Just as knowledge is power, music is nourishment. It feeds our soul in a way that the spoken word cannot always satisfy. It transgresses cultural barriers and is a force that makes us feel unified and connected to one another. As with kindness, love, and spirituality, music is a universal bridge and something that we can all relate to and can all strive to have more of in our lives. There have been days while volunteering in the hospital where I am at my wit’s end in a room with an inconsolable child and the second I start singing they stop. (Mind you, I have a terrible voice and I’m truly not even trying to be humble. Yes, I had a solo in my fifth grade play but that was only because everyone had a solo.) Music has the power to heal.
But, God, how much do I wish I could have the chance to invite Reat Underwood into the hospital to share his magical voice with the children? How much do I wish I could see their mesmerized stares as he belts out songs and shares kind, encouraging words to help them through their struggles? I never even had the opportunity to meet Reat and I know for a fact that if I had been able to ask him that favor, he would have done it. But, maybe this wish of mine can still be fulfilled.
For those of you who don’t know, fourteen-year-old Reat Griffin Underwood (Losen), and his grandfather Dr. William Lewis Corporon were shot and killed in the parking lot of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City on the 13th of this month. Reat was being taken to a singing audition for KC Superstar (an American Idol type competition) at the center by his grandfather when a gunman, a former affiliate of the Ku Klux Klan, ambushed them in the parking lot, attempting to carry out a hate crime during Passover. Ironically, Reat and his grandfather were not Jewish, but Methodist, yet hatred like that knows no logic.
Their family members have presented themselves with strength and dignity in every single interview and memorial over the past week and a half despite the horrifying circumstances. In fact, matters became worse when Westboro Baptists decided to protest the victims’ funerals, believing that, “God is not mocked. He sends curses to this nation such as the shooter at the Overland Park JCC to remind this nation that she has sinned away her day of grace.”
Instead of choosing to react to this with anger, which would have been justified and understandable, friends and community members decided to join together to create a force so strong that no level of hatred could surpass it: love. An “angel wall” formed by over 2,000 people was created to surround the funeral service and block out any protesters from the family members’ sights. More than this, it stood as a symbol that from this tragedy, something good was beginning to happen, which was evident in the signs that people held saying, “Love Wins.” The only way to flood out the darkness of hatred is with the light of love.
At the funeral the priest spoke to the audience about how unkind words and jokes and the nonchalant use of racial slurs are prevalent in our own communities everyday, and sometimes without knowing it we may be the ones hurting other people. He went on to say, “There’s about 3,000 people sitting in this room right now. What if these people walked away from Reat and William’s service and said I’m committed not to say those things about other people again. I’m committed to standing up for people when they’re being teased or abused or made fun of. How the world would change if 3,000 people said that’s who I want to be.”
(If you would like to watch this portion of the funeral, follow the link below and go to section 5 along the bottom. However, this was truly an inspirational service and I urge you to watch the entire thing.)
The priest also spoke about how the line between good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being and we all have to choose what our defining story is and which side we will choose to carry out our lives in. This is really what all1story is about. If we are conscious of how much our actions, even the smallest, both good and bad, can affect those around us and in turn affect those who those people come in contact with, we know that treating one another with kindness and respect is the only way to sustain the goodness in the world. We are defined by our actions and our reactions. There are many things we cannot control in life such as incomprehensible acts of violence and hatred like the one that took both Reat and William’s lives. But, we can control how we react to these things. The family and friends of these two victims did not choose to combat sword with sword. Instead, they created a shield of love and this light and their example will continue to block out evil from our world as long as we are all willing to do our part in expanding the armor’s reach and building on its strength.
We know that even before this tragedy, Reat and his family members had defining stories of love. How do I know this? One way is to look to something we are all very much tuned into today: social media. The bio line underneath Mindy Corporon’s account (Reat’s mother) is “Boy mom. Passionate about helping others.” And Reat’s? “Live life to the fullest and never give up!”
I began this post by speaking about the power of music because Reat was a singer and performer and loved to share this gift with other people. When I was writing this post, a song came on the radio that I’d never heard before. The lyrics speak to the type of person Reat and his grandfather were, as well as the amazing family members they have left behind. After listening, I decided to look the song up online and found out that Alternate Routes is a Connecticut-based band who wrote this song in support of Newtown Kindness. This is an organization that was started by the parents of a Sandy Hook victim in order “to promote kindness as a guiding principal of humanity.” Talk about music speaking to you. I was shocked and happy at the same time that the song that tapped on my shoulder and told me “I’m the one!” when I was trying to work through this tragedy, was one that was written specifically for the same exact purpose following another tragedy that has hit so close to home.
As we are all trying to figure out our defining story, let this be our defining song to guide us along the way.
And here is Reat’s defining song:
Now Reat has his wings and he can fly. He went from an unsung hero to a boy whose song was heard around the world, and in our hearts he is the true KC Superstar.
God Bless you, Mindy, and the rest of your family during this incredibly difficult time. Your strength and the spirits of your son and father will live in us forever as a reminder that love is the answer.