I have spent much of this past week trying to avoid the news — but that has been impossible. There has been too much going on for me not to pay attention, as is the case with most Americans. It has been a week of mourning, a week of hope and depending on where you sit, a week of sweeping change in our nation.
Much ink and many talking heads have analyzed the events of the past two weeks ad nauseum. And then the social media pundits have put their spin on it, much of which has done nothing more than alienate people and confuse the real point of all of the discussions. I had thought to hold my peace and discuss none of it, which I have successfully done up to this point. I find that I cannot do that anymore, so, for what it’s worth, here is my two cents worth on one of the subjects.
I have long had a love affair with Charleston. It started long before I ever stepped foot on its historic streets, and probably stemmed from books I read when I was younger. Charleston has always been, in my mind, the jewel of the South. I frequently have the argument with friends that Savannah is Charleston’s dirty cousin. To me, the city lacks the grace that has always been part and parcel of Charleston.
The first time I visited Charleston, I was house-sitting for a college friend of mine. Her family was, for lack of better words, from the old-money South. While, in college, I attended her brother’s wedding. It was my job to pick up her mother’s nanny, an elderly African-American woman, whom had always been a part of her life. She was as much family as any that attended the wedding–something that a lot of people won’t understand. There was a very real familial connection.
But I digress. For my friend’s wedding present, her parents bought her a house on the battery. It was quite a chore for me, a starving reporter at a small-town newspaper, to go take care of her house and dogs while she vacationed at Martha’s Vineyard. During my seven days there, I walked every street, turned every corner and visited every historic building in the city. I fell in love; a love which I later shared with my husband.
When we feel the need for some “us time,” we head to Charleston. We walk the same streets, meet many of the same characters and visit the same places. There is a grace and hospitality that flows from the people — people of all colors. You can have the best conversations on the streets and, if you take the time, meet the best people. We do both.
That’s why I was not surprised by the reaction of the people of Charleston to the evil that visited their city. For them to act in any other way would have blind sided me. The people of Charleston are gracious. They have seen the worst that men can do to each other, and they weathered that storm and passed the lessons they learned down through the generations.
I watched horror-stricken as the news broke of the shooting. Mass shootings are unthinkable, but for it to happen in a house of worship is beyond believable. The very act is evil, but for it to happen in a church is perhaps evil incarnate. And for it to happen because someone doesn’t like the color of someone’s skin is sickening–beyond belief.
Having been raised in a military family, I was raised around the United States. We lived and worshipped with people of all races, colors and beliefs. None of that ever mattered to us. They were our friends and neighbors. If you were to visit my home today, you will find the same kind of mix.
Many of the people I consider family are people who do not look like me. My son’s godfather is an African-American. Many of my baseball moms, whom I spend countless weekends with, and with whom I laugh and love greatly, do not look like me. But we are a family - we are the Rebel Nation.
Many people are more comfortable around people who are like us. For me, being like me means that you are probably smart; that you have a broad world view; that you have an open heart; an open mind; are extremely loyal to those who deserve it; and understand that the only inflexible thing about me is my love for my family and my love of God.
With that being said, it was not surprising to me that the people of Charleston, and particularly the people of the Charleston church, reacted the way they did. They reacted not with hate, not with ignorance or closed minds, but rather out of love, forgiveness and an understanding that evil walks this earth and manifests itself in the lives of people — sometimes even our neighbors.
I mourned the deaths of my Christian brothers and sisters who were killed while worshipping. But I rejoiced in the response of their friends and families. I rejoiced in the actions of the people of Charleston who rallied around them, who wrapped their arms around the church and even around the confused, angry young man who listened to the hatred spewed on television and social media.
America has many faults and we have become an angry and divided populace, but we can love. We can rise above. That’s the America I love. That’s the America that Charleston showed us we could be. Let’s take that lesson to heart. Let’s let the diversity that made us great, bring us back together. There are no others. There’s only us, and we will rise or fall together.