From Morgan's Professor, Jane Lillian Vance


A Letter to Morgan

Dear Little Morgan, you blue-eyed cherub-girl, collector of music and toy turtles, lover of all animals, child watching the wild-perfect Virginia creek-water burble over your gifted  hands, you were breathtaking joy.

Remember, Morgan? I met you the first time in 2007, in your Mama's church. My large painting of a Tibetan healer was there, and I presented  an evening talk about the journey ahead. My film team and I were about to take the painting to the Himalayas, as A Gift for the Village. It was late, and I had to drive back up the mountain, but a tiny beautiful woman approached me and asked so respectfully if I could please wait just twenty minutes, for her daughter to come see this painting.

She was your mother, Morgan. Now we all know Gil's eloquence, and the way, when she asks, it is a right request. Tens of thousands of us adore her, listen to her every word, try somehow to help hold up your Papa and her with our fierce admiration and constant astonishment. Your parents are our heroes.

You were sixteen that night when we shook hands, you and I, and God knows we sealed a deal. When you looked at my painting, I saw you conduct it, the way a maestro sees each contribution in an orchestra. I've never seen anyone look at my paintings in the same way. It's as if you were painting it again.

In the Spring of 2009 I met you again. You sought out my class at Virginia Tech. You were a magical writer, modest the way ancient holy people are, but fresh in your expression, the way artistic geniuses are. You were honest, and grateful.

On October 17th, that same year, you went to a concert. You fell and hit your head hard on the way to the bathroom. By the time you got there, you were bleeding from an open gash on your face. There were no drugs or alcohol in your system. You were concussed, head-injured, disoriented, and you wandered outside the John Paul Jones Arena.

It was cold and drizzly. You did not have your coat. You tried to get back in at several doors. You wandered in the parking lot for 40 minutes. Security must have been chatting.

And then a man, a predator, arrived. A man who waits for weakness. He is a coward and a brute. Insatiable.

And for 18 days shy of five years, we have been looking for the man whose DNA is all over your murder.
The man who carried you over his shoulder and walked up into a fallow pasture and dropped you like trash. The man in the darkness who startled the witnessing deer, who then for 100 nights through that autumn and winter looked over this fallen human doe with her long golden hair, unmoving, hidden down on the ground in the thigh-high waving burnt-orange Albemarle County switchgrass, and her Mama's earrings and bracelet keeping vigil, as this daughter of Dan and Gil Harrington skeletonized.  The bracelet that your Mama wears now, because it was with you when your 20-year-old heart stopped beating under the crush of the terrifying incomprehensibly raging murderer.

In response, out of their agony, and because they are servants and loving citizens, your parents created Help Save the Next Girl, and God knows we have tried.

Last night, I corresponded with a woman in Budapest, who wants to start the first European chapter of Help Save the Next Girl.  The need is great. Your parents, in giving you positive legacy, have created a different media, a different paradigm of law enforcement, a different community, so that if the next girl went missing, we could all kick into concerted action better than we did in your case.

We are here now, a new crusade, this time without stridence and bludgeoning. We want no more bludgeoning. Live and let live. Worship, and let worship. We just want to Help Save the Next Girl.

Morgan, my son is a lawyer, my daughter a doctor, and my friends are teachers and Christian medical missionaries and Buddhists and collectors of art. I am educated by them all, enough not to diagnose or convict.

So I will use the word suspect.

We have him.

The suspect.

It took us almost five years, but we have him. Did he really believe we would ever relent?

Love is relentless against suffering. Love rushes in with new energy and restores if we falter or doubt. Love gives permission to laughter when our faces are swollen with grief. Love guides our hands to comfort those who are smaller or weaker, the loyal dog, the exhausted kitten, the sea turtle tangled in a net, the brother whose sister has been murdered. Love cherishes, cooks, stands, waits, marches, carries, designs, theorizes, investigates, and searches. And love speaks. Love is no introvert.

I remember as if it were yesterday the way I could see you feel a moment   before  it arrived, in McBryde 219, when I would ask an incredibly difficult question in class--

"So if the story is not based on action, if there is no ostensible build of narrative here,  why am I teaching this work? What IS there, besides action? Anyone? Yes?"

--and when no one in class felt confident to take on such a blustery question, I would allow silence, I would wait, and then I would see you, Morgan, stunningly beautiful Morgan, looking down at your notebook, always drawing, absorbing, seated always in the front row, in the chair as close to me as a student could be--

And I would see you, Morgan, still looking down, my front row girl, starting to smile. You couldn't help it. You could feel the question before I asked it, and if I really needed help, you knew I would lean on you.


And you would answer. "Conversation. The action in this story is the swirl and play of ideas. Conversation, which moves  like kids on a playground, or dancers on a stage, when it's done well. What's going on here is conversation."

We miss you, brilliant Morgan. You were fun and generous and overflowing with talent. I admired you. I loved you.

And I still love you. How could I not?

We would never have stopped working toward this day.

I wish I could ask you, Morgan, a blustery question about justice. I imagine you would talk about relief and satisfaction. I think you would make a distinction about renewal, tell me something about seasons and reincarnation. Explain to me that love can not be created or destroyed. That love is made of God particles.

I thank God and community for this day, the Beginning of Justice.

You must have been smiling, since you could always feel the moment before it arrived.

I hope you are smiling still.




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