On a chilly Thursday evening, the sound of the Humanities fountain’s rippling waters felt louder than ever, as they were underscored by the overwhelming silence of students, faculty and staff coming together to pray. Gathered around a trail of candles, the Stony Brook community listened to Amrita Sathasivam and Aravinth Pushparaj, members of the Sri Lankan Student Association, as they remembered the lives of the victims of the Easter terror attacks in Sri Lanka.
“I think it is a gracious act that everyone has gathered here despite the cold and rain,” Pushparaj, who is originally from Sri Lanka, said. “All of you have gathered here in solidarity to stand with our friends and the lives that have been lost in Sri Lanka and of the lives that are suffering,” he continued.
Sathasivam and Pushparaj shared their fears of growing up in Sri Lanka where the nation was plunged into a civil war for decades.
“I hope that the last of the attack is the last of it because we are a nation that has been recovering from a 30-year war,” said Pushparaj. “We grew up amidst these crises. We grew up scared, running under the beds or tables every time we heard a blast.”
Sathasivam, whose mother woke her up to share the horrifying news, said, “My first question was: is my grandma okay, is my family okay? The church that first got blasted was a church that was frequently visited by my family.”
A crowd of Stony Brook University students representing the Undergraduate Student Government (USG), as well as various Muslim and Catholic organizations on campus, came together amongst local Sri Lankan mothers and children to show support for the grieving nation, which has reported about 100 dead so far in the aftermath of the attacks.
The USG-sponsored vigil also remembered the lives of over 130 killed in an attack on a village in central Mali.
Sathasivam, a junior health science major, recited an original poem titled, “Together.”
“We were together praying before evil descended upon us. A bomb was blasted. Our hearts stopped beating and there was silence. Everyone stayed silent,” she read. “But our future won’t fall apart. We won’t bow down to terrorists. Our words will bind in unity. The world will hear about us.”
Sathasivam and Pushparaj reminded the mourning crowd that love and support triumphs hate and that pointing fingers is never the solution in times of great sorrow. They said that fear can be overcome when it is met with lending hands within the community and distant ones.
Catholic Campus Minister, Felicia Viscusi, led a prayer in honor of Sri Lanka’s victims who died while attending church on one of the most important holy days for Christians around the world. The prayer was accompanied by a moment of silence, thinking of the lives lost to such a devastating attack, communal sacrifice and the power that resides in togetherness.
“We ask you to bring peace to our families and friends who are grieving at this time and throughout the whole world,” she read.
Representing Stony Brook University’s Muslim community, Hammaad Shah, a second-year dental student, condemned the religious extremists who committed the acts of violence.
“It’s hard to even comprehend how we feel in the face of such overwhelming and unimaginable tragedy,” Shah said. “The sick perpetrators and inhumane massacres in Sri Lanka and Mali do not define us. In our shared humanity, we grieve for those who have passed. We grieve for the hatred in the world that divides us.”
The Sri Lankan Student Association closed the vigil speaking about the gratitude they felt in having others from diverse backgrounds stand united in the midst of Sri Lanka’s undergoing tragedy. Pushparaj told the grieving supporters that they could make a difference by donating to their GoFundMe page.
“It will go to individuals who were directly affected. It will go towards their medical health, resettling them, for buying supplies, rebuilding their lives and rebuilding the nation,” Pushparaj said.
The orange, green, maroon and gold colors of the Sri Lankan flag pierced the grayness of the sky as the Sri Lankan Student Association held their undulating flag in the center of the Stony Brook community.