Article Published: Monday, February 14, 2005 - 10:19:48 AM EST


By Carrie Saldo

Berkshire Eagle Staff

GREAT BARRINGTON -- Nearly three dozen strips of white muslin fabric fluttered lightly as the wind made its way through the bell tower of St. James' Episcopal Church on Friday.

Saber Sbar Asef Hmd Alasafe, 19, Murtatlia Jasem, 11, and Theaa Mhmed Kder, no age given, are among the names written on the semitransparent strips. The names represent just a few of the thousands of soldiers and civilians who have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and are part of a memorial, "Grieving Together: Naming the Fallen in Iraq."

The memorial, inside the bell tower, was established as a way to "make the fallen visible," to share grief and to reach beyond theories about war and politics, said parishioner Lee Cheek.

Cheek, St. James' Rector Catherine Richardson and a few others developed the idea for the memorial, which is open to the public daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Holy Week.

'Interconnectedness of life'

"A meaningful way to notice the interconnectedness of life even, and, perhaps especially, in death," read one comment written at the memorial.

The names on the fabric are tied to a string, which is attached to a sculpture of Jesus ascending from a twisted crucifix.

Sculptor David Boland created the work from a piece of twisted, rock-embedded wood he found after the 1995 tornado that hit Great Barrington.

Included in the memorial is a thick binder that lists the names of 4,500 civilians and troops who have died. The names were compiled from various Web sites, such as, and

Richardson said the public is invited to visit the church, select a name to write on the fabric, pray and then tie the name on the string.

She said those who wish to pray at home with the fabric are also welcome to do so.

A comment book is available in the bell tower, or comments can be e-mailed to .

Positive reaction

Within the church, the reaction to the memorial has been positive, Richardson said.

"We had concerns going into it that [the memorial] could be divisive, but people have been able to come together regardless of where they are politically," she said.

Some teenage parishioners helped tear the fabric being used at the memorial. Richardson said they likened ripping the fabric to "tearing bandages."

Purity and surrender

They chose the color white for its spiritual symbolism of purity and surrender. But Richardson and Cheek said that most of all, they want people to pray and reflect on the lives that accompanied the names now billowing in the wind.

In November 2004, the Lancet, a British medical journal, published a study estimating that 100,000 civilians had died in Iraq from the time the war began. The results of that study have been debated, but Cheek said it got her thinking about the dead and their families.

"They are all so invisible to us," she said. "Even if only a fraction of these people have died, it has affected many families."

Carrie Saldo can be reached at or at (413) 528-3660.