My partner Andy and I just returned from a wonderful trip to Colorado. Because of its close proximity, Laramie, Wyoming was quickly added to our itinerary as well. Laramie was close enough by car to the Boulder, Colorado area, so I wanted to make a kind of pilgrimage there, to honor Matthew Shepard's spirit by sending our warm wishes out into the wind.
There was no need to go to the exact place those guys took Matthew and left him for dead. A brief search on Google and then Google Earth showed me exactly where it was, but I have to say, just seeing it on my computer screen was enough to upset me. This was no fictional story I grew up with; it was an all too real reminder of the power of hatred.
I think it's safe to say, none of us would really want our loved ones to focus on our method of death, or the place we happened to give up our spirit. Yet this town still means something important to so many of us. It's a place we think of when we think of Matthew Shepard. And Matt is a boy we think of when we think of the uphill climb we're all still on.
So how is the place? How is Laramie?
The answer might surprise you.
Laramie is, for lack of a better word, average. It's just a quiet little town surrounded by many, many miles of quieter fields and hills. The beauty of the area is everywhere, and the happy quiet goes on for miles!
And the people we met in Laramie? They were likewise...average. They're just like you and me. The people we met were friendly and kind, warm and gracious. They didn't kill Matthew Shepard. They didn't even want him hurt. They just live there, and I imagine they grimace like the rest of us when the issue is raised. I'm sure they just want their quiet little Wyoming town remembered for nothing more than the beauty of the area, the stillness of the land, and the simple, happy life they all live.
As we left Laramie, my partner Andy put it best. We were thinking about the event that night that ultimately took Matthew Shepard's life, and thinking about what we'd just experienced in the town of Laramie (a brief drive through town, and a short lunch). As we pulled back onto the highway, Andy said, "These aren't bad people at all here; they're just like us. They've got all the same stores we do too." His statement was simple but perfect.
People are all the same anywhere you go on this earth. There are people who do bad things, and there are people who do good things.
So I guess my point is, what have you heard about the town of Laramie before or since Matthew Shepard's murder there? I'm thinking, like me, you'd answer nothing at all. Laramie is just a little town where on one night many years ago, a horrible thing happened at the hands of two very disturbed young men.
Laramie doesn't deserve to be branded a place of hate. It's simply a place where hate once happened. And because our planet is so vast and filled with so many kinds of people, it's helpful to remember that just as hate will show up here and there, goodness will prevail much more often.
Matthew was taken from us through a bad act 16 years ago, but Matthew's spirit reminds us of so much more good found every day since...in his name, because of his life, and through his never-ending legacy.
The smoke of a burnt-out candle is not the candle, and the bright light of Matt's life is clearly shining on...for miles.
A version of this story was previously published on the author's blog at http://finishingforty.blogspot.com/