A Missive From Nancy

The most common response is, “Thank you.”

Then people say, “I hope it doesn’t rain” 

On September 2nd Nancy Hiss wrote:

On Memorial Day of this year, I knelt down in front of the Edith Green Wendell Wyatt Federal Building and wrote March 21, 2003 in chalk. As I was writing two guards walked out and watched over me. When I finished they asked, “March 21? What is that?” I responded, “That was the first day that a soldier died in the Iraq war.” I handed them a written description of the project and they walked away.

Then I wrote; Aubin, Beaupre, Cecil, Childers, Evans, Gutierrez and on and on. To date, I have written 2,445 names covering over 6 miles. The Iraq Names Project is a memorial, a demonstration, a personal cleansing; it is an act to honor sacrifice and to recognize interdependence.

The concept is so simple it can be explained by a five -year old. The act is so simple it can be shared by Girl Scouts, eighty year old women, students, friends, neighbors, passersby, draft age boys, survivors of Nazi Germany, veterans, everyone. Over 100 people have knelt down with me on the sidewalk to share in this experience. Some people chalk in one name. Some people come back week after week.

People are drawn to the aesthetic of the beautifully drawn names. Many are amazed that it spans 6 miles and I am only on March 2006. Many say that it is powerful. Some are moved to tears. Some stop to tell stories.

One young man asked what I was doing. “I’m writing the names of the U.S. and international coalition forces who have died in Iraq.” He responded “You just wrote my name, Rivers.” There was a long silence while the hairs stood up on the back of my neck. “I’m glad it’s not you.” “Yea, me too.” Names are very powerful. Dates are very powerful.

Only last names are written to acknowledge the loss, not just of individuals, but of families. Oregonians are written in white, all other names are written in colors. It is neutral. It is inclusive. It is a way to share in sacrifice. It is an act of peacemaking.

When it rains the names and dates are washed away, symbolic that these people are gone.

Thank you. 

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