June 19, 2015

Charleston Strong, Indeed

The events at Emanuel AME Church on the night of June 17 are undeniably horrific. They are undeniably sad. Undeniably terrifying. Undeniably wrong.

Yesterday morning as I awoke and as the reality of the situation (which happened less than 12 miles from my home in the Charleston suburbs) set in, I changed my profile picture on Facebook to a photo of the Ravenel Bridge (a landmark here in the city) with the hashtag, #PrayForCharleston, etched across the bottom.

It seemed right.

Today, I wonder if maybe, I didn't get it wrong.

Today, I think, perhaps, I'd have done better to have chosen a photo inscribed with the hashtag, #CharlestonStrong.

Around the country, all across the media and the Facebooks and the everywheres, the news of the slaughter of nine innocent people in their sacred place of worship has been met with rage. With vitriol.

And with all the hateful rhetoric that is ripping this country apart.

I get it. I do. I shared Jon Stewart's poignant remarks because I believe they're spot-on, and I believe wholeheartedly that there is a gaping racial divide in this country that we have not yet begun to heal.


And this is a big BUT!!

Here in Charleston, in the posts from my local friends and acquaintances, and the reposts from local religious figures and random people I don't even know...do you know what I'm reading?

I'm not reading rage. I'm not seeing riots.

I'm reading love.

I'm reading support.

I'm reading posts about where to donate to help the families of the victims.

I'm reading posts about the long, dignified, inspiring history of Emanuel AME Church. 

And I'm seeing pictures of diverse groups of people, joined together in mourning, and joined together in love.

Look. I get it. There is so much wrong with what happened. There's so much wrong in a city where I have to run less than two miles to see a house flying a Confederate flag, or where streets are named for slave owners. I get it. There's much to rage against.

But the people of this city reject the rage. We reject the hate.

And while the rest of the country may see this rejection as a blind acceptance of "the way things are" and "the way they always will be," I think it's the opposite. 

As I read posts lauding the church, the victims, the peaceful, heartbroken gatherings of our city's people, I don't read acceptance. Instead, I read about a city standing up together, defiant. Defiant of the hate. Defiant of the rage. Defiant of everything that tears us down. For it was hate that drove the boy to become a terrorist on Wednesday night. It was hate that made him kill.

And we want to break the cycle of hate.

Perhaps our defiance is quiet. Perhaps it's not great for the 24-hour news cycle.

But dammit if it's not the best sort of defiance this is.

Listen. You. Those of you around the country turning as always to rage: we don't want it. Rage only feeds the flames of hate, and it's hate that's destroying the things we hold most dear. It was hate that ended those nine innocent lives.

And look. You. Here's the other thing. We don't even want you to pray for us. Because, you see, we're praying, too. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Atheists, Agnostics...the people of this city are all praying. We're praying for love. For strength. For understanding. And we want you to pray with us. We want you to stand with us: in love, in memorial, and in the strong and steady defiance of the rage.

You, too, can be #CharlestonStrong.

That's what I'm going to try to be. 

Next week, when the media circus has hopefully lowered their tents and headed for home, I plan totake my daughter to the Emanuel AME Church to lay flowers at the memorial. I plan to tell her: Be brave, Zoe. Be loving. Be kind. Reject hate and anger and rage. And above all, be #CharlestonStrong.

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