Quietly They Came

“So if we just love the way my mom would,
then the hate won’t be anywhere close to where the love is.”
Chris Singleton.

Thursday morning I woke up and heard the news about South Carolina and the shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston.

I cried tears that came from deep, deep inside and had no place to go except out…..”Not again” screamed through my head.

I went to work and watched little children, just 3,4 and 5 years old, playing and care free. I listened to laughter and conversations. I saw empathy, compassion and inclusiveness.

noni peace candle

(children in our class share the peace candle with each other, saying, “I give you peace.”)

All day long I carried the shock, anger and sorrow around. Even as I told stories of fairies and princesses, whales and sailing adventures, the lost lives of those 9 people weighed heavily on me. The failing of our society to nurture and raise Dylann Roof as a loving, compassionate, non-violent person weighed heavily on my heart.

Someone posted on Facebook that the local Quaker Meeting was opening its door for a prayer vigil that afternoon. Bruce and I went.

Quietly they came. Softly they came. One, then another. Old, young, black, white. Children with their parents. Husbands and wives. Friends and strangers. College students and retirees. Quakers and non Quakers. Sitting in silence, bound by a deep sorrow, heavy hearts and love.

And hope.

Through the window, the life of the neighborhood went on. Someone was celebrating a birthday. Laughter and songs drowned out the silence in the room. Family dropped by: you could almost feel the hugs and kisses. Neighbors stopped by: “You’re growing up so fast!” Life was as it should be….full, celebratory, honored, revered, witnessed, protected, cherished, valued….allowed.

Slowly and softly they spoke. Tears flowed. Pauses and deep breaths offered strength.

In our quiet room a young woman stood up and wondered how does a child grow up to experience the life we heard through the window rather than experiencing the life of Dylann Roof that led him to murder 9 people at a church in the middle of a Bible study class…in which he was participating? “How does that happen?” she wondered, looking at all of us.

An older man rose and stood by his wife. He was so soft spoken you could hardly hear him. He spoke of hitchhiking through the south years ago. Folks who gave him a ride boasted about lynchings they had attended, yelled racial epithets out the windows aimed at Blacks walking along the road and sidewalks.

Another woman spoke of going to college in Chapel Hill (I’m guessing in the 50’s) and apologized for not understanding the depth of the racial divide in this country. “Why can’t we just learn about and honor and celebrate each other?” she wondered.

A woman who had had her eyes closed for most of the time stood up with a deep breath and reminded us all that racism is not a southern phenomenon.

The college student spoke again…”I’m really wondering…..if I, this me that I am now, had been raised in a racist household and culture…..would I…would I be racist?”

And finally, a man stood slowly. I had been watching him…his head down. He had started to get up before, but had stopped. Now he stood. “You do not understand history” he said.  (And, if you do the research, you will understand that most of us in fact do NOT understand this part of our country’s history.) He spoke of the history of Charleston, the slave trade, the founding and structure of our nation. He struggled to speak. Change will only come he suggested, at the determination of white people. “What will you do?” he asked.

On September 18, 1963 Dr. King delivered a powerful eulogy for the four Black children killed in the bombing of  Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. In his Eulogy for the Martyred Children, Dr. King told us, “They  (the 4 murdered children) say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, and the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly to make the American dream a reality.”

http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/documentsentry/doc_eulogy_for_the_martyred_children/

As a human being I ache for the lives lost. I stand in awe of the daughter of one of the victims who says,  “I forgive you. You took something very precious from me and I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And may God have mercy on your soul.” Another, “Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, this is proof, everyone’s plea for your soul is proof that they lived and loved and their legacies will live and love. So hate won’t win.” Still another, “But one thing that DePayne always enjoined in our family … is she taught me that we are the family that love built. We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive. I pray God on your soul.” And, “May God bless you.”

Chris Singleton lost his mother and says to all of us ,“So if we just love the way my mom would, then the hate won’t be anywhere close to where the love is.”

They do not speak of violence or vengeance. They speak of forgiveness and hope.

As a human being I ache for the society and culture that raised Dylann to harbor the hatred and violence he does. Some will argue with me that it is not society as a whole that failed Dylann, but his family (and this may not have been a catalyst), his circumstances…his whatever. I disagree.

How do we understand how the same country can produce these two young adults, Dylann and Chris? How do we, as Dr. King asked us to do, look at the system, the way of life, and the philosophy which produced the murderers?

According to the SPLC there are 784 active hate groups in the United states. 44 are in NY state, Florida has 50 and California has a hefty 57 hate groups. A group is classified as a hate group if they have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics. (http://www.splcenter.org/hate-map) South Carolina, where Dylann is from  has 19 groups classified as hate groups. South Carolina has no hate crime laws. Where does the fear of and anger towards a group of people that causes people to go to the extreme of murdering them come from? Dylann believed Black people (Black men) were raping “our” (his/white) women and taking over the country. He believed it because he heard it, read it, experienced it around him. “It”, this kind of thinking, is out there. Listen and you will hear it too. If not about Blacks specifically, then about welfare recipients, Gays, Lesbians, Transgendered, Muslims, Jews, the homeless, the mentally ill, Hispanics, “illegal aliens”…..the anger, hate and fear is all around us. Perhaps you do not harbor these feelings and thoughts, but do you chuckle uncomfortably at an insensitive, biased joke or comment, or do you speak up? THIS is the system, the philosophy of our society. This is the “when” that we speak up. When we witness…see, hear, feel hatred and fear…this is when we speak up and begin change.

I really want you to answer me. As a human being I want to know if this is it…..murdering each other over hate and fear. Are we ready yet, are YOU ready yet, to look at the system, the way of life, and the philosophy that creates people like Dylann..full of violence, anger, fear, hatred?

I am ready. I want to know. To understand. To be a motivator for change. To make the world better for those little 3,4 and 5 years olds I look at every day.

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2 thoughts on “Quietly They Came

  1. I consider that you are part of a noble profession with the power to change lives. You also have the power of a writer. Have you ever considered writing for a broader audience? Your message needs to be heard by more.

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