If you wondered what I was up to over the last four months, I was up to my eyeballs in boxes, preparing for a move and then unpacking afterwards. This move was a big one that took my husband and me away from “our home”–the place we met, married, bought our first house, and started our family. And with each trip back to load up more of our stuff, it was–like the song says–a “sentimental journey.”
Although we’re making our new home in a city not too far away, it’s hard not to think about our old home and the things that recently thrust it in the national spotlight.
To think, I never would have set foot on South Carolina soil had it not been for a job I accepted in a great newsroom more than a decade ago. I admit I was one of those people who spent years imagining the state with walking-talking racists who used the confederate flag as their banner.
I was honestly afraid of what I might encounter when I moved there.
It’s true that some of my encounters over the years fed into those fears, and fueled my frustration. I’ve had phone conversations at work with TV news viewers who spouted racist jargon and went on rants, without giving a second thought to who might be on the other end of the line. I’ve heard stories about fellow minorities being pulled over or ticketed by police with no evidence to back up the claims of wrongdoing. I’ve heard decisions and declarations that made me question the motives behind them. But nothing made me feel the way I felt the day I heard someone walked into a historic church in Charleston, attended a bible study, and minutes later killed many of the people who so graciously welcomed them–a crime investigators said happened because of the color of the churchgoers’ skin.
At first, I didn’t want to believe it. But it was real, laid out right in front of me in pictures. Pictures of a stone-faced young man police say admitted to being that killer–posed with a confederate flag. Pictures of the nine men and women whose lives tragically ended, with their names underneath so they become etched in our minds and written on our hearts. Pictures of families limp from the shock and sadness of all that happened.
Seeing it all made tears run down my face. My heart hurt and my head was once again full of questions. How could this be happening in this day and age? Can we feel safe anywhere these days? Are things ever going to get better?
That day, my daughter slept peacefully in my lap as I watched the news for updates. I didn’t want any of my movements to disturb her; so a stream of tears made its way down my cheek and onto the sleeve of her dress. I took a moment to watch her. She was so still and calm, only moved by the steady up and down of drawn breaths.
She was at peace, while I was anything but. I ached for the place I called home for the past ten years. Neighbors were in a state of grief, trying to remain strong for a community dealt such a devastating blow with nine beautiful souls taken from it, including a state senator. Meanwhile, others stood divided on the issue of a confederate flag that senator’s coffin was wheeled right past the first day he was to lie in state in the capitol rotunda.
It’s been nearly a month since that day, and I think it’s taken me that long to process it all. Now, the shooting suspect is behind bars and under investigation until his expected trial date next summer…the dead have long been memorialized…and that divisive confederate flag is no longer waving on state capitol grounds and groups are rallying because of the move.
After all that’s transpired, I often stare at my sleeping daughter and wonder what her future will be like. More times than not, I end up in a state of anxiety. Then God shows me pictures from the South Carolina I came to know and love, and I find a bit of hope. Pictures of friends from all races and backgrounds united in Palmetto pride…Christian believers coming together and welcoming each other despite outward differences…and unexpected friends becoming like family, with our children learning about a love that knows no bounds.
Having those experiences helps me envision my baby girl living a reality where she doesn’t have to witness so many assaults against humanity. And I like that.
Yet, I don’t want that vision only living in my imagination. I want to keep the #CharlestonStrong momentum going and spread it across the nation. However, it starts with us. We have to make a conscious effort to show love every day. I mean the kind of love that is kind, patient, protecting, and persevering; it’s the kind of love that rejoices with the truth and stands against evil. We have to cross those proverbial lines that separate us to talk about the hard stuff, to pray for each other, and to worship together. We have to embrace each other to keep the weary of us from becoming weighed down by our heavy hearts. We have to show sympathy and find a little empathy for the hurting. We have to let others see a bit of the beauty that’s left in our broken world.
I know that we can’t release centuries of tension overnight, but I think those of us who can appreciate each other’s differences can continue the work to loosen the grip it has on our society.