Something About Lily

Lily Burk

She was just 17.

They gathered on the lawn at Barnsdall Park on Sunday: the friends of Lily Burk and her parents, Greg and Deb. Some 500 of them, kids and teachers from Oakwood School, where Lily would have been a senior; likewise, kids and teachers from her former schools, L.A. Family School in Silver Lake, and the Oaks in Hollywood; current and former employees of L.A. Weekly, where Greg worked for 25 years as an editor and writer, and where Deb once served as poetry editor; and a wide assortment of family friends. Lewis MacAdams, who read a poem written for the occasion, served as a sort of emcee. He said later that he had never seen so many stricken faces.

The remembrance began with a Syd Straw song, “Golden Dreams.” Backed by Robert Lloyd on guitar, Straw sang from the heart:

You’re far away but I remember
yes I remember you in a golden dream
Then you come to me so quietly in my golden dream.

Lily Burk was abducted and murdered three weeks ago by a transient parolee. Among the speakers was Mark Casanova, who knew Lily in her capacity as volunteer at Homeless Health Care Los Angeles and its needle-exchange program. She wasn’t your typical needle-exchange volunteer, Casanova said. “Lily Burk was the bomb.”

Lily Belle, as she was known at L.A. Family School. On Sunday, my daughter, Nola, carried a snapshot of Lily from preschool, her face painted like some tiny Amazonian goddess. It seemed a fitting way to remember her. There was always something different about Lily, slightly otherworldly; both a normal young girl and beyond the norm. You knew she would become someone extraordinary.

Her dad, Greg, with a strength few of us could imagine, stood before the 500 gathered and told how his only child “could look right into our souls without even thinking about it — and she still loved us.” People say “their children are angels,” he added, “because they bring goodness and light. And that is correct. But Lily reminded me of the root meaning of the word angel, which is a messenger. And she had so many messages for me I can’t count them, but the main one was love.” Deb followed, her small, wiry frame holding up the world, the clarity in her voice a gift: “When I see Lily’s light shining from each of you, and I watch each of you move forward, I get the feeling that it’s possible for me to move forward as well.”

Girlfriends, weeping, read poems and told of Lily’s kindnesses, of Lily being fun, of Lily simply being there. Another classmate, Jack Levinson, spoke eloquently of his friendship with Lily, and pledged his love forever. A teacher, Lynn Cohen, read from one of Lily’s papers — which sounded, as usual, far beyond her years — and from Lily’s notes on her paper, and from Lily’s notes on her notes. (It was signed, “Love, Lily.”) Vinny Golia played a mournful, soprano sax version of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lotus Blossom.”

Five years ago this week, the Weekly published the following review of Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie:

As the main character gives a powerful, heartfelt speech about friendship, a loud noise beside me announces that my father is dead asleep and snoring. It is possible that many adults will respond to Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie in this fashion. Based on the animated TV series, the film features a boy named Yugi, who has won two Duel Monsters card tournaments and is now King of Games. Power-hungry Kaiba, Yugi’s rival, gets hold of a rare card and challenges Yugi. Our hero then realizes that Kaiba is being controlled by the evil Anubis, who sucks the souls of Yugi’s friends into a vortex! Unless Yugi defeats Anubis in a duel, the world as he knows it will be gone forever. With its wiseass wit lightening up more-dramatic scenes, and expressive anime scenery in the background, Yu-Gi-Oh! will probably spark an interest in kid audiences. All of the characters, however, are one-dimensional, and much of the dialogue is very clichéd — most of us have heard enough of the Friendship Moral. Adults: If your child forces you to go to Yu-Gi-Oh!, remember that there’s no law against iPods in movie theaters.

Lily Burk was just 12 when she wrote this. She was just 17 when she died.

 

A Flower for Lily
By Lewis MacAdams

Do not fear the tears
in the public or the private sphere.
Learn what the women already know:
Lift yourself upwards, let yourself go.

At JoAnne’s, friends stood around in clumps;
but the cocktail party chatter was of karma and murder,
compassion, and acceptance; and no one
knew what to say or do but the women
who set out piles of food and sat around
the table on the porch, sipping wine
and watching the sun descend
while the rest of us said “I love you” to people
we’d known for years but never said that to before;
and told each other how much their friendship meant
as the hours for reflection grew shorter —
feeling foolish in the face of fate.

“Lily always gave hugs like she meant it,”
JoAnne told me, “leaning her head on your shoulder.”
Keepers of the spirit, let her go now.
Say good-by to your hopes for her.
Say good-by to your plans.

Commit her memory to your heart.
Debbie and Greg, we want you
to be braver than we are,
more noble and stronger than we could ever be.
Commit your daughter to the watershed,
scatter her ashes between
the earth and sky
where tears and laughter,
life and death, are one.

Just this morning I woke up and wrote
“to continue in this sorrowful world is
the greatest personal triumph
no one ever talks about;”
but what I meant to say was
Be enduring. Dare to endure. Endure.

—August 9, 2009

 


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