An overflowing crowd filled Unitarian Universalist Church on Monday to remember and celebrate the all-too-short life of Asa Hill, the 7-year-old boy fatally injured in last Thursday's fiery, six-car accident on the Niagara Thruway.
Asa's presence was felt in the Elmwood Avenue church through fond remembrances of family members. It was reflected in the outpouring of the diverse crowd and by the surprise marriage of his parents, Amilcar Hill and Rahwa Ghirmatzion, near the conclusion of the two-hour memorial.
The marriage was yet another effect of the small boy who was loved by many and, since his death, has come to be embraced by far more.
"Asa always wanted us to get married," Ghirmatzion said after the memorial. "He'd say, 'When are you guys going to get married? How come you're not getting married?' And we'd say, 'We were waiting for you to be part of it.'
"That's why it's so fitting."
The service that focused on Asa's life and the joyful impact he had on others opened with an African procession of drummers, dancers and singers. The escalating beat over 15 minutes reached a near-fever pitch.
The Rev. Joel Miller followed by speaking of Asa as a "force of nature" who, having learned to read and walk at an early age, enjoyed puzzles, music and dancing, and even figuring out game instructions.
A succession of relatives, interspersed with several singers, celebrated little Asa's giving and play ful spirit, recalling daily hugs, kisses and times when he would call them on the carpet if they forgot. Images of the beautiful boy were projected onto a screen.
Bob Ball, who has been a grandfather to Asa, said the child knew his place in the world beyond his years.
"Recently, Asa said, 'You know, Bob, I'm part of this world.' He lived the true nature of love. I'm grateful for the honor of being his 'Bob.' "
Ball's partner, Lorna Hill, artistic director of Ujima Theatre, recited the poem, "On Children," from Kahlil Gibran's "The Prophet."
"On behalf of everybody, I would like to thank you," she said afterward. "I want you to know that -- and it's not because I was his grandmother -- Asa was a perfect child. He lived a perfect life. And I thank you because he figured out how to do that because he lived in a perfect community."
Pastor Andre Williamson was among those who said the importance of Asa's life could not be measured by years lived.
"It is not as important to have a long life as it is to have a quality life," Williamson said.
He said Asa would continue to touch others by his parents' decision on donating his organs.
"Now a child has a new heart, another child has a new kidney. We now have [other] children that now have hope that never had hope before," Williamson said.
The minister revealed he had had a powerful spiritual experience Friday while present during Asa's last moments in Women & Children's Hospital.
"I saw an angel for the first time," he said. "Something like that never happened to me before."
Amilcar Hill, Asa's father, expressed his deep gratitude to those in attendance for their support. He urged them to live a life inspired by Asa's example.
"I cannot tell you how much this [turnout] means to me, or describe to you how much stronger our community will be forever.
"Love each other and do the work that you know is right and others will benefit," Hill said. "Honor love, honor love, just honor love."
Hill also urged others to become organ and blood donors. He said he was "so happy" when he got the phone call that others would benefit from Asa's death.
"It was a hard decision, for sure," he said, "but I will tell you it has brought me peace.
Ghirmatzion said she reached the decision Friday to marry and Hill arrived at it independently Saturday. The couple, who have been together for 13 years, including a 5-year hiatus, kept their plans a secret to all but a few at the service.