They came like tears, one or two at a time, until their grief was whole. They came to the Lincoln Memorial, more than 1,500 strong, to remember John Lennon, to celebrate his life, music and vision in a silent vigil that moved inexorably into hundreds of choruses of "Give Peace a Chance."

Yesterday afternoon, they came on foot and on bikes; they alighted from cabs and family cars. Some were curious, most were affected. Although most were in their 20s and early 30s, there were hundreds of all ages.

Mrs. Jerry Nestingen of Washington said she had come on behalf of her daughters -- and especially her daughter Laurel, dead of a heart ailment at 21. "John's anti-violence activism brought her joy during her life," she whispered, brushing grey hair from her face. "Another of my daughters called from the University of Wisconson on Monday night and we talked for an hour. How could this happen?"

Drawn by announcements on local radio stations, the crowd began to gather about 2 p.m., massing on the steps of the memorial and extending down to the reflecting pool. There was no center, no leader -- only an unbroken circle of friends. Some came with dogs and frisbees. They held hands; sometimes they held each other, less against the wind than against history. "I never understood who he was," said Kippie Wallace, a 20-year-old from Arlington. "But all the songs on the radio, people talking about him. He was about so much more than being a Beatle."

They came in everyday clothes -- from work, from school, from private griefs, breaking out gestures rusty with disuse -- peace signs and slogans like "All you need is love" and "Give peace a chance." The silent ceremony swelled spontaneously into choruses punctuated by solitary encouragements: "Let John hear you!" . . ."Let the Russians hear you!" . . . "We love you John!" . . . "No more guns!" . . . "I can't hear you."

"Give Peace a Chance" had been an unsung anthem for many years, and it took a while for some to be confident with its simple melody. Many sang in a quiet hush and it was only the numbers that let the song be heard. Every once in awhile, there was the rhythmic clapping that was so much a part of the rallies in the early '70s. This time, the police stood quietly, a dozen of them almost out of sight.

Framed by the stark lines of the memorial to another victim of senseless violence, many lit candles -- flames of the '60s fighting a wind from the '80s -- each flicker a flashback, a reminder, a memory. Some people held up records, photos, copies of Lennon's books. 31-year-old Cathy Terril hugged her 6-year-old son, Nathaniel. Coming here was "the best that we could do." Nathaniel "knows that one of my favorite singers has died." Nathaniel stood close.

Many remained alone, apart from the crowd: One woman stood with her eyes closed, the single word "John" escaping with each sigh. No tears, but all sorrow.