I don’t usually reference my Richmond Magazine column here in the blog, but today’s a little different. In the current issue I called for a kind of tribute to the Harvey family and it just so happens that I suggested that today -- the first day of spring -- be the day for such a gesture. So here, for those of you who missed it, is my column from the March issue. I’d be honored if you’d consider committing some random act of kindness today in memory of Bryan, Kathryn, Stella and Ruby Harvey.Random ActsA suggestion for remembering the Harvey family
Where do we go from here?
It has now been two months since Bryan, Kathryn, Stella and Ruby Harvey were viciously murdered in their South Richmond home on New Year’s Day. As a community we have been through vigils, community meetings, memorials and tributes -- all of them worthy and the right thing to do in the wake of these horrific crimes. But what now? Where do we go from here?
I am not the first nor will I be the last to suggest that the Harvey murders were on a small scale like Richmond’s own 9/11. Something tall and proud, concrete, of immense substance, packed with humanity -- in this case, not buildings with thousands of people but a loving family of four -- was there and then it was gone. They didn’t just move away, they were wiped off the face of the earth in one sweeping, monstrous act.
When we will get over this loss?
One answer is never.
A better answer is never, if we are lucky.
In the aftermath of 9/11, every time they’d show those planes hitting the towers I’d think, please, please stop showing it. Now I think we each should look at it once a week, so that we will never forget what it felt like. Not to stoke our anger or grief but our sense of the immense loss. In the same way, I am not ready to -- nor do I want to -- let go of the loss of the Harveys.
Instead, I wish we could use it somehow, to turn it into something they would be proud of.
The Harveys were pretty well known among a tight circle of Richmonders -- musicians, Carytown denizens and so forth. Some of us may have loved World of Mirth or seen an explosive House of Freaks show once upon a time. But the great majority of the half-million people in the Richmond area probably never came face to face with Bryan, Kathryn, Stella or Ruby Harvey. So what was it about this crime that touched an exposed nerve in Richmond? Obviously, the children. Also, the sheer brutality. To call these killers animals would be an insult to animals. But beyond that still, there was one shocking element most of us have been unable to swallow.
There was a time, early in the Harvey investigation, when all signs pointed to a lunatic in their midst, someone known to them. I know I’m not the only one who took a kind of selfish comfort in that -- thank God it doesn’t affect me and my family. So when the shocking news came that the Harvey murders were indeed random and motivated by nothing other than robbery, the aftershock was nearly as big as the initial jolt. And it wasn’t just a lock-your-doors, count-your-kids, there’s-a-maniac-on-the-loose mentality. They’d been caught. It was a terror deeper than that. It wasn’t the fear of these maniacs, it was the fear of any maniac, anywhere, at any time.
Randomness in general isn’t usually thought of in a positive way. Every once in a while you get that person who wins $86 million dollars in the lottery and says, “Oh, I just picked the numbers at random.” But other than that we think of randomness as something that befalls us -- the random police checkpoint, the random airport security check, the random IRS audit, and of course, random violence.
It was randomness that shook this city to its core. Perhaps it is randomness that will help us lift ourselves up again.
What if -- can you dream with me for a moment? -- what if we took a day, one day. Let’s say the first day of spring. And let’s say each one of us decided to put some bumper sticker philosophy to good use and actually commit random acts of kindness throughout the area. What if Powhite commuters just started paying for the driver behind them? What if suburban moms drove into the city and dropped off some clothes or toys at the emergency shelters? What if someone planted some pretty flowers in an elderly neighbor’s front yard? What if these things happened all over Richmond in one day, in memory of the Harveys? What if we were to take the idea that randomness is something inflicted upon us and turn it around to create something beautiful? It would take only the smallest action on each individual’s part, but a half-million small actions equal one very grand gesture.
And what if we were to sustain it, do it year after year? That way we would never forget. Never. If we are lucky.