Eulogy by Attorney Lillian Dykes for Grace Walden at her Funeral Service at the Nursing Home in Memphis, TN where she died on June 21, AD1998.
Time, and Place, and Connection: We are tied to life and to each other by time, and place, and our willingness to be connected. We are here at this time and in this place to acknowledge our connectedness to Grace and, because of her, to share this moment connected to one another.
Time and Place are our history. Time and place was Grace’s history. Now instead of then. Here instead of there. Being formed and forming, the history of our lives.
We each know our own story. We know our past, our present, how the thread of themes and people are woven into the fabric of the memory of our lives. Perhaps for each of us, some moments in our time and place appear pivotal. A birth, a death, a child, a decision we made, that changed the course of our destiny. I have mine; you have yours. And Grace had hers.
On April 4, 1968, it was the evening of Grace’s day. It was early afternoon in California where I was, 21 years old and working in a bookstore. Where were you? It won’t be hard for you to remember if you also remember that it was the end of all days for Dr. Martin Luther king, Jr. I was living and you were living and Grace was living out our little unconnected histories on that spring day. It was a pivotal day for me, though I would not realize it for years. It was a crisis in time and place for Grace.
The evening of April 4, 1968 changed all of Grace’s days from that day until the end of her days, and it was the day that was forging the links that would connect Grace and me ten years later, a link that neither of us could imagine. And links were being formed to connect all of us here today.
Grace was fifty-four on that April day that would shape all her days till the end. She had a history before that day and all her history had brought her to a moment when her history would intersect with other histories and link her with worlds she had never dreamed of. On April 4, 1968, God chose Grace to be the only one who would ever be able to say “No” to a great lie. Grace’s life has born witness to the cost of truth. Like Dr. King, who gave his life for his truth across the street from the boarding house, Grace was getting ready to give up her life for her truth as well. Dr. King would go quickly. Grace would pay with her life for a long time.
Why one room and not another in that cheap boarding house where the shot would ring out that took two lives, Grace’s and Dr. King’s? Why was the door to her room open and not closed? Why was Grace looking into the hallway when the lone gunner ran past? Why wasn’t she asleep, or drunk, or reading as she loved to do? Why did she have to see the man who was not James Earl Ray running past her open door? And when those who had the power tried to force or cajole her into changing her story, why did she continue to stand by her truth? Why did she continue to say her “No” to that which she saw as lie?
I think that we will never know the answers to those questions in this world. Dr. King is gone and James is gone. The Judge who accepted the coerced confession of James Earl Ray has been gone for years. Charlie Stevens, Grace’s companion in that boarding house room, gone. So many gone. And fifty years from now, all will be gone, we will be gone as well. But there will be histories still, and others will examine that day in April 1968, after we and all who were there have gone. We will have gone, but Grace’s “No” will live on. Grace’s “No” will continue on past all of us. Grace’s “No” which resulted in ten years locked away in a state mental hospital, with not visitors, no freedom, no chance at life will live and stand and breathe new life so that other generations may discover the truth.
To “eulogize,” the dictionary says, “is to speak or write high praise for.” Grace deserves a eulogy beyond what I have power to give her. Dr. King had presidents and princes to praise him, poems written, songs sung, a national holiday in his honor. All because he was a witness to truth. Grace has no one but us, and there will never be a holiday to commemorate her witness. There aren’t going to be any monuments with Grace’s name inscribed. No poems, no songs. Her birthday, the day of her death, will not be recorded. Her ashes will be scattered, her face forgotten. All her hopes and all her dreams vanished from memory. But her “No” will never be silenced now.
The state, the nation, the powers of this world do not want it known that a helpless, middle aged woman can be spirited away, locked in a mental hospital, pumped full of mind destroying drugs, and hidden from sight until there is nothing left of her to be a threat to their lie. It can happen in Russia, they tell us. Our “enemies” perpetrate such heinous wrongs. Not us. Not America. It could not happen here to one of us. We don’t want to know. For the knowledge strikes a chord of fear that is not easily stilled. We do not want to remember what happened to Grace. How she suffered those long years alone in Bolivar Mental Asylum in Tennessee because she would not change her story. The thought that one of us might have to suffer for the truth, and suffer at the hands of the state, the police, the law and lawyers, the doctors and social workers, those we rely on for our protection…we don’t want to be reminded that there is more power in the unseen than in the seen. That there is a power ordering life in the universe to the good and a great power which seeks to bend the universe to evil. And each of us is called to stand with the truth and against the lie, but the personal consequences may be great.
Each one of us has had our histories changed or colored by Grace’s heroism. I chanced upon her existence and her whereabouts in 1978. I would like to think that I had something to do with her freedom from imprisonment in a mental hospital. But I couldn’t do much. Her old life had been long since forfeited. There was nothing much that anyone could give her but compassion. Her mind, her youth, her hopes, her dreams: all was gone before I knew her. April took her in and gave her more than anyone had ever given Grace. She had a home at last. Her sheets were clean and her meals were hot, she got to have a cat at last, and to be surrounded by love and laughter for a time. But there had been so much damage done to this life that had to come to this place to live out the remainder of her story.
I don’t know what her days were at Bolivar. My life went on and I was concerned about other things. I never came to see her, never showed her the little kindnesses that those of you who knew her here provided her. I was too busy. And maybe I had done all that I was called to do for her; maybe not. I don’t think she would hold it against me. I don’t remember her holding much of anything against anyone, though she would have been justified, I think.
I hope she had some good days here. I hope she laughed and read and had another cat to love. I hope she played cards and smoked all the cigarettes she wanted, and ate all the candy. If she didn’t have what could possibly be called a happy life, she had a meaningful life. It was a life with a meaning for history and for truth. It was a life that spoke of the best that human beings are capable of….to stand with a truth even if it means one’s life.
On April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, one bullet took two lives. One will never be forgotten, one scarcely remembered. But both were connect as surely as we are connected, as surely as what we do here is, in some mysterious way, important in the plan of God. For Grace has connected us to April 4, 1968, and to one another for all eternity. If she stood at the periphery of a great tragedy, she stood at the center of her own tragedy and we were given the chance to stand with her. And we did, at least for a moment. We stand with her now and will be linked with her for eternity. We have become part of her history, and she part of ours. The threads of time and place have all been connected. She has given us the rare chance to be a part of her “No.”
The powers of this world have lost. The lie will never become the truth because of Grace, because of us, because God placed each of us so as to intersect, so that the story will never be what it might have been if Grace had never lived, if we had never lived. Something will be revealed in time to come because one was willing to stand with the truth until death. Dr. King spoke of the “Beloved Kingdom” where it was easier to do good, where the spirit of truth would reign and peace would come. Grace gave her life so that the beloved kingdom of truth could come. And it must.
We commend our sister Grace to God who is truth. We send her off to truth as a witness to truth. Let her stand now with all the martyrs and all the saints, with Martin and James, with Charlie Stevens who understands now, with mother and father, all the lovers, All the friends and enemies, all perfected now and ready to welcome her. And I hope there is a banner above her that reads, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Welcome home.”