I woke up this morning per usual. Snoozed all my alarms, sighed to my dog to try and gain some sympathy but all he wanted was food and then began the ritual of checking Instagram and Twitter (I save Facebook for later) before getting out of bed. As I scrolled through my Instagram feed, I began seeing posts labeled #PrayersForCharleston and my heart began to sink. My first thought was that there was no way it could be my Charleston. It had to be a Charleston in some other state or country that I had never heard of. I immediately opened Twitter and saw the same type of posts with links to CNN or ABC or Post and Courier articles and my chest tightened and I was acutely aware of my quickened breathing. Because of social media and the internet it didn’t take me long to figure out what had transpired in the 8 hours since I went to sleep. The tears started as I sat at the kitchen table – breakfast pushed aside and appetite completely gone – and read about the 22-year old who opened fire on a church after sitting through a prayer service with them. He took the lives of 9 people who readily and compassionately welcomed them into their place of refuge and safety from the horrors of the world. He took a spot that they came to for comfort and fellowship and worship and above all to escape, for just a moment, all the uncertainties and turmoil of day-to-day life.
There are posts filling my newfeeds. Some are simple. Some are hopeful. And some are angry. And right now I’m angry. I am shattered. And I am a little bit hopeful. It’s hard to see the light on the other side of all of this when right now all I want is this person’s blood on my hands. Not literally. But I want him to hurt. I want him to pay for what he has taken and what he has destroyed. It feels as though the only thing that makes me feel better right now is to imagine him hurting. I fuel my anger with these thoughts and then I feel this tiny nagging notion that that isn’t right. Nothing anyone says or does to him will ever compensate for what he has done and will probably not make him feel remorseful. He’s already too far gone if he was actually able to do what he did.
It’s hard to see people I know post hateful posts towards white people. I know they don’t direct it towards me personally but it still hurts. It’s also what people of different races have felt every single day of their lives. And what I’m feeling doesn’t even scratch the surface. We are at a place in time where the main point isn’t that one human being senselessly took multiple other human beings lives – the main point is that a white man took the lives of 6 black women and 3 black men.
Then there are the posts about him being mentally ill. And I feel the same feeling I felt when the pilot intentionally crashed the plane taking the lives of many which was blamed on his depression. Not only is it difficult for people struggling with a mental illness to be brave enough to ask for help or feel comfortable speaking about it, now there’s an even bigger fear than before that they will be viewed as someone with the potential to be a murderer. The thing is – everyone has the potential. It doesn’t matter the color of your skin or the chemicals in your brain. When something like this happens we need something to blame. Something concrete. A specific reason for why a person would do this. We tend to place the blame solely on the individual who did it instead of a society that this could so easily happen in due to the lack of support for those suffering with mental illness.
So I’m angry. I’m angry that we live in a time where the news doesn’t just say that a person took the lives of other people, they say a white person took the lives of a group of black people. I’m angry that a place where people went to feel safety and spread love is now a place where people felt unsafe and hatred. I’m angry that I went through a few moments of panic this morning waiting to hear back from all the people I love living in Charleston. I’m angry that when I move to Charleston my parents will constantly be even more worried about me than they already would be. I’m angry that a person could be so cruel. I’m angry for things that I don’t even know how to put into clear thoughts or words.
In the midst of all this anger I saw a picture of Dr. Martin Luther King seated in the Emanuel AME Church and I remembered his words: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
So what am I doing? Why am I filling myself with all of this hatred? It’s not doing any good. It’s just making me bitter and hard. The focus needs to be on loving the loved ones of the victims. Loving the church body at Emanuel AME. Loving the wonderful people of Charleston and loving one another. Instead of plotting ways in which he should pay for what he has taken, we need to be better. Because we are better. No one deserves to have their lives taken because of something they have no control over like the color of their skin, their religion or their sexual orientation. At the end of the day we are all people. People who hurt, laugh, worry, feel scared and are angry as hell. #PrayersForCharleston #IAmAME