ezekiel's chariot - 張敦楷 (pjammer) wrote,
ezekiel's chariot - 張敦楷

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Seattle Vacation - Day 1 (Trains and Murder)

On April 28th, 2012 I stepped foot in Seattle for the first time in my life; the first thing I did was give $50 to a stranger on the street who asking for donations.

Those of you familiar with my penchant for eschewing panhandlers are doubtlessly surprised so allow me to explain myself.

The journey from Oakland to Seattle was a 24 hour ride - enough time for solitude and contemplation while taking in the breathtaking beauty of the Pacific Northwest. It's now two years almost to the day since my therapist Maggie Clough died - a thought that still grieves me in strange ways. As a secular man, I have no expectations that Maggie and I would reconnect in some imagined afterlife.

The midnight train I boarded became a sun-filled skylight to the majesty of the unpaved route along the Pacific - first Mt. Shasta, opening up to the vast plains of Northern California, giving way to snow-capped forests of Oregon, until the light faded into darkness again when our train pulled into its final stop at Amtrak's Seattle station.

With my luggage in hand, the first thing I encountered was a large group outside of what I later learned was Pioneer Plaza in downtown Seattle. Tired from travel, my instinct was to move on - I had a bed to check into, and a full day of meetings and conversations following, but my instincts drew me closer.

I had initially thought the crowd to be the northwestern cousins of the "Occupy" movement, but upon closer inspection these folks were too polite, too respectful, too civil to qualify as anyone from Occupy. It was a far sadder gathering - a candlelight vigil for a 21-year-old girl, Nicole Westbrook who was gunned down on that very spot a week prior.

The story was as short as it was brutal: Walking home from a comedy show with her boyfriend, she was shot in the neck and bled out in front her boyfriend - and subsequently died in the hospital. The shooter and his associate - two young men, boys really, scurried into the night.

There was no attempted robbery to speak of, no grievance they were looking to settle - it was a senseless drive-by shooting.

I further learned that her family seems to singled out by Fate to bedeviled with tragedy - her father, Sgt Alan Westbrook (Army National Guard, 126th Military Police Company) was himself KIA in Iraq from a roadside IED.

The sensible thing to do was to keep walking. I didn't know this woman or her family - she's a stranger in a strange town, who died under strange circumstances.

I could offer lip service condolences to whoever would hear, shake my head at the wrongness of her tragedy.

That would be the sensible thing.

But in some ways, I am a deeply insensible man.

I saw an online request for financial contributions to get her a proper memorial service - and bury her remains next to her father's.

I know that a soldier's life is not a life of material abundance. And how wealthy a life would the family of a dead solider be - a family with five (no four) surviving children who must continue on without his income or leadership?

I opened up the request URL on my smartphone - and saw that there was about $8 in contributions so far; their stated goal of US$4000 seemed impossibly far away.

Having buried my own therapist two years ago, I know how important memorial services are for the living to properly say goodbye to the fallen, and I wanted to kick-start enough money for others to see this as a real fundraiser and join in.

In darkness, I typed off the numbers off my credit card until I came upon a screen

US$50 - Confirm?


I refreshed the page and the donation total now stood at $58 and change - a good start.

And with that, I began my vacation in Seattle.
Tags: life
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Random acts of kindness create large value for all involved.
I hope so. Several friends of mine with deeper pockets than mine threw in some coin and it looks like she was able to get the memorial service her family were asking for.
The surviving spouse and minor children of those who die on active duty get an immediate death gratuity, a significant military life insurance payout, and survivors benefits monthly from both the VA (Dependent's Indemnity and Compensation) and Social Security. DIC can continue to age 24 for unmarried college students, and to death or remarriage for a widow/widower, and lifetime for seriously disabled dependents. They also continue to receive medical coverage, are eligible for educational benefits, and access to military commissary, exchange, and recreational facilities. My ex's father died on active duty, and my ex and his sister were very well taken care of by the military. Since my ex's mother was divorced from his father, she did not receive DIC for herself, only for the children, but she was the named beneficiary for the insurance, which enabled her to buy a nice house for them all to live in and maintain a reasonable lifestyle while they were growing up and then going through college.
Good to know - Sergeant Westbrook had a large family (5 children - now 4) so I don't know if the benefits scale to the size of the family or a lump sum.

It's a tough loss either way for a family that has suffered tremendously.
She's halfway there -- her total is over $2k now.
Her family was able to afford the memorial service they were looking for ... that felt good to hear.