What I Wish I Would Have Said At the Vigil Thursday Night

On Thursday, Feb 1, I attended a vigil to remember the three high school students who were shot within yards of the front door of Chicago Friends School. I did not speak at the vigil but spent some time afterwards wishing I had had the presence of mind to speak about Quaker commitment to the inner light and how it relates to community. Since I didn’t say it then, I hope you’ll allow me to say it now.

Hi everyone. I’m the Head of School at Chicago Friends School, the little Quaker elementary school right here, and I’m speaking to you tonight, a little bit as an educator, but mostly as a neighbor and a Quaker.

Quakers believe that there is “that of God” in everyone, that every person has a connection to God and brings a little bit of the divine into the world in their unique way.

I am looking around tonight with all these neighbors gathered around, and thinking about the kids who walk along this sidewalk every day to and from school. As I look around this crowd, most of us are white, most of us middle aged, most of us are homeowners or residents of the neighborhood. Every morning and every afternoon a stream of kids whose lives we know little about pass among us on the way to school. In some distant and abstract way, most of us understand that these kids who have lives, and loves, and fears and motivations all their own, just as every one of us do.

But, neighbors, how would our day be different if every time we saw one of these teens we took a minute to honor the unique divine spark they bring to the world? Not just the honor roll kids, or the ones who greet adults politely, but also the kids who drop their chip bags on the curb lawns, or cluster together and make it hard to pass by. What if we took seriously the fact that every one of these lives brings a unique gift to the world? What if we were curious about how each divine spark is realized in each of these lives?

Whenever an event like this happens, I hear a lot of well intentioned questions about why “they” perpetuated the shooting. Friends, there is no “they.” If you want to understand rage, or fear, or acting out in violence, look inside yourself and those you hold dearest. You have those impulses. If you want to find joy and creativity and love, do the same. But also look to each and every neighbor, each and every student, every member of our human community. Even the ones leaving the chip bags on the curb lawns that line our quiet Edgewater streets. Because if we take seriously the idea that every life contains a divine seed, because if we take seriously the full humanity of all our community members, we would see that there is no “they.” We are all part of each other. The human community needs each other. We inspire and love and save each other.   Every day.


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Karen Carney

is the head of school. Karen’s career demonstrates a rich and diverse set of skills: project oversight, curriculum development, educator training and mentoring, and classroom instruction. Prior to coming to Chicago Friends School, she worked as a senior specialist in science curriculum for American Institutes for Research. Before this, she oversaw educational programming at the Adler Planetarium, first as its director of education and then as associate vice president for visitor experience and learning. She has also worked in instruction and teacher development at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Learning Sciences Research Institute and has authored more than 20 scholarly papers, book chapters, and conference presentations.

Karen is an active, dedicated Friend (Quaker) and has held various leadership positions at the Evanston Friends Meeting. She enjoys baking, cooking, and painting and is a member of the Playmation improv comedy team.