About 200 people gathered in Ashland on Saturday night to celebrate the life of a hometown boy who died trying to protect a pair of women from anti-Muslim abuse in Portland.
As the sun set on a golden spring day, they gathered in Lithia Park, near a fast-running Ashland Creek. Friends, family and community members held candles and sang songs of peace in honor of 23-year-old Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche.
Monique Torok – Namkai-Meche’s sister-in-law – said standing up for a stranger was just the kind of man he was.
“I can assure you he was passionate about human rights,” she said. “I can assure you he absolutely did that. It was not like a casual thing or a mistake. This was a person rising to this occasion.”
Born and raised in Ashland, Namkai-Meche was one of three men who tried to intervene when a man yelled anti-Muslim slurs at two women on a light rail train in Portland. Police allege 35-year-old Jeremy Joseph Christian stabbed all three men. Namkai-Meche and 53-year-old Ricky John Best of Happy Valley, Oregon died. The third man – 21-year-old Micah David-Cole Fletcher – is recovering from his injuries in a Portland hospital.
Christian has a violent criminal record. His Facebook page is littered with white supremacist posts and he was filmed at a recent Portland rally shouting racial epithets and displaying Nazi salutes.
But for the stunned and grieving community at Lithia Park, the hate or mental illness that caused the pain that brought them together was not the point.
Norma Burton is a family friend and minister at Unity in Ashland. She told the gathering the loss of Taliesin – and the manner of his death – was a challenge to the community to rise above anger.
“And we know we are being called to a time when we’re going to have to love more deeply, in a different way, than we have ever yet loved,” she said.
Family friend Mera Gagnon had watched Taliesin grow up. She called him a being of light.
“And he’s a light of this community,” she said. “He’s absorbed it. It’s a part of his beingness. And he was here on a mission. And he just used his light to teach an unbelievable lesson.”
18-year-old Ashland resident Gabriel Ruiz said Taliesin’s sacrifice made him think about the heroes of the past.
“People who had the guts -- but more importantly, they had the heart – to see something wrong and say, ‘No. I will not let this go.’”
Gabriel’s father, Grant Ruiz, said like many in the community, he felt drawn to be here this evening.
“People feel like they need to come together for the family,” he said. “I feel that this is everybody coming together for whatever reason they had, in the same spirit. That feels important.”
As darkness fell and the mourners dispersed, they left dozens of candles flickering in honor of a promising young man – one of their own – who had stood up for the values they hold dear – and had paid with his life.