Patchogue Village, NY

The Patchogue Arts Council and Herstory Writers’ Workshop proudly announce When Words Have the Power: Stories for Justice.

Serving as a literary highlight of the 2016 Patchogue Arts Festival: Global Local, this reading will feature excerpts of memoirs developed in the writing workshop Bridges To Justice, hosted by the Patchogue Arts Council and Herstory Writer’s Workshop.

It will be held on Monday, Oct. 24, at 7:30 p.m. in the Patchogue Theatre lobby.

In the below excerpt from “Light My Candle,” retired editor and journalist Susan Perretti shares a pivotal moment, during which she is propelled to stand up against injustice in her community during the dark days after the tragic murder of Marcelo Lucero.

by Susan Perretti

I’m on my knees cleaning the upstairs bathroom, big rubber gloves up to my elbows, when the last song on the Peter, Paul and Mary CD I’m listening to begins.  Light One Candle” is one of my favorites. Now and then, seemingly out of nowhere and for no apparent reason, in my head I’ll hear Peter singing the lyrics, and each time, they stir me, they summon me to something greater than myself.  They get me on my feet.

It’s happening again now. Gloves on, clumsily I go over and hit replay on the CD player. I stand with my eyes shut, my arms outstretched, singing, out loud.  I know all the words.  When the chorus comes, I’m ready: “Don’t let the light go out! It’s lasted for so many years!  Don’t let the light go out! Let it shine through our love and our tears.”

I sing it again and again, alone in the bedroom, I sing until the sun is about to set and the water in the bucket I was cleaning with has turned cold.  And the whole time I am singing, my voice at times breaking, I am thinking of Marcelo, and of the vigil two days ago and of the candles that had brightened the streets of Patchogue that night, beacons of hope against a sky etched with what seemed to me then to be relentless darkness: Marcelo was dead, nothing could bring him back. The hearts of the Ecuadorian people were broken, the people here and those in Gualaceo, a people in shock, the people of Patchogue, too, in shock, the mayor, the librarians, the storekeepers. Like me, they might never have heard of Marcelo had it not been for that earlier November night by the railroad tracks, that night of terrible darkness. 

Then why do I sing, why has this song brought me to my feet once more? “Light one candle for the strength that we need to never become our own foe. And light one candle for those who are suffering pain we learned so long ago. . .

It is true, Marcelo’s light has gone out, but maybe there is this other light, as old as pain and suffering, as old as love. That’s what this song is about, the part that always gets to me, and just when I think it’s over it’s not.  I forget and then I remember, and when I do, I can believe in a light that burns forever, that is passed from one person to the next, one decade to another.

The one flame that lit the candles the people held on Railroad Avenue the other night, the light that defied the dark sorrow of that misty night when we were all together, and the darkness of the first night when Marcelo fell, and all the nights too many to count when over and over people like him were struck down, men, women and children, through the centuries – an ageless eternal darkness. 

But at the same time, off in the distance, a steady light that kept burning, alive in the flames that brightened the streets of Patchogue, and in other places where the unthinkable had occurred and people with candles dared to step out of their homes to say No More.  No, they have said over the centuries, all over the world, with their words and with their bodies.  No, we will not forget.  No, we will not let anger and the dam-bursting waters of revenge and hatred make us like the ones who did these things.  No, we will not walk away from this spot, this spot where the terrible took place, and no, we will not be the same as we were before we stood here.

“What’s the commitment to those who have died that we cry out they’ve not died in vain? We have come this far always believing that justice would somehow prevail. . .

I sing, and I feel a new energy rising up and through me, like other times this song, or one with a similar message, or a story or the words of someone speaking at a rally brought me to my feet, determined, inspired, and just like now, there was the pounding of my heart, the pulsing, the surging. My hands clenched now as they were those other times, when my face would be flushed with fury and elation and the pounding pulsing surging within, everything in me ready to take action –and then something would shift and I would freeze, overcome by the fear in my belly, the dryness in my throat, stuck where I had been standing, the power dripping from me, the work I had felt myself moving toward suddenly too large for me to follow? The memories of those days tower over me now and I ask myself, Why will this time be any different?

But then I remember: Marcelo’s smiling face, the faces of the men near the Laundromat and the faces of the men, women and children who gathered on Railroad Avenue two nights ago – Latinos, Anglos, African American, Muslims, Christians, Jews – none of that was important on the second dark night. In the newspaper the day after Marcelo died, the stricken face of Marcelo’s mother Rosario and her words, “We are human beings!”

And yes I have felt this way before, the rising up inside and out, everything in me coming alive, reaching higher, invigorated from caring that much, my own heart practically broken, only to lose my courage and my faith and let it all slip away because I couldn’t face down the terror or the immensity of the task and my own too-smallness.  But this time it seems closer than ever before, and there are those faces I can still see so clearly, and I know I won’t be able to rest until I allow this surging pulsing pounding to carry me to the other side of just thinking, just crying, just getting angry.

I have no idea what I’m going to do but the spirit of Peter’s song has carried me this far. I allow myself to fall into its arms of dreams where anything is possible, and I make up my mind: I won’t dismiss the persistence of its plea that I now realize is as much about my own life as it is about what happened to Marcelo on that terrible night: “Don’t let the light go out.”

about the writersusan

Susan Perretti has been writing with Herstory since 2009. Her memoir-in-process traces her emergence from childhood family violence as the larger story of her commitment to nonviolence and peace activism unfolds.

A retired editor and journalist, in recent years she has been a freelance writer, copy editor and communications consultant for non-profit organizations.