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Third place winner Brendan Kelley Schoharie High School


An array of colored beads dangled around the necks of the diverse crowd of walkers. I surveyed the crowd as the sea of family members and friends of all ages donned their color- specific beads. Mom and I wore yellow signifying friendship. Donna wore blue; blue was for spouse. The three of us explored the Brooklyn courtyard where the walk would begin and end. Quilts draped the sidewalks bearing the faces of the loved ones for whom we were walking. The slowly setting July sun seemed to illuminate each quilt in an effort to honor each and every face. At sunset, the enthusiastic woman at the podium announced that we could begin walking, and Donna, Mom, and I set off toward Manhattan.

After walking for hours, avoiding speeding taxis and taking in all of Manhattan, we approached the Brooklyn Bridge. The unrelenting noise and commotion of the city quickly diminished as the moonlight reflected off the rippling water in the river below. The once oppressive noises were now just a diluted hum. It was crazy to think that in the chaos of the city, there existed such a tranquil place. Perhaps this was what Rick never found in his life: a place to find peace. I continue to wonder what led him to do what he did that tragic morning. Life is like a city: thoughts and worries constantly rush through your mind like a never-ending subway train, but every city has a spot where you can block out that noise and admire its exquisiteness. I’ve grown to understand that you often have to truly search for it. As I crossed that bridge and gazed in silence at the city lights, I couldn’t help but wonder if Rick was ever able to take in all the exquisiteness that we saw in him.

As the darkness gave way to the first orange rays of sunrise, the three of us picked up the pace and joined a larger crowd for the final stretch of concrete leading us back to our starting place. The beads around my neck rested proudly on my black sweatshirt, which read “Rick’s Crew.” I looked back at my two fellow crew members. “We did it, Sista’ Friend,” Donna declared in her Boston twang to Mom, her lifelong friend. They embraced tightly at the finish line as the dim twinkle of hundreds of glowing paper bags began to send faint beams onto the surrounding sidewalks. The shiny rainbow beads seemed to take on a greater significance as walkers from all over the country assembled in one spot for one common reason. A reason so particular that they would walk overnight for seventeen miles through bustling Manhattan to heal, show support, and bring awareness. Wendell Berry once said “What leads to peace… is not passivity, but an alert, informed, practiced, and active state of mind.” After walking for ten hours through a city filled with vitality and chaos, it was clear that everyone found themselves gathered together in a spirit so unique and exceptional that one could feel the comforting energy in the chilly urban air.

We followed the illuminated sidewalk until we finally reached the table with the white paper bags. The friendly Out of the Darkness volunteer handed us a bag and a small glowing light. Donna reached into her backpack for the picture. I had seen it so many times in the last year, but this time was different. The picture had a noticeably deeper effect on my heart. With Mom’s help, Donna carefully attached Rick's picture to the front of the bag and tenderly set it down alongside the countless others lining the pathway. “We love ya, Rick!” she tearfully exclaimed as she grabbed our hands. As I looked to my left and right, the once clear curb was now completely lined with shining luminaries. Each one displayed a unique face, and each one told an overwhelming story of love and loss. At that moment, I knew exactly why we all were here.