It is significant to me that all this happened during a time when I was already trying to write something about Charleston anyway. About how much being a part of her means to me. To live here, to raise our children here. It matters.
I moved home after college. Not because I wanted to, but because it never occurred to me to move anywhere else. It was not so bad. I met a boy and some friends and chewed on the sweet story of settling down in my hometown. But the boy was going nowhere and the friends went everywhere and eventually it was just me and my mom in my little lonely apartment, drinking wine and ebaying, enjoying our tipsy evenings and avoiding what was coming: a change.
I think for a long time I had been thinking I was a person that I wasn’t. Not really in a bad way, more like I resigned myself to an incorrect answer. Living an ill-fitting life because of the careless oversight of forgetting that I was still young enough to go anywhere I wanted to.
I reached out to my relocated friends and tried several places on for size: Jacksonville was cumbersome. Atlanta was bottlenecked. Nashville was lovely, but moved like a revolving door with no entry. Charlotte was simply too perfect: too tailored and tucked in. And then I came here…
It was not the most ideal time, and I think the fact that I chose this city in her worst month, maybe says a lot about the both of us. It was a late July weekend that fed into August, and I rented a hotel room with two friends and the notion that we might be coming here to stay. A couple of nights spent walking the thoroughfares and leaning into new scenery. It felt right. The balmy air of a city near the beach. An abundance of flip flops. Everyone’s hair and clothes slightly out of place, like a second thought to other things that matter more. The elements. Life. Happiness.
And three months later I was here, with my rent paid and my spoons in the sink. And it was alright.
It isn’t true, what they are saying on the news. I mean: it’s true, but not the way they are saying it. There has been tragedy, but we are not a tragic city. There has been loss, but we are not a lost city. There has been devastation, but we are not devastated. We have not been consumed by this monster. He was not ours. He drove down here in his dark car and tried to take something from those beautiful people, our beautiful city, but anger and fear and hate leave no room for anything good to be carried. And so he surrendered the following morning, sad and empty-handed.
My husband and I were pulled downtown, compelled to be part of it all. The air was pensive and paused, there were empathetic tourists and locals with purpose in their steps. We made a few stops and worked our way up to the church. It was midnight but the crowd remained, and you could feel the collective mourning, the wish that it had not happened, that it could somehow be undone. Everything was quiet and soft, save for the national news people in their big vans holding hard and heavy microphones. Can I speak to you? What do you have to say about this?
We cried as we walked back to our car.
The voices of our leaders have fortified us. We have heard pastors and mayors, governors and the reflective sigh of the crowd outside Emanuel AME, some loud and some soft, some zealous and some weary, but all imbued with the sentiment of hope. Hope for change, hope for our people and our nation, hope that maybe this was the last time.
Someone had an idea and she saw it through. And 72 hours later here we are, standing under the bridge, listening to the footsteps of thousands, cheering horns and happy sirens, our people singing a common refrain.
I don’t mean to be romantic, we are not without scandal and topics that divide us. We have high crime areas and streets you stay away from at night. We are not always holding hands in prayer circles and we are not always unified by incident. But our climate sets a pace for cooperation and tolerance, slows us down so that we can do something more powerful and meaningful than simply ‘react’.
Wednesday, June 24th 12pm
It is a magnificent coincidence that all this happened as Pope Francis delivered his message on the environment, urging us to consider ‘our common home’,
to ‘strengthen our conviction that we are one single human family’, ‘that we have a shared responsibility for others and for the world, and that being good and decent are worth it’
There are at least a hundred sparkling sentences in his encyclical, but they all speak to our real and urgent problem: consideration. For the environment, for humanity, for property and ideas, for health and hunger, for earth and water, for life and freedom.
We say that it takes a village to raise a child. I think about this sick young man, how his village failed him, how I am a part of that village in some small way and therefore failed those nine people, their good and prayer-filled hearts. This monster is ours, he is all of ours. And he sat at his computer feeding on hate for God knows how long because that hate is protected by our laws.
It is easy to think this is about gun control or a flag or a history of staggered disappointments, and it is. It is about these things. But perhaps moreover, it is about our broken village. The village we cultivate and then leave behind when it becomes less convenient, when we get so busy, so entrenched in the minutia of our personal and private routines that we forget the importance of community. When we get tired of standing up and speaking out.
We do not all have to believe the same things, but every belief that we have must consider our common home.
This week has reminded me why I moved here: because this place is a village, or as close to one as I could hope to find and still be within driving distance of my family. But it has also reminded me that while Charleston may have been more impressive than others by how we handled ourselves, we never should have been given this test in the first place. No one should.
We talk about the mark we want to leave, about being on the right or the wrong side of history, which is just another way of saying that, in hindsight, there was
a right choice and wrong choice. A way to be and a way not to be. Which means that gut feeling, that visceral rumor, that queasy uneasiness: it is telling us to consider our steps, ‘to think deeply and love generously’
and choose the right path.
It is about guns. It is about a flag. It is about pornography and recycling and the cost of medicine. It is about the amount of litter on a street in a village ten thousand miles away, the people and parks I will never see and a kid named Dylann Roof who lost his way and no one was there to help him find the way back.
‘Yet all is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start.’
I pray that we can do this. I pray that we can rebuild our village. I pray that we can see the significance of the small choices in the light of greater good. I pray that we can take down the things that should never have been put up and replace them with the signs to lead all our lost children back home. I pray that we can find the courage to speak the words that will incite the change we so desperately need, and that we are encouraged by truths we already know.