your Papa and me. We walked where you were thrown at Anchorage Farm. I needed to see that place just one time, to feel with my hands the earth where the physical stuff of you seeped back into the ground, to see the plants growing on that spot that might be infused with a carbon atom or two derived from your flesh. I imagine golden hairs from your head woven into nests in that field and the nearby trees; beautifying and strengthening those homes, as you did ours.
It gives me comfort to think of those elemental parts of you, Morgan, moving forward, combining in new ways, transforming and nourishing new life in that sacred ground on Anchorage Farm.
I am grateful to the land for cradling you; holding you gently as nature dissolved away your tissues and reclaimed the precious molecules of your flesh that men had destroyed and discarded.
I am grateful that parts of you were accepted and used by other living things. That idea does not erase images of fractured bones; but it does soften the reality somehow.
I am most grateful Morgan, that the land ultimately returned your body to us so that we could participate in the letting go and through that process attempt to create new growth of our own.
2 4 1
January 12, 2011
It is very slow finding your way through a minefield like the holidays. We did so well! We had some genuine moments of joy, even though there were also many crying times. There is a lot of pain in discarding family traditions that are fractured for us without Morgan taking her part in them.
Like: Morgan was always the best at deciphering the treasure hunt clues for the “biggest” gift. We won’t / can’t play that game anymore.
Like: Morgan loved those chocolate crinkle cookies that you refrigerate and you roll in powdered sugar. I would only make them at Christmas time. Morgan had a sixth sense of exactly when, and inevitably find the refrigerated dough and would eat the majority before we could get the cookies baked. We won’t / can’t make that recipe any more.
Like: Morgan had what appeared to be a giant green metallic scrunchie with bells all over it. She would force our dog, Kirby, to wear his “jingle bell necklace” at Christmas. Kirby is sort of schizoid and afraid of his own shadow, so you can imagine how funny his response to this Christmas dress up attire was. Morgan thought it was a riot. We won’t/ can’t do that anymore. (Kirby is profoundly grateful for the reprieve; but I will miss the silliness)
Like: Morgan was notorious for taking one little nibble from most of the chocolates in a box, and then putting them back in her quest for her favorite caramels. Many repetitions of “if you bite it, you eat it” made her change her ways. Instead, to get around the no bite rule, she started poking her finger in the bottom of each one instead! We won’t / can’t have chocolates as sweet ever again.
These memories of Morgan are difficult to contemplate. I tend to neutralize the bitterness of such thoughts here. Somehow, writing about feelings that are painful is like removing the splinter or shard of glass from a wound before it festers. As with those excision, writing about Morgan and our grief is perhaps painful, but ultimately promotes healing and growth.
There are not enough words, or paper, or keystrokes to help us “get over” this loss; however, I do see a way through by sharing my feelings to dilute the anguish so that we are able to “get beyond” this tragedy.
Thank each of you for caring enough to carry us as we move through this rough landscape of life with out Morgan Dana Harrington.
2 4 1
Our triangulated family
doesn’t have a Christmas tree
It was too hard you see
to contemplate what used to be
all the shattered memory
couldn’t stand the sharp torment
of baby crafted ornaments
But our home’s not scroogeish or bare
There’s still Christmas in the air
with candles and lights and flowers too
sometimes we cry
but we all try
strive to create a tradition that’s new
knowing Morgan, that it’s true
that your family honors you
by living fully, and so we do
This Christmas season has been especially sharp for me. I couldn’t figure out exactly why. It wasn’t just the feeling that we are so outside the celebratory jolly-ness of the holidays. That exclusion is a bit sad, but not painful. It finally dawned on me yesterday; it’s the cold, the pervasive bitter cold. Last year Morgan’s body had not been found by this time. We desperately clung to the fantasy that Morgan was alive somewhere and each cold night or snowfall was a torture as we imagined Morgan exposed to the elements and suffering. She was indeed exposed to the elements, but her suffering was long past. I am so very grateful to have that knowledge.
There is almost a PTSD quality to our feelings right now. We’re cycling fast. Initially, shock and disbelief are like insulation and protect you from feeling too much. As those feelings have dissipated we’ve been hit full on with much emotion over Morgan’s death this winter. The extremely low temperatures and strong winds also leave me breathless with eyes and nose streaming every time I dash outside. The sensation of secretions pouring down my face has me constantly feeling like I am recovering from a crying jag and it hurts like before. It seems that the tissues of my eyes, the skin of my cheeks don’t differentiate between wind driven tears and tears of heartbreak. Both leave me spent.
People want us to get over it. Hell, we want to get over it. But we are different people now, irrevocably changed by the murder of our daughter. The constellations of friendships are reforming based upon other’s comfort level with our discomfort. That’s OK. I’ve heard “get better or be bitter” I don’t think we are bitter, but know we are not better – at least not yet. We are working hard and I am immensely proud that we have survived the first year of our separation from Morgan. It may be that as those years stack up, the loss won’t feel as sharp, though I doubt it.
2 4 1
As big as the to-do list is makes it easier to go and bury yourself there than face the immensity of Morgan’s murder. We have worked phenomenally hard for this entire first year to find JUSTICE FOR MORGAN and at the same time to distract ourselves from the wasteland of loss and sadness that constantly threatens to overwhelm.
I think it is time for us to gear down our busyness and let the grief do its work; to shape us and open us through suffering. These are natural rhythms, which must be allowed to express; to resist is futile and tiring. A year of holding back the tide has proven that.
I do believe that the intrinsic direction of life is towards wholeness and healing; you can’t get lost or stuck in the broken places. Faith is the certainty that if you hold on long enough you can participate in renewal. You can choose to grow and become more because of your loss and reject its destructive potential. I saw this done elegantly by Susan J. on the bridge for Morgan’s memorial dedication in Charlottesville on October 17, 2010.
Susan had avoided Charlottesville entirely since her beloved husband died there some years ago; the pain was too great. But Susan had been forged into a new stuff by grief; she leaned into her pain and found strength to stand and offer her compassion to lessen our hurt. I saw her standing there holding a big old sign “JUSTICE FOR MORGAN” with courage and love just pouring out of her.
I am learning from master teachers all around, this is the way.
We have lived in this home for almost 20 years. Morgan came to this house as a babe in arms and learned how to walk here with her soft baby feet, tip toeing around.
In the considerable span of our occupation we have had only a few episodes of bird interaction. I think I can remember two or three times a small sparrow got through the door to our screened deck and had to be redirected back to the doorway and freedom. That is really about it for the bird contact here. I do put out seed for the pleasure of watching the birds eat and realize, as I do, the decadence of the ritual as human beings in Zambia would be most pleased to have the sustenance of this throw away food.
That has been the extent of my interaction with birds here; I feed, I watch with pleasure as they eat, (in truth the squirrels mostly eat but they are beautiful and worth watching also). About two months ago, it started happening – bird strikes, frequent and relentless! Mourning doves slamming into the windows of the house; pressed on the glass over my kitchen sink is the imprint of a cushioned downey bird’s breast and outstretched wings. – an otherworldly Rorschach of desperation.
At first I felt uneasy that it happened so much; birds pelting the house with their bodies. I would buff off the eerie smudges their impact left from every window. I never find any bodies under the window point of contact but our house is festooned by the marks. Our living room window has the 2 4 1 dots on it in reflective discs; five bird strikes prints circle the 2 4 1 emblem.
This phenomenon was disturbing to me until a wise friend explained, “of course it is happening and no, it is not Morgan at the window crashing into the glass seeking re-entry, but it is a type of Morgan energy still present and reactive. You cannot stop yourself from the heart cry of searching and pleading you put out as Morgan’s parents any more than the birds can stop themselves from responding. The visceral gut level screeching summons you emanate must be answered by the universe in some way.”
I see bird strikes. I understand and am grateful but wish instead that the very rocks and tress would rise up and move to spit out the abomination, poison, of a monster who wrung the life from our golden bird, Morgan Dana Harrington
2 4 1
A psychic 2×4 lurks around the house, waiting to catch you unaware so it can deliver such a smack. It caught me square and leveled me last night. I was scrabbling in an unaccustomed cabinet for a little used pan and I couldn’t get the door open. Without even thinking, on automatic, my hands knew to pull only a half inch and insert index finger to depress the plastic spring mechanism of the baby lock. We tried to keep Morgan so safe from harm, hot burners, sharp knives, fast cars, influenza, cavities. The mantra was always protect, protect, protect. How could we ever have imagined we needed to protect her from murder? Unbelievable to me still. Ridiculous that a silly little plastic baby cabinet lock has lasted longer than the baby it was installed to protect – our beloved and grievously mourned baby girl, Morgan Dana Harrington.
Grief is not an all or nothing process; like we are ok or we are in despair. There is a lot of wiggle room, not frank polarity which would be so much simpler. There are moments we all do well and there are times we fake it like crazy and it is sort of convinces. The problem is that when you have to do that, fake it, to make our pain tolerable/acceptable to others and self – it is just exhausting.
I am tired of growing, and trying, and following the rough path. I want it smooth and easy for a bit; we are due. I am just confounded that this is ours to walk – so damn hard. Then I remember the journey our daughter took. Morgan’s path ended with her shattered body strewn in a field and I am shamed by my weakness and my fatigue and I find motivation to soldier on for a little more. We must find some answers, some justice before we can put this down.
2 4 1
Coming back from our trip to NYC to visit Alex and taking hold of my own home and settling in again I keep thinking: wouldn’t it be great if our lives were more like laundry. Such a wonderful process; the stretched out, sweat stained, frankly odorous stuff of living is miraculously reconstituted. A do-over! With reasonably minor effort all the dirty/unkempt/tangled/rough items we contact are cleansed and deodorized and folded back into their original configuration; a sweet smelling rescue.
Life in general and our lives in particular don’t usually work out this way. I wish we were laundry with a fragrant transfiguration looming. Somehow our reality cannot be folded into nice straight little piles any longer, even with HUGE effort and work. It just ain’t happening. After almost 1 year of struggling to find justice for Morgan Harrington’s murder, we are left with bloodstained clothing on our laps. We wish so much that life indeed really was like the miracle of laundry.
2 4 1
P.S. bloodstains never come out
You can’t please all of the people all of the time. Dan and I are grateful to have a permanent stone memorial to Morgan on the bridge. We have worked very hard to ensure that the tragedy of murder not negate Morgan’s impact and value to the world. We believe that by creating legacy Morgan would still be a catalyst for good in the world, that the accomplishments of her short life would be acknowledged, and that Morgan would be remembered. From the beginning we have been determined that the evil that killed Morgan would not erase her. Yes, this memorial is a good thing. It’s hard to erase something written in stone.
Our struggle with processing Morgan’s death is complicated by a duality of purpose. A murder creates this dichotomy. On one hand, we must submit and learn to accept the fact that Morgan is no more; her life is over. We must relinquish our hopes and dreams – surrender. At the same very time we must fight, stir ourselves to sound the alarm and amp up attention, concern and action because a killer is still on the loose and will most likely harm or kill again.
It is grueling and exhausting to struggle through the sludge and weight of our sadness and then try to overcome the established status quo that tries to sooth and minimize the vicious act that took Morgan’s life and poses continued danger.
There is an entrenched culture of violence and victimization against women and children in this country. It has been ignored and allowed for some time. The very language used to describe assault and abduction seeks to minimize the inherent savagery of the acts committed. In my verbiage, Morgan was not “missing” – she was snatched. Things did not get “out of hand” – Morgan was assaulted and raped. Morgan did not “pass away” – she was murdered and slaughtered.
Soothing tones and soft language are appropriate when the evil monster is make-believe in a child’s bedtime story; not when he walks in your town.
I am reminded here on the cusp of the 9/11 anniversary, that the buildings’ occupants were soothed and directed back to their offices, back to business as usual., back to their deaths.
Be alert! You cannot queue up like placid sheep when evil is loose in the land.
2 4 1
We met with the Virginia State Police today. In the vast wasteland of our loss and grief we look to them for answers. We have become increasingly angry with the lack of progress in the investigation of Morgan’s murder.
I work myself into a tizzy the night before these scheduled meetings with LE; planning the knuckle wrapping I will deliver all around. But when they walk into the house and I look into their eyes I can see their fatigue and frustration. It penetrates me to clearly see Ed and Dino bracing themselves to receive an angry diatribe from me. These are good men, working diligently to the fullest of their abilities, to find resolution to the horrific murder of Morgan.
I realize that the legitimate target of the consuming raging inferno of our anger about Morgan’s death is the person(s) that abducted her, raped her, butchered her, and abandoned her as refuse in a hay field.
Anything that distracts us from focusing squarely on that evil crime is wasted energy. So I am learning patience and surrender – hard lessons.
2 4 1
We have to find a relationship with Morgan that transcends the inconvenient fact of her death. I am not sure how to do that yet.
Healing demands inclusion of memories and hopefully integrating them into a new reality/life. Trying to accomplish this and winnowing through our memory cascade of life with Morgan so quickly derails into wallowing in grief and loss. We must somehow learn to mute that pain circuit so we can build on the foundation of love and remembrances we have and move our triangulated family forward.
I realize that we honor Morgan most completely when we live in a full and gracious way. I just can’t get on the happy track though; we are working at it but it is almost as if we feel that being happy would signify that we had not loved Morgan enough.
The suddenness of violent death is disorienting. It makes you go a little crazy; sometimes we act in a really counterintuitive way. This weekend is a perfect example. Moths are drawn to the flame; we are not Luna moths but lunatic moths, perversely drawn to where Morgan’s flame was snuffed out, mesmerized by the blackness of shadows as we quest for justice. A holiday weekend, we could have gone anywhere, but we had to open the wound again and found ourselves drawn, compelled to the Copeley Bridge in Charlottesville. There we flutter around the void of your absence, Morgan, and wish so hard we could escape the call to darkness and be pulled instead by vestiges of light. Shiny girl show us a way.
2 4 1
We are really smack up against a decision point now. We know we can survive the devastating loss of Morgan; we have done so for 10+ months. The question now is we must decide if we even want to. Do we choose to LIVE again? Not just to eke out an existence but to actually embrace life? It’s hard; part of us is still numb and asleep to the rhythms and energy of a normal life. We walk a stumbling gait, with one foot in the world of the living and the other firmly planted in the land of the dead. Eventually, soon, we will have to choose and commit to one or the other.
Our friends and family cajole, and beckon, and even bully us to return to a more normal way of living. Haven’t we suffered enough yet? The pain quota has been met. Is it time to be happy? No. There’ is still imbalance in the equation. We cannot be breathing and have suffered as much as Morgan did. How do you wall off or neutralize the too vivid imaginings of her death throes? How do you stop superimposing the hologram of Morgan’s skull on every young face you see?
This is wrong. Morgan should be at VT, settling into her apartment for her senior year, stocking the fridge and calling Dan for money and help reconciling her check book, or maybe in line at the VT bookstore waiting to buy yet another Hokie hoodie. But she is “chapwa”, finished, no more, over. We feel finished too. You know there’s not even a word for our role. It is that aberrant, that abhorrent. Children whose parents die are called orphans. Parents whose children die have no name. They are called – nothing.
That’s what we feel. That’s what we are, nothing. Trying so hard to find a way out of this wasteland and be called survivors.
I am enraged and amazed by the tolerance for violence and acceptance of crimes against the weaker members of our society, women and children in America. Is it really OK? Are we still just expendable goods?
Beware! I believe the numerous injured and murdered women and children are the coal mine canaries of our times; delicate creatures whose deaths indicate a lethal toxic presence in our midst. They are a barometer of evil. Take note, hear the alarm and address the underlying problem of pervasive violence. Don’t just step over the corpse of the next lifeless golden creature and say “funny another dead bird.”
If you keep doing that, ignoring sentinel events, sooner of later the lethal emanations of violence will have fingers wrapped around your throat choking your breath away - all because you didn’t listen, turned aside, couldn’t be bothered, ignored the signals because it couldn’t happen to you. The fluttering wings of coal mine canaries in their death rigors have become deafening. Can’t you hear the clamor? Please listen, take heed, there is poison here. Find another path or risk your very lives.
Mogo – 241
Is the loss of life (and lesser valued female life at that) an acceptable, statistically insignificant loss?
Our veneer of civilization is so glossy and beguiling, anything that doesn’t comply or feel compatible with it we ignore because we don’t want to factor it in and we don’t like to dwell on unpleasantness. In “less civilized societies” if a cobra bites or a wild dog snatches a child or a human predator strikes, the village rises up en-mass and beats the brush and bushes and searches vigorously, diligently to find and eradicate the evil that poses danger to the integrity of the community.
Here we look aside, wait for the grieving family to compose themselves, make nice and show decorum, because it makes us uneasy in our thin skinned civility to contemplate predators in our midst. The price of this strategy, of allowing acceptable levels of human loss, is that the numbers will continue to increase. Will your wife/mother/daughter/ husband/sister/niece/son have to be part of that growing number before YOU rise up and say NO MORE!!! Primitive people with little food take up sticks and demand justice. We more civilized folks settle back in our chairs and say “too bad, pretty girl – Next” and hit the remote button.
2 4 1
Feeling the lash today
of those who tell us “go away”,
Seems our story’s getting sort of stale
time to hear another tale.
They enjoyed a vicarious thriller,
chatting about your vicious killer,
but now its old hat
so enough of that.
What I thought they came to see
was how to act with dignity
when life hits its fiercest blow,
but they want a trumped up reality show
with plots and yelling
drama most compelling.
Don’t they get that this is our life, that we live every day.
Wish I could make it go away.
Morgan you’re just as dead as you were before
pity it doesn’t interest any more
Sorry the story’s lost its cachet, but its a story we must tell
to put a killer in a cell.
So if you really want to give advise
and make snarky comments that aren’t nice
Fine, and welcome to the “game” its great.
Though the admission is pricey – its somebody’s fate.
Is it your son or your daughter you’ll throw on the plate?
There is a sweet agony of holding secrets/special knowledge that doesn’t matter any more: like how Morgan liked her tea and how to make the perfect soft boiled eggs she loved.; just where to scratch the nape of her neck while combing out tangles; which were her favorite jeans?, and how translucent her baby eyelids were as she nursed.
All these intimacies were woven into the fine strong cloth of our lives: but now is nothing but a snarl of thread, devoid of meaning, bits of nothing. We must pick up that tangle, unravel the knots, and weave a new cloth. I know it can be done; but it is slow and tedious work.
It is difficult to take up such a task when we feel so slowed and hindered by sadness. We miss you, Morgan. Help us find the strength to somehow encapsulate this pain and find a new way, a new life. We are moving on, not without you, but carrying you inside rather than walking beside you.
2 4 1
Early on we chose to share our story, share our pain. This was therapeutic for us in some ways; like the guy who will lift up his shirt (with little encouragement) to show his puckered surgical scar. The retelling helps integrate this massive body insult into his reality. We have told the story of Morgan’s murder at the drop of a hat for some of the same reasons. In the recitation we hear ourselves and begin to accept the unfathomable – Morgan was brutally murdered.
The intentionality of it bothers me so. How/why could anyone hurt her? On purpose? If someone had run over her, I would be trying to give forgiveness for a terrible accident. I know Morgan was killed deliberately. I am not in a place of withholding forgiveness. I haven’t gotten that far. My mind still cannot accept, cannot conceive of a reality where someone could actually kill.
What an abomination.
Suffering. There’s plenty of it to go around though it is largely ignored and perhaps undervalued. I believe that suffering provides opportunity for strengthening and transformation. As humans we all will have moments of exquisite suffering and pain. Figuring out how to deal with it is a necessary skill. Interesting that suffering isn’t even depicted in our popular culture much. As if the only responses to tragedy are rage and dysfunction, you fight it or are broken by it. Another, more challenging, option is to incorporate the pain of suffering into the matrix of your life and use it.
If we deny that suffering occurs, how do we learn to suffer with grace? Suffering perhaps exists to tire us enough to let go of our own will and be willing to surrender to the mystery of transformation; choosing willingness, not willfulness. I cannot resist the reality of this pain. It’s foolish to even try.
Suffering is like one of the rip tides at the beach in Avon N.C. If you flail against it will whisk you off and drown you. Many go that way. To survive you must keep your wits, jettison fear and do the counter intuitive thing, go with the current. Eventually you will make it ashore, not where you began or planned to end up, but further up the beach.
2 4 1
My mind fills with a cacophony of struggle:
Why Morgan? so wrong / but it is.
Not fair, why us? / It is.
She was so fine had so much yet to give / it is.
We will never see her children, we won’t feel her soft hand on our faces as we die / it is.
Stubbornly, insistently, incessantly I want to keep crashing against the rock of WHY?
How can this horrific murder be the destiny of Morgan Harrington? / It is.
God help us!
2 4 1
It is so silly the things that get under your skin. In cleaning cabinets today, I discarded “Morgan items”, things that no longer have any relevance to our lives – brown sugar, she was the one who loved to mix up batches of chocolate chip cookies. We, our family, have no need for brown sugar anymore. I was cool with that, but sprinkles – that was hard. How ridiculous! With everything we have had to let go of, to mourn sprinkles leaving the kitchen cabinet. But until it’s gone you don’t fully realize the impact, the whimsy, and the fun that a daughter brings to lighten life’s gray tones.
I know it ain’t about sprinkles; it’s about the loss of joy that Morgan brought to our existence. We have survived Morgan’s death; but we are not sure we see the rationale/value in surviving her ongoing absence. It looks like much work, with little joy. It is imperative that we find a way to celebrate the life we have, even in the face of pain. The path seems so murky though – Morgan help us find a way.
2 4 1
Flat busted and tired! Some of it is emotional; but primarily I am aware that I have overspent myself physically. We moved some of Morgan’s apartment furnishings to Alex in New York City this week. A 14 foot truck and Manhattan rush hour is pretty scary; then if you make it there you have to unload and carry at all up numerous stairs – a challenge to be sure. It was worth all the effort though; because settling our remaining child comfortable and safely in his environment was balm for the soul.
Soon though, somehow we have to ratchet down the pace we are keeping; it just isn’t sustainable much longer. All three of us are running full tilt; like dogs with a string of tin cans attached to their tail. The cacophony scaring us to run ever faster. We approach the end of our reserves so it’s about time to slow down and reconsider. We need to figure out why we must run so fast? In fear? Of what? The worst has already happened. Morgan has been murdered. Why run now?
Are we fueling this frantic pace; doing it to ourselves because it distracts us from the painful void in our lives from Morgan’s death? Is it better to run to exhaustion than turn and face the full brunt of sadness? This method of self-distraction will bring self-destruction if we don’t rein it in. We need some quiet and stillness to reflect on our profound loss and the sorrow we feel.
I relish the little reassuring signs that signal things will be ok, eventually. I had one as we left New York in that 14 foot truck: bumper to bumper cars into the Lincoln tunnel, horns blaring, confusing lights and traffic patterns, and cops banging on the side of the truck. I glanced up at the back of the semi ahead of us and saw the logo “MORGAN” right in front of our windshield. It was going to be ok. Morgan will lead us through the Lincoln tunnel. I sat back in the seat, stopped clutching the armrest and let out my breath; thankful to realize that even in this hole underground, despite my fear, despite all appearances, we were being let into the sunlight.
2 4 1
It is not fair! Life is just not fair. When I have that reaction to Morgan’s murder I remind myself that we were never promised fairness; what we were promised though is the strength and the tools needed to overcome any obstacle.
We are developing that strength because we have been able to lean heavily on so many that we move forward. Your family, both biologic and chosen, will always back you up; and it has made the path so much easier.
Life has always been precarious. We don’t realize the myriad disasters and catastrophes we squeak by everyday. Like the haphazard steps of a toddler stumbling around the living room narrowly missing the sharp corner on the coffee table – over and over again, sooner or later, an inevitable wrong step ends with a head bump and hurt and tears.
So it is with life; you get knocked over but don’t or can’t resign yourself to stay with crawling because walking is too dangerous. We are programmed in the fiber of our being to get back up and try again. I think of it as tropism of the soul: we keep turning towards the light. It is what we are meant to do.
I reject brokenness in our life. I acknowledge a broken heart but am determined that shattering will only open this heart to more love. We honor Morgan, not with withered lives, but through glorious triumphant flowering.
2 4 1 Can we do it?
Morgan, we cocooned you in love for 20years – was it enough? Did we manage to cram a life’s worth into that short allotment?
I feel cheated and pretty pissed off that we were robbed of the joy of your presence for the rest of our lives. It is selfish I know, we wanted you here with us until we up and died; but fate turned the tables on that scenario. How can it be?
The vestiges of you that we rejoice in are getting fainter. I go into your room to conjure you up and try to sniff your scent from t-shirts. Even your closet is loosing the essence of Morgan and smells disappointing, flat, sort of generic now. I guess empty is the right word.
The tangible Morgan dissipates and yet the connection persists. Selfishly, I am not content with a monologue. Morgan give us something, anything, to break through the barrier. We are all wishing for something, a big sign from you. Morgan, how about putting the 2 4 1 dots on the moon for a night? Just once!
2 4 1
Perspective sometimes flows along smoothly and other times chinks and jumps like gears on a tank. We had that little click of perspective change this week with Morgan’s car.
Until recently, seeing Morgan’s car parked in the driveway was a comfort for us; a comfort with a few barbs to be truthful. I’d drive up and the reflexive lift,” Oh, Morgan is home” was nice, but too quickly followed by the reality that no, she is not and never will be here again. Even so, it was good to see Morgan’s car here for 9 months. It gave us a sense that things were where they should be.
These are the games you play with yourself. “Its OK – everything is in its right place, oh yeah, except your daughter, but not to worry. Every other thing is exactly where it should be.” It only took 9 months, 2 jumps, and 1 battery replacement for me to get it. All right, I can let go of this too.
It makes us sad, another piece of Morgan to let go of. Now we have an empty driveway to go with the empty bedroom upstairs. Rather than sit in that sorrow we have gifted Morgan’s car in a way that will lift and transform another.
Perhaps it is evidence of healing that we are able to tune in again to the wisdom of flow and be willing to relinquish things that have served their purpose. Are we supposed to extrapolate from this some insight about Morgan and the meaning her life? She came; she lived, and left after she had fulfilled her purpose? A wedge to open us up and unravel our tangles and then knit us back together into new tighter more complex and intricate cloth?
Dearest Mokie, this was a weekend to be remembered, memories to cherish. Not the manner of celebrating your 21st birthday that I had ever anticipated, but unexpectedly wonderful and joy filled regardless.
Erin, little Erin, masterfully orchestrated the Morgan Harrington Memorial Golf Tournament. It was fun and crazy and hot as blazes and it rained and that didn’t matter a bit. There was great food and gorillas and cake (Papa thanks you much) and a bubble machine and tears and Morgan, love permeated every moment. Papa careened around Hanging Rock Golf Course in a cart desperately searching for the turn signal and/or cruise control. I quickly gave up my co-pilot seat when I realized he wasn’t really clear that it was not a bumper car. Another new place you have taken us to.
Your memorial at the bridge in Charlottesville had balloons and more cake, and prayers and laughter and I lay on the sidewalk after and did the ugly cry and stroked the pictures of your face. Somehow that spot has the feeling of sacred ground to us now.
Our neighborhood had that sacred aspect as we looked out at the 21 luminaries around our yard that loved ones had placed in your memory. Dan crawled back into bed after a 4am Kirby pit stop and nudged me to report “Morgan’s birthday candles are still burning bright”.
And you did my little Morgan; you burned so bright and shiney. Perhaps such incandescence is only meant to last for a short while.
I don’t understand the place we live now. The tsunami of love we have received in the last few days leaves us breathless and humble. If we can find enough faith to let this flow over us and not block it, the fact that you were, that Morgan Harrington lived, will really change the world.
An amazing meteor ride you are taking us on, as you leave Morgan. We are holding tight. Take us where you will. Love abides.
Today is the golf tournament to benefit the building of the Morgan Harrington Educational Wing at OMNI Village in Zambia, Africa. Such a courageous and clever triumph over darkness to continue to wrestle good out of Morgan’s tragic death.
Because of events like this, Morgan’s life has created a legacy of goodness that continues to impact the world. To be truthful, Morgan’s posthumous achievements may actually supersede what she was likely to accomplish if she had been allowed to live. Ironic isn’t it?
As a parent I am so grateful, so happy, that Morgan’s murderer has not been able to erase her completely from the world. Morgan chose a profession in education and she will, in fact, be part of educating and teaching many. Morgan Harrington will not be a poster child for rape, abduction and murder. Instead, Morgan will be remembered as a catalyst for teaching and care given to deserving students in the United States and Africa, as well. We are so grateful to all who have helped us snatch this treasure out of the ashes of our Morgan.
2 4 1
What is compelling about loss is that we know that everyone will at some time be challenged by its touch. Folks are looking for a road map, not answers per se, but the suggestion of a route to take, to traverse that rough terrain when their turn inevitable comes up.
When disaster like Morgan’s murder occurs, your life is shattered. You become addled and disoriented. Logic and experience no longer point to a direction you can follow.
That is precisely the place where you can either choose to break or surrender. When you are so overwhelmed by grief that you throw it in and yield. This is the point where transfiguration and grace happens.
If I have any advice or wisdom to pass along to others confronting devastating loss, it would be to surrender to this mystery of faith more easily than I have done. I have stubbornly clung to my charade of control and wrestle often with “why” and “how can it be?”
I find my bearings and comfort only when I step on the fragile tenuous platform of my faith. Persistently returning to the knowledge that God is in this experience somewhere. Only good can come from this because God is here. Trust that God’s plan is good. Surely the presence is in this place, love is in this place, healing is in this place; renewal and growth are in this place.
I am finding a path though I still have a long way to go. I can sense that I have grown, not grateful for the experience yet, but finding some acceptance. Life is intended for good. Don’t succumb to doubt and fear. God will take care of us. This may not be what we wanted but something good will come from it and has come from it.
2 4 1
Re-entry from our week at the beach has been hard. You can loose yourself in the vastness of the sea and drown the memories that fight for attention. Since returning we have all been on the skids, not sure exactly why. Could be that the cumulative grief load has finally grown into an incapacitating, crippling mass.
I have lost some of the emotional equilibrium that I had gathered and find myself again rapidly cycling several times a day. At moments I’m standing on a shaky platform of OK and then am seized by despair. Today’s trigger was walking into a store featuring back to school/decorate your dorm stuff. It took my breath away. Had to jettison my list and leave.
It’s not that I begrudge others the pleasure of this nesting and planning, rather its that it brings floods of memories of how Morgan and I planned and shopped to launch her into her “grown up” life at VT. Hopes and dreams for Morgan’s life were ended by a savage murder.
I watch young fresh faced girls and their mamas searching for the perfect set of sheets for college. My experience of that shared activity is tainted by my overlay, because my memory is of cutting Morgan’s perfect college sheets off her bed and bagging them as scent items for dogs. That thought cascade pulls me right back down again into the rabbit hole of WHY?
It’s a tough place we’ve been forced into, an ugly world of sadness /death/ DNA/ and murder. This is where Morgan’s death has taken us and so we must follow as well as we can. We are able to soldier on because the love, support, and prayers of many holds us up. The past 9 months have been full of uncertainty and darkness but we seek to give birth to truth and to find answers, not for retribution but to protect the next girl. I’m not looking for satisfaction. What I’m after is safety, so that another precious life is not ended by this evil.
Back from the beach trip. It was our first vacation without Morgan. It was hard, especially for Dan. Both of them shared a love of the surf and waves and would stay immersed for hours. I miss seeing them play in the waves laughing. I miss watching freckles bloom on her nose. I miss anointing pinked sunburned skin with Noxzema. I miss combing out her tangled hair. I miss sand in the bed. I miss Morgan.
As you can see my surrender and submit got up and went. I am back, stuck in the whys and what ifs and have lost my “it is” perspective. Suffering has unmoored and set us adrift at sea; a sea of tears whose very salinity will give us the buoyancy we need to stay afloat.
I don’t love where we are but still believe that we have an opportunity to learn from the master teacher, pain, if only we can survive the lesson.
2 4 1
The beach helps you simplify. Each day you carry less stuff over the dunes realizing you can do without. Dressing becomes a matter of choosing the driest tee shirt. This simplification process forces me to let go of distractions and absorb the lessons hiding in front of me.
I thought I had gotten the beach insight already. Several years ago when my sister was dying we were here and I wanted to bring Jackie one perfect shell from the beach she would never walk.
The Outer Banks is rough surf in the cross hairs of several opposing currents. Finding perfect whole shells in this turbulence is rare. So I gave up on the quest for a perfect shell for Jackie and instead saw the beauty and value in what was there; hidden in plain sight, weathered shells with holes in them. These weathered shells started a long tradition of ankle bracelets for the beach crew. We collect the shells that have been worn through with holes and add a bead or two and tie them on ankles all around. I get a kick out of seeing these conservative, medical, button down types adorned so with shells and beads. I love watching the shells we wear appear lighter as legs tan and cares lessen.
I have received that lessen but apparently I am suppose to take it even further.
There is yet another step on the way to becoming, that I see here in the surf. Tides and waves and weather beat the shells into fragments, relentlessly pounding them until they are so broken that they are not discernable as shells at all.
That’s when it gets cool and magic happens. Given time, the ragged shards of lives that were are ground so fine that they became the beach itself. The sand we walk on is composed of minute fragments of shells. It is not a graveyard but a place of stark beauty and a refuge for new lives and creatures to start their journey. Morgan is in this mix. We strive to see and accept the lessons and the gifts offered here.
2 4 1
Walking on the beach in North Carolina,
Snake skin seaweed,
Horseshoe crab fragments
Cicada’s split – celluloid shells,
Many things change their skin, not because the skin is worn out, or they want a different color but because of growth. Those organisms got bigger and had to transform and accommodate for change. It is a painful, slow, unfailingly difficult process, struggling out of your carapace. Once you wiggle out of the bonds of old skin, you are fragile, naked and soft; vulnerable to injury from even slight handling.
This is where we are.
Unsteady and unsure of our surroundings after the transformative journey we have been thrust into because of Morgan’s murder. These new skins function to hold us together well enough. Over time they will toughen and harden and protect us as well. Until then we must be cautious knowing that even inadvertent slight impacts can injure us in our softened weakened stage of transformation.
We are fearful and reluctant of the many changes Morgan’s death has created in our lives – but have faith and determination that we are in fact growing and will be alright, eventually.
2 4 1
We are at the beach in North Carolina, a long standing tradition; 31 years for Dan, and a chance to reconnect with family, both biologic and chosen.
It is early yet; we have only been here for 24 hours. Our friends still feel a bit awkward with us. They do not quite know how to interact with our triangulated family; to speak of Morgan or not? Which action would bring the most pain? There is no definite answer. Both choices bring pain and so we perform a funny dance wandering around the place where our shiny golden girl would have been, lighting up the room.
We are indebted to those who love us and who loved Morgan, to enter into this sorrowful, uncomfortable place with us. They help us find our way to a new normal, and new traditions. Synthesis is tough.
We want what we had, but it is no more. We have been forced to move on; sometimes kicking and screaming, and occasionally with eager anticipation to move forward and make a life. At least we still have a life- unlike our precious Morgan.
2 4 1
I have spent a lot of time these last 8! months contemplating secrets. Some secrets are information intentionally withheld; other secrets are hidden by happenstance or coincidence. A tricky one is the secret we keep from ourselves because we kind of see it but know it is ugly and cannot bear to confront it – yet.
A really great way to conceal something and keep it secret is to hide it in plain sight. I did this often with Morgan and Alex’s gifts at Christmas. The kids were masters at searching out presents that I had carefully hidden and squirreled away. Eventually, I learned that the best place to hide secret things is in plain sight where they could be easily overlooked, seemingly obvious spots where they blended in and their edges were a little blurry but not fully hidden or obscured. Those definitely were the most successful hiding places.
This is just how the murderer(s) in Charlottesville are escaping detection, by hiding in plain sight. They are a little off, their edges blurred, but they are passable if you only glance quickly and then look away. When a predator is walking among you, hiding in plain sight, you cannot be so inattentive. You must be alert and aware and really evaluating everyone around you. Always have an exit strategy in place. When the hairs on your neck raise and your skin starts to crawl take note, get out, call the police, and we’ll have him.
I believe that secrets have a season, like fruit. The secret of who killed Morgan Harrington is ready to be plucked and broken open. It is so cloyingly over ripe that it is starting to smell.
2 4 1
Note to a monster:
Listen up, there is karma or fate or destiny. Evil may rule for a while, but eventually, inevitably, without fail, the pendulum swings and your reign will be over. I’m ready. Your clock is ticking down. Any time now, good will prevail.
I understand this in a visceral way, just like I understand you. We are obscenely linked opposite mirror images. I created Morgan’s life force and birthed her. You destroyed that life and murdered her. I felt her first faint fetal movements. You felt her final death rigors. I knew Morgan as an embryo. You knew her as a corpse.
That corpse will not rest. Morgan wants justice. I hear her whispering in the ears and softening the hearts of those who help you hide. They don’t like what you’ve become. Your call to violence has become a blood lust and you are a monster. They grow frightened, knowing the truth will out. A day of reckoning is coming!
Morgan 2 4 1
Morgan accomplished so much in her short life and had attained an impressive level of insight and maturity. Part of that growth occurred because Morgan had found her mentor/master teacher at VT, the elegant, talented Jane Lillian Vance.
Most of us need a mentor to inspire and guide us to order the chaotic thoughts and emotions of youth into a disciplined philosophy of living. I am so grateful that because of Ms. Vance, Morgan had experienced that quickening into maturity before she was murdered. It makes it somehow more acceptable, comforting, to me to think that Morgan had gotten what she needed and was “ready” to move on. We were not finished with her, but she was in a sense finished. A completed work, Morgan didn’t need any more lessons here.
Jane’s generosity to Morgan continues. The dedication of the film “A Gift for the Village” to the memory of Morgan Harrington is a huge tribute to our daughter; as is the transportation of Morgan’s essence on Jane’s current journey to Nepal.
It is staggering to see that Morgan’s spirit has gone as far as Zambia and now Nepal and beyond. This is a silver lining of sorts in the untimely death of a sacrificial lamb. The conceptual part of Morgan’s essence and her love persists, ever growing and disseminating, while her tangible, slaughtered, discarded body disintegrates into nothing.
Is this how love transcends and conquers all?
2 4 1
I am dancing around the realization that I have allowed the shadow of Morgan’s death to obscure much of the joy and reverence in my daily life. It is hard to dispel the darkness, but am I honoring our shiny girl with this pervasive gloom? I think not.
Every day we are alive is a gift (Just ask Morgan). Notice it, give thanks, plug back into the gratitude/positive circuit. Count the blessings as they present.
Because of the torrent of kindness and generosity we have received we remember that goodness will prevail and life is worth living. We reap such love from our community in the midst of pain that we believe and somehow continue on. Thanks to so many who carry us.
2 4 1
Gil Harrington’s Poem on Father’s Day and Alex and Morgan Harrington’s Letter to Dan Harrington on Father’s Day
Mourn no mo
You don’t stoppa
Being a girl’s papa
Just coz she’s dead
Get that outa your head
Your daddy chore
Has expanded more
No longer tending boo boo knee
Now you’re creating legacy
For the world to see
While still parenting Alex and partnering me
Bless you for all the fathering you’ve done
For our precious daughter, our precious son
Continue to amaze
Even in these hardest days
That I never thought would be ours to live
We must still have more to give
I promise that we’ll find a way
To resurrect joy someday
fathers day 2010
ALEX AND MORGAN’S LETTER TO DAN
So because Morgan is unable to wish you Happy Fathers Day I will do it for both of us. I know this has been the hardest year of our lives. We have all been dealt a blow that will forever change who we are and our family dynamic. Throughout this entire experience you have been the rock upon which we have all built some sense of normalcy.
You have been husband, protector, banker , sounding board, computer whiz, media commentator, lobbyist, doctor, and friend. Look at all the hats that you have been forced to wear through this experience that are all an extension of FATHER. You have allowed yourself to feel the grief of Morgan’s loss more than anyone and shown Mom and me that it is okay to let down your guard and feel this immeasurable pain. You have been a model that in spite of or perhaps because of this aching that we all feel you can still face the world and work even harder, and do so with dignity and honor.
I want you to know that Morgan LOVED YOU more than anything. I remember Morgan coming up this summer and her raving about you after working at Carilion. She was so proud of you and impressed by how vital you were to the company. Morgan got to add this expereince to her understanding and respect for you that allowed her to appreciate you even more. Morgan lived everyday of her life knowing that her poppa loved her and would do anything for her which is more than many people can say.
She is in a better place now beyond pain and her love and spirit will continue to give you strength and help you through the difficulties left in her wake. Even though she is gone you will always be a father of TWO children who you always did your best to understand and support. Know that I am loving you now for the both of us and when you need the same support and understanding you have always given I am here.
Happy Fathers Day 2010
Alex and Morgan
Dan and I went to Charlottesville yesterday to acknowledge the passing of 8 months since Morgan’s abduction/murder. We are getting so tired of beating this drum – trying to incite vigilance in the Charlottesville community where a psychopathic murder still walks.
This killer enjoys violence. He has worked his way up to the top of the predator food chain, killing humans for sport. The exhilaration and power he seeks through murder will not easily be satisfied by lesser crimes. If not caught, he will re-offend, hurt/kill someonelse’s daughter.
That belief makes me frantic for an arrest. Not a quest for justice, or closure, or even punishment, but so that some other sweet girl be spared his blood lust.
That’s a hell of a motivator. Even if we’re tired, even if people think we should get over it and go away, we persist. It is too late for Morgan, but I can’t give up on the next girl.
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All 3 of us are struggling. We know Morgan is dead as we have peered into her empty eye sockets and felt the rough dry edges of her ribs. Despite those stark memories, little wisps of fantasy or denial persist. A tiny part of me feels as if the last 8! months have been a giant farce, a macabre game of hide and seek. This can’t be real. If I count to ten on base and say “All in come free, free, free” Morgan will materialize from some ingenious hiding place and life will go back to normal.
I know that won’t happen though, can’t happen. There is no going back. But I’m not loving the new normal. It’s too hard, so II don’t really want to move forward. I’m just stuck. What to do? I hope that time works its magic and things sort themselves out somehow. I pray for the peace to accept the unfathomable reality that someone could actually kill our Morgan.
I wish it was me.
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Evil does exist and life can be savage at times. Despite that, I know love will persist and goodness continues. I hold fast to this truth as I stumble in sadness and fear, knowing my sight will acclimate to the darkness soon and I’ll learn to navigate this shadow land with ease.
I wish I could hurry the process along. I yearn for ease and a lightening of our burden. But grief has its own clock and doesn’t seem to care about my time frame at all. I believe healing could occur more readily if I got out of the way and allowed it to unfold.
My knee jerk is to meet a problem with strength, shoulder it, attack it, wrestle it, oppose it. Regrettably, there’s no dominating Death or her sister Grief. I want to be a force for good, but realize that force is impotent here. To process Morgan’s death in a healthy way I must develop a whole new survival skill set based on submission and surrender. Dan will confirm that those attributes are pretty foreign to my character.
Am being forced to change and grow and yield? I hope my pigheaded resistance will be short lived and I learn to stop throwing myself against the rock and instead flow around it. Intellectually, I understand, but my anguished heart still can’t stop screaming WHY?
My little Mogo, 241
Suffering is a call to change pain into wisdom and compassion; an opportunity for transformation and growth. I get that, but understanding it and living it are two different propositions. I see the way. I have to let go of my stuff; my plans and surrender. Just give it over and let it be what it will. Accept the life we have been given and find the goodness in it. I know this surrender is the only way to survive the tragedy of Morgan’s death. I think I am actually doing it at times, but the mind is tricky.
Without my even realizing it, resistance and backward thinking start to creep into my head. Internally I replay all the what ifs, why us, its so unfair, and in an instant I am right back at square one in a puddle of self pity - its indulgent and not helpful.
As a nurse, when I give an injection, I try to position the arm so the muscle is relaxed. I explain to the patient not to tense the muscle as I enter the skin to minimize pain at the injection site. This is the key; to soften to the piercing of pain. Don’t resist. Accept the pain. If you can, even embrace the pain, engulf it, and allow it to pass through you. Use it. Be opened by it, more connected and more compassionate to our shared vulnerabilities and weakness.
This is a hard lesson, but I’m motivated by knowing that the fellow who doesn’t listen and really tenses up his arm during an injection often ends up having to get stuck again.
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Sorrow is an untamed dog, at times fawning and at others fierce. Sorrow has sharp teeth. It likes to take up your arm with a soft mouth and then lay the pinpoints of its teeth on your skin. Barely piercing the membrane, hardly hurts at all, just to remind you that it’s there and that sorrow knows no master. Other times sorrow chews and gnaws relentlessly abrading away protective tissue. On occasion, and more often than I like, sorrow erupts like a savage beast and rips and tears at the flesh of our composure.
We bear the scars of many such encounters with sorrow and grief. I choose to see these scars as beautiful, evidence of our survival and perseverance. A scar represents the body’s phenomenal ability to heal after wounds and if you grow one it is a badge of honor and you are one of the lucky ones who have survived and transcended injury.
Morgan suffered mortal blows. No scars there. We are hurting and healing and will never rest until justice prevails and this Charlottesville killer is taken off the streets.
Survival is good. A start. Will joy ever emerge again?
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We don’t cry for the dead. We cry for ourselves, our pain, our loss, our grief. Seems like a self-indulgent activity and leaves us drained and spent. So stop it. Why cry? Instead we should cling to routine and pretense praying that it will hold us until gaps open in this wall of pain.
Hoping that eventually tiny root hairs of normal will sprout and anchor.
With luck, normalcy will grow enough to crack the immense wall of hurt. I know it will never erode into nothingness, but I’m going to try so hard to grow all over that pain. Germinate and smother it like Kudzu. Obliterating its shape and for with a dense verdant covering. Maybe then we’ll feel all right.
Our beautiful shiny original, out of the box girl, is now firmly in the box, on our coffee table. Our time together has ended, an ending, but not THE END. Now we have to figure out how to proceed, to move forward in a positive way. Its tricky to keep yourself open enough to recognize and allow goodness to unfold.
I had a nice burst of joy this weekend when I recognized some calling cards from Morgan. Alex and I spent a long and unsuccessful day apartment hunting. As we entered the last place on the list I noticed a string of tattered prayer flags flapping on a fence nearby, but the apartment was just dreadful. We walked away and had a conversation about how we both were waiting for a “communication or a calling card” from Morgan. Maybe the prayer flags, (which Morgan loved and hung in her space at home and at VT) meant nothing.
We walked on and watched two small children playing on the sidewalk ahead of us laughing and squealing in the sun. As we got closer we saw that their excitement centered on a small contraption at the curb that was cranking out clouds of bubbles. A bubble machine! The only other bubble machine I have ever seen was at Morgan’s funeral/celebration.
We proceeded down the block and a man came out of a realty office caring a sign: Apartments, Apartments, Apartments. We stopped. The agent took us directly to a phenomenal place and we made the deposit.
In a span of 15 minutes- prayer flags, bubble machine, rental. I get it. Thank you Morgan.
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We returned yesterday from out of town. It was difficult to leave the refuge of our home for several days. Being away seemed to open vulnerabilities in me. Just didn’t manage to compose myself and protect myself in the usual way, perhaps because I had less control, less predictability, or just didn’t know how to read the cues in a different environment.
I found myself ambushed by anguish and tears at unexpected moments: at dinner, in an elevator, even at the airport. I am surprised to be falling apart in this way so many months after Morgan’s murder. Shouldn’t it be getting better?
Ironically if was also hard to return home to Roanoke. Our sense of sanctuary here has been shattered. I guess we will never feel totally safe again anywhere. That’s one of the ways we have been changed by our encounter with evil.
That violation makes us feel more fragile and act more cautiously. I check the doors and windows more often now. I rarely open them to catch the morning breeze and I draw the blinds early against the night’s blackness. I wonder if this will improve after the arrest of Morgan’s killer(s). I hope so; I don’t want to contemplate the rest of our lives colored with fear.
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Part of the struggle with connecting to joy is the guilt, for even wanting it or considering joy a reasonable possibility or a right? How could we find pleasure when you are finished: never to feel anything again? Somehow I must accept that it is OK for me to live, even though you are dead. That is a tough one.
It is difficult to let go of all the plans, dreams and assumptions I didn’t even know I had made about the future and you being part of it. Morgan, I miss you my sweet girl. We are all trying but this is so, so hard. I say the proper answer when asked, “Yes, I am OK” or even say I’m doing fine. None of us are really fine, OK is a stretch; but we put on a mask everyday. Hoping that, eventually pretence trickles away and it really does start to feel ok.
We are grappling and wrestling with transformation. What an impasse. Reluctant to let go of the lives we were planning to live, but that no longer exist. Unwilling to move into the lives we have been given. Paralysis? Or is it a necessary hiatus that will allow us to grow into theses new skins?
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As a family we are taking on water. Valiantly trying, but sinking nonetheless because we have lost the joy of being.
We have the work component down in spades. We do the work to sustain each other. The work to fulfill our roles in the community. The work of our jobs. We are prodigious taskers. The work gives us direction.
But 7 months in, we are all coming up against- why bother? What does it matter?
I know a steady diet of only work won’t sustain us. We need a reason to keep moving forward. The joy of living, but we don’t really feel OK with joy right now. It is kind of like we think feeling joy is selling out on Morgan; but we know that if we don’t find it we will sell out on life itself.
Dan and I have always had an undercurrent of lightness and fun between us. We revel in our relationship. But this is such a hard, hard place. We need that little circuit of joy, however we can’t see past our poor dead Morgan. The empty room, the neatened closet, all flat. Even her car has died. (Need to call for a jump.) We all need a jump-start, Morgan’s car, Dan, Alex, and me. Get some energy flowing so we can start moving forward again.
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Maybe they are starting to get it. To listen to the clamor of voices that ask for/demand acknowledgement and justice for the crimes against them.
I love the “white ribbon campaign against violence” to be distributed at graduation at UVA this week. There must be more attention given to violence on campus, and 25 thousand white ribbons is an awful lot of stuff to sweep under the rug.
Kent State, 4 dead changed the direction of the nation. At UVA 6 dead, nothing. How can this be? Here in Virginia we literally are having kids heads placed at our feet and we do….nothing?
One factor sociologists use to evaluate the development of a culture is to assess how that group cares for its women and children. Your statistics on this don’t look good. Parents send their precious children to college to gain skills for life; not to have their lives snatched away.
A prestigious degree is nice, but we as parents need to factor into the cost of that prestigious degree, will our kid make it out alive?
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It has been seven months since Morgan was abducted, raped, and murdered. Still no resolution! We find some comfort in having recovered her body; knowing is better than not knowing and trying to “fill in the blanks”.
We are getting more frantic. Not for answers, we have our answer – Morgan is dead. The incidentals of how he did it, or why he did it, don’t really matter. What DOES matter is that he is still out there. This wasn’t his first assault against a woman. He worked up to the crime of murder- but he is there now! Somewhere in the back of his mind he is figuring out another dump site – like Anchorage farm – just in case. So when the next opportunity presents itself, he is ready.
I feel him, he is smug, he got away with it – again. Secrets don’t keep forever. So far the only breaks we have gotten are Morgan’s bones – but the truth will out, in its own time, and our time is coming, it just has to be. If he is lucky, he will only be doing time.
Charlottesville, cough up this predator, those that know need to speak before he acts again.
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The official response to violence on campus is kind of like the response of some authorities to 9/11. They were directing folks back into the buildings – unable to even conceive of a world where such an atrocity could occur. Acts of violence bigger and more lethal than had been seen before. The world has changed.
Another incident changed our assumptions about violence in schools, Columbine. The world has changed.
There has been a cluster phenomena of hideous violence in Virginia at both VT and UVA. The world has changed. You have been placed in a position where you can be prime movers on the forefront of devising an effective response strategy, or you can keep directing your students back into the burning building. Business as usual and squander more lives as well as an opportunity for greatness.
Virginians are reluctant to give up traditions, but the tradition and culture that tolerates violence in your midst must be addressed. The world has changed.
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I am disturbed by the reign of indifference and the culture of complacency about violence on campus, particularly at UVA. This most recent murder of a student in Charlottesville is being attributed to a breakdown in communication. That is simply blame shifting. What has occurred, again, is a breakdown in the policy of acceptance and the system of enabling that allows violence and assaults to occur unchecked.
Over the years many students’ lives have been devastated by predatory acts on campus. It’s a new day and our world is experiencing an escalation of violence everywhere- and on campuses now lives are being lost, not just disrupted. The body count is rising. When will that number be significant enough to provoke real, substantive, thoughtful introspection and accountability, not just platitudes that support the status quo?
It is a new day. It is a time for a different response. Ugly, tragic, violent things have happened in your community to precious young lives, on your watch. It is time to do the honorable thing and NOT turn aside.
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I was the recipient of much extra love and support yesterday on Mother’s Day. Folks anticipated that I might have a tough time as I relinquished my role as mother to Morgan. But, I haven’t done so yet- and the day was really fine.
Mothering has always involved caring for, not just caring about my kids. The multitude of tasks I do for my family are manifestations of love and caring and I have enjoyed them as such. Brushing out tangles from Morgan’s long hair, packing lunches, hot banana bread, filling up her gas tank, mountains of laundry, these Mother’s chores are a daily, tangible, and practical demonstration of my love.
I cannot surrender my role as mom to Morgan just yet. That day will come and I know I will mourn the closing of that part of my life. But right now my job of parenting and protecting is not done, Morgan is asking for, demanding the biggest task ever: find her murderer. I still have work to do for my little girl.
As long as this last obligation remains, I hold fiercely to my role as Morgan’s mom. When she has justice I will concede to being mother of one, but not one second before.
My heart is so heavy. I am overwhelmed by the violence and negativity. What is happening to our world? In 2010 we should be working to establish respect, or maybe cherish, between people. Yet we are stuck, still battling for basic safety- please don’t hurt me, again!
The reign of indifference and the culture of complacency that provides the breeding ground for this festering violence is a formidable obstacle to change. Not sure I have it in me to stand against such an entrenched and strong status quo. Thought I only had to take on Morgan’s killers, not the system that created them.
I pray for strength. I pray for direction. Not proud of those please, please prayers, but please.
My reserves are further stressed this week by closing out Morgan’s apartment in Blacksburg. Mine to do, I know. Both an honor and a most taxing obligation. I really liked the chance to have my hands in the mix of her life one last time. To read all Morgan’s scrawled lists and post- its everywhere. She was so busy, so many plans to do and accomplish. Smell her t-shirts. Shake my head over impossibly high-heeled shoes and tattered, ratty sneakers.
We had moved her into that apartment such a short time ago, with such hopes and plans for her future. Morgan had such a wonderful, rich, together life. Just devastating that someone could end it all, end her very life with his hate and depravity.
As I sift and sort Morgan’s things, some of my inner dialogue is ridiculous, even to me. I’m trying to figure out what to keep and what to discard. All feels precious because it has an association to Morgan, but it is overwhelming and not practical to keep it all. So I find myself asking, how many shirts does a dead girl need in her closet? What’s the rule of thumb/protocol for this aberrant reality we live in?
I realize there’s no rule. The gauge is me. How much is enough so that when I open her closet or drawer I can get a sense of her, but not so many empty things and NO Morgan that I am undone. It’s a delicate compromise to find just where the zone of comfort is for us. Where memory cues remind us of our precious daughter, but not so intensely that we are engulfed and drown in the loss once more.
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Returning from the other side of the world is always difficult. You are tired and jet lagged and regardless try to jump right back into a full schedule. I was prepared for that challenge. What I was not prepared for was being back at square one with my grief for Morgan. It was like her murder had just happened, the rawness and the pain shocking in intensity.
Before I left for Zambia I had managed to find a place of some peace and equilibrium, fragile though it was. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed, bombarded by the obscenity of our loss anew. How could someone have brutally murdered our shiny wonderful girl? How could this have happened to her? To us?
I felt besieged, attacked. Even small things grated. Photos of Morgan that I had previously found refuge in, her sweet face all around our house, now a reproach not comfort. “Why me? You didn’t keep me safe. He walks free and I am only dust in your hands.” The unfairness and the waste of her great promise just infuriating.
I guess I need some time. Time to make all the bargains and adjustments necessary to cushion this mortal blow to our family- again. Time to relinquish all the dreams and plans, the assumptions about a future- again.
I am tired. It is tempting to give up, but I am not so flat busted that I can allow his evil to go unchecked. Will dig deep. I can find tomorrow at least, sure of that much.
241, My little Mogo.
A few days after arriving in Zambia, the OMNI team held a clinic at Kasango, a community half an hour from Ndola. Wound care is my station, but I wasn’t particularly busy, so I was asked to accompany a little 10-month baby girlnamed, Gift Pasella, to the hospital. Our pediatrician had examined Gift and found her significantly dehydrated and febrile and wanted the child admitted for IV hydration and malaria treatment. We gave a dose of Panadol for fever and I got on the bus with Gift and family.
Ten minutes into the ride the baby grew more lethargic, stopped whimpering and her breathing got erratic. Our driver is tearing over the unpaved road as fast as he can. I’m urging him to go faster as I watch terror spread over the Mama’s face and watch the baby’s tiny fingers turn dusky then white as pearls. She stopped breathing altogether several times. I was unwrapping her from the Mother’s sling and pouring water over her to cool her down. Praying “Please, please not this little one too. Oh god why?”
We did get to the hospital. The baby died shortly thereafter.
I am still working on how to process this. It does give me some perspective though. I have felt cheated to have had Morgan for only 20 years. I doubt that her Mama was even 20 and she only had her child for 10 months. A dramatic reminder that life of whatever duration should be celebrated exactly as this baby was named, a gift.
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The medical clinics are controlled chaos. So many folks come out for the only western medical care many will receive in a year. Our OMNI clinics served 500+ patients per day. We provide physicians, a full pharmacy, lab testing, and wound care. When possible we distribute rice/salt/beans during the clinics. This food distribution requires armed guards as crowd control because there is such desperation and need.
There is such a kaleidoscope of colors and faces, (and for me in wound care, legs and feet), screaming babies, noise, flies and it’s hot. The team jells quickly and becomes focused and determined to do as much as we possibly can to help these impoverished and deserving people.
Some villages are doing better than others. You look out at the triage line of about 600 people and note that half of them have shoes, that’s a good sign. You note the kids’ hair is mostly dark, not red from protein depletion or patchy with scabies infestation, another good sign. Then there are communities where almost no one has shoes, the kids are dressed in clothing tattered into ribbons and their protruding bellies are full of worms not food.
The rains were just ending so malaria is on the upswing. Bobble headed, glassy-eyed babies are limp in the arms of grandmothers. These elders now are primary caregivers because of a missing parental generation, ravaged by HIV/AIDS. So many wasted faces, young and old alike, with sunken temples and cheekbones like knife blades.
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The ONMI medical team trip to Zambia was intense and transformative as it always is. We work so hard. Our team of 16 saw close to 4000 patients in 11 days! We see so many and so much that it is a bit disorienting. Then we get on a plane for a 26+ hour journey back to the USA and try to make sense of it all.
From the beginning: After arriving in Ndola, Zambia we went directly from the airport to the OMNI Village site. The 156 students at the school had been waiting to welcome us for hours in the hot sun. The kids line up, oldest to youngest, boys and girls separately. All so proudly wearing their school uniforms. They welcome us singing and chanting in Bemba and English. A particularly moving line in a song is “OMNI feeds us so we may live and shows what love is about”. And we do. The 1 meal per day that OMNI furnishes our 156 students is fundamental to their health and growth and creates a zone of safety for them that allows for focus and learning to occur. These kids are being educated to help them break out of a bare subsistence existence and become leaders in their community and their country.
The ground breaking for the Morgan Harrington Educational Wing has started. This facility will allow us to add grades 7, 8, 9 to our program. I am thrilled to have Morgan be a fundamental part of educating young people in Zambia. Morgan planned to travel with me to Zambia to see the OMNI School and the children she had heard so much about. Her murder ended those plans, BUT her work and her dream of educating children will continue.
Morgan will make a difference in so many young lives. She is gone but her legacy lives on in a beautiful and magnificent way.
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I hate to leave you. I see how spent you are and the dread of loss that even this short separation brings. Please know that I choose to make this journey only after much deliberation and as painful as it is, I must go, for our patients and also for me.
In the natural order of things parent’s age, and children grow up, and parents die. This normal pattern was violated by the predator that killed Morgan. I would have traded places with her gladly. My life has been full and rich because of you and what we share. Morgan’s life had just begun and she was poised to fly so high and be something really special in the world.
I feel that it is imperative to negate some of the evil that killed Morgan and accomplish something in her honor. Caring for the poor in Zambia is the most direct way I can see to do this. I realize the sacrifice it takes for me to go on this journey, financial, emotional, and physical, but know it is mine to do. You remember how you say that my greatest strength is making chicken salad out of chicken shit; well this is attempting to do just that only with worse starting ingredients.
Thank you for letting me go even if you don’t understand. I love you more than words can say. This darkness has been your finest hour.
Thank you for inviting me to the rally and giving me the opportunity to speak with you. Gil is sorry she cannot be here but she is helping the children of Zambia with a medical mission. She feels that since she could not save her daughter that she can save someone’s child.
I am here to support the TBTN and stress the need for societal change in the respect for woman and men, that society must stop seeing women as prey. I never would have thought that I would have had to deal with the death of my precious daughter, Morgan Dana Harrington. Morgan, a junior at Virginia Tech, was murdered on October 17, 2009 here in Charlottesville by someone who likely sexually assaulted her, then killed her and left her body in a pasture on Anchorage Farm, just south of here. Morgan’s death has catapulted us to places that we would never have thought we would go, being here tonight is now an opportunity that I would not have thought of before, we have been see many times on national media, we have been in the Halls of Congress, we have spent too many hours with LE, we have been to restaurants and rock concerts raising money for Morgan and we have cried as we held our daughter’s skeleton.
Morgan was at JPJ to attend the Metallica concert. For unknown reasons, Morgan left the arena and was not allowed to reenter. That was only one of a series of errors that ultimately led to her disappearance and ultimate death. That day of the concert Morgan and her Mother shared their last time together. Morgan was a modest dresser, she and Gil picked out a loose tee shirt with Pantera printed on the front, a black mini skirt, back leggings and black boots. She was totally covered up except for her beautiful face.
On the days after that tragic night, it was reported by media and by some police that Morgan was dressed provocatively, implying that Morgan tempted someone to assault and kill her. The only thing Morgan did that night was to have her beautiful face showing and she made herself vulnerable. She did not cause her murder, a coward who could control and lord over Morgan caused her death. It is time to stop blaming the victim!
Even over the past week, Gil and I have been assaulted by the Westboro Baptist Church who published a degrading poster implying Morgan deserved to die. This so call church, has launched a post mortem attack on my dead daughter and will be at Virginia Tech tomorrow to protest and advertise that Morgan deserved to die. It is time to stop blaming the victim!
Who would have ever thought Gil and I would have had to deal with the death of our child. Our experience has given us a new appreciation for the preciousness of life. Morgan will never graduate, have a career, marry, have a child and grow old. Morgan’s killer, who had no respect for her, walks among you in Charlottesville each day doing all the things he took away from Morgan.
We are her to work for the day that women and men respect one another, that women can be safe, and can stop feeling afraid. We pray for the day that a young girl does not have to be at risk, is not blamed when they are the victim, and does not become a statistic. We pray for the day when fear is not one of our nation’s operating principles.
We need to support women men who are afraid to ask for help, afraid to press changes, and who are made to feel as if they are the problem. We need to support women and men who are assaulted so they will seek prosecution of the perpetrators. We need to not have organizations sweep these assaults under the rug and pretend it doesn’t happen here.
Gil and I are determined that Morgan’s life be remembered and that her death not be in vain. We appreciate your invitation to help you Take Back the Night.
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Gil has been in Zambia since April 5, 2010. She and the OMNI team have been busy with setting up and then taking down their clinic operation in the Zambian bush. Gil was hoping to be able to continue to blog but Zambia is a third world country with poverty, little water, little food, and limited electricity. The lack of modern technology makes blog transmission near impossible.
Gil has called me three times since arriving in Zambia and each phone conversation lasts about 60 seconds. She has been able to get lost in her work and have a bit of insulation from the protest and the stress of having a murdered daughter.
Gil wanted me to post her experience in the bush from this past Friday. During the OMNI clinic, a young mother came with her sick female child asking for help. The child was very ill with fever and dehydration from malaria. Malaria is endemic to Zambia and is one of the major killers in the population. Quickly, the severity of the child’s illness was recognized and Gil was asked to take the mother and child to a distant hospital on the only transportation available, a local bus.
The trip was complicated by the fact that the mother did not speak English and Gil did not speak Bemba, the local native language, the bus driver spoke a little French and Gil was able to communicate with him by speaking French. During the trip, the child became more ills and stopped breathing. Gil was screaming in French to the driver to hurry, hurry! Gil revived the child and ultimately they arrived at the hospital with the child still clinging to life. The child died the next day.
Gil, crying as she tells me this story, said her trip to Zambia were a way to save other children when she could not save Morgan; but she found that she couldn’t save this little girl. Gil sees the fragility of life in every face she see and all the work she does.
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The children that OMNI cares for in Zambia, Africa, are the ones on the wrong side of this parallel poem. (241)
A Prayer for the Children
We pray for the children
who sneak popsicles before supper,
who erase holes in math workbooks,
who can never find their shoes.
And we pray for those
who stare at photographers from behind barbed wire,
who can’t bound down the street in a new pair of sneakers,
who never “counted potatoes”,
who are born in places where we wouldn’t be caught dead,
who never go to the circus,
who live in an X-rated world.
We pray for the children
who bring us sticky kisses and fistfuls of dandelions,
who hug us in a hurry and forget their lunch money
And we pray for those
who never get dessert,
who have no safe blanket to drag behind them,
who watch their parents watch them die,
who can’t find bread to steal,
who don’t have rooms to clean up,
whose pictures aren’t on anybody’s dresser,
whose monsters are real.
We Pray for the Children
who spend their allowance before Tuesday,
who throw tantrums in the grocery store and pick at their food,
who like ghost stories,
who shove direct clothes under the bed,
who never rinse out the tub,
who get visits from the tooth fairy,
who don’t like to be kissed in front of the carpool,
who squirm in church and scream in the phone,
whose tears we sometimes laugh at and
whose smiles can make us cry.
And we pray for those
whose nightmares come in the daytime,
who will eat anything,
who have never seen a dentist,
who aren’t spoiled by anybody,
who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep,
who live and move, but have no being
We pray for the children
who want to be carried and for those who must,
who we never give up on and for those who don’t get a second chance.
We pray for those we smother ….. and for those who will grab at the hand of anybody kind enough to offer it.
My perspective as the wound care nurse with OMNI in Zambia is different. I am always looking down at feet and by doing so bring incredibly lifted up.
Squatting in the dust
the pose I must
my way through, this dark forest.
The wounds I tend,
skin I try to mend,
on all the limbs
of hers and hims.
Catching only glimpses of the faces.
my task’s in other places.
It’s the feet I know so well.
The stories the toes can tell.
Ceaseless work since he was born
turned this farmer’s soles to horn.
Scrawny, birdlike children’s feet,
so spare of flesh,
so little to eat.
The blazing joy
in this boy
as I put
his bandaged foot
in its first shoe.
the good we could do?
Soak and clean
coating legs with Vaseline
under African sun.
My kind of fun.
The heart sings.
What pleasure service brings.
Axe wounds and ulcers,
scrapes and burns obscene,
these are the feet I tend and clean.
And with each wound I bind,
and do amaze,
that healing flows both ways.
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G.M. Harrington 2009
I am in the starting blocks for departure to Africa to care for the impoverished people in the deep bush of Zambia. It is always difficult to leave my home and family, but I know that this work is mine to do.
I regret that turmoil and controversy are threatening my family and our community during my absence. I know you are strong enough and I know Dan is strong enough to meet this challenge to our core value of goodness and positive forward motion.
Strength is developed by caring heavy weights. This is just one more to shoulder and use to enhance our collective muscle mass.
If, (God willing) we have electricity, I will continue to blog from Zambia when ever possible to update you on our clinic work and the groundbreaking of the Morgan Harrington educational wing at OMNI Village, Ndola.
Thank all or you for holding us up. The journey continues to difficult, but our path is secure with so many pointing the way.
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