Chris Al-Aswad, 2nd Memorial Celebration
On July 28, 2012, about 25 people came together to celebrate the life of Chris Al-Aswad, founder of Escape Into Life, at his home in Normal, Illinois. Friends, family, and neighbors gathered in his house and the back yard, to remember him and to share a meal. His father, Basel Al-Aswad, spoke lovingly of his son and led a blessing in Aramaic. I shared these remarks, quoting from Chris’s journal:
Hello, my name is Kathleen Kirk. I am the poetry editor for Escape Into Life. I knew Chris only in the last few years of his life, in passing conversations here in Normal, but even in our brief contact I learned a lot about him because he was telling his story. He was, as the poet Emily Dickinson would say, writing his “letter to the world.” He was speaking it, sending his words out on the Internet, speaking as himself or through personas or masks, and writing relentlessly in his journals, which he knew to carry his “essence.”
His relentless writing might suggest that he sensed—not knew, with his rational mind, but sensed with his whole being—that he was not long for this world. In his journal he sometimes wrote that he had plenty of time to develop into a great writer. Who knows when Death will come? “I might have 20, 40, 60 years,” he wrote, but he didn’t. And even saying “20, 40, 60” was a measuring of what time was left.
His actions—journal writing, poetry and novel drafting, and Escape Into Life itself—all of what he did made sure he had told his story in the time he had.
And, while he prized his solitude, he also surrounded himself with people during his lifetime—family and good friends. In June of 2005, he said this in his journal:
I am blessed to have all these people in my life. I’d like to think that I attract good people. Well, everyone has a good heart. Some people’s hearts are a bit inaccessible—that is, they haven’t discovered a road to their true selves yet—but they will, they will discover their potential through their hearts. I trust everyone will, sooner or later, or at least make headway before death.
I trust that Chris himself made headway before death, finding a path to his own heart and the hearts of many others.