a charlottesville of the soul
Photo: Jill Mumie
This post is dedicated to Heather Heyer & the Heyer family.
Your forgiveness is a reflection of Christ Himself.
Last Friday night, I decided to scroll through Twitter before bed, and - as if I'd seen a strange figure out my window - I closed out of the app and squeezed my eyes shut, wincing and trying to convince myself: "No, that's not what I saw." I didn't see faces glowing with hatred in the shadows of their torches. I didn't see the formation of men resembling screenshots from
Birth of a Nation
or fragile, dusty library books on the Civil Rights movement. It wasn't true. It couldn't be.
Except it could be. And it was.
The truth? I wasn't surprised. When you're a black woman who's lived most of her life in a majority-white context, the expectation is extremely low - impossibly so - for those around you to experience the world through your lenses.
It's impossible to know what it's like to be followed around Macy's.
To be told you only got into USC because you're black.
To have a woman, without prompting, ask you if you need money at Chipotle.
To be called the "n-word" by a homeless woman in Jamba Juice.
To be randomly told - while out on a date - that you're articulate . . . for a black woman.
These are snapshots from my life. And these snapshots were able to be developed, in large part, because of the film left over from the
history of our country.
So I wasn't surprised. But I was angry. And I was sad. Mostly because - as hard as I work, and as much as I've earned, as much respect as I've given - the reality is, my kids will more than likely have a list like mine one day.
For a few hours on Saturday, I was numb. I wondered how many people sitting around me in church that night were blissfully oblivious in their privilege - able to focus on the vacation plans or the back-to-school meeting or the dog's grooming appointment because "it was awful" but it didn't
affect them, when I was having a hard time keeping the lump in my throat from leaping out and forming a baptismal of tears around me. I couldn't focus on anything but the reality that - yes, this is our country. There are people who want you gone because of your skin color. There are people who want others dead because of the religion they practice or because of who they choose to love. Supremacy.
I prayed in my seat, for the grace to do something beyond myself. To grip tightly to Jesus as I grieved, and to claw at the hem of his garment as I begged for healing.
The only answer I got was to
I was confused. I didn't understand the directive. I wanted to push everyone away and simmer in the compost of Tweets that - as they pinged - unconsciously fueled my anger and outrage. I wanted to pout and shout and be coddled, but the Holy Spirit whispered, "
"To the people with whom you'd rather create distance than see the way I do."
That night -
reluctantly, may I add - I sent a Facebook message to our local police department. I invited officers over for coffee and chocolate chip cookies. The next morning, no response. So I e-mailed the chief. And then I called two other police departments, too. And then I waited.
Can I tell you that the most beautiful thing happened?
A dear friend, Kelli, told me she'd be with me and would do whatever possible to help foster an environment for dialogue. Then a friend, Steve, texted to tell me he was coming over, too. And then Kelli asked if Carly could come. And then Sarah texted: "I'll be there!"
And my friends, they came. We drank coffee and ate cookies, not knowing if any officers would show up.
And then they came, two of them.
They couldn't come into our home, so Delwin and I went outside to our porch.
I told them how I felt about Charlottesville.
I asked how Charlottesville impacted the way they approached their jobs.
They told us how they felt about it, too, and about needing to stay focused and stick to their training.
They asked us how we liked living in the neighborhood.
Delwin offered them cookies and they ate them.
We talked about Cubs v. Sox and what part of the South side Delwin was from.
Officer Fred told us his dad was from the South side, too.
We talked about USC and Pete Carroll and Clay Matthews.
They met Brooklyn & Myles.
We thanked them for what they do.
They thanked us for expressing gratitude - because "most people threaten to sue you as you're leaving their home - not thank you."
And with handshakes from all four people in my family, they left.
Steve and Sarah were still there, waiting and witnessing - holding the space with us. Mary Anne showed up after finding our home without directions and handed me a bottle of wine.
And I realized -
this is it
This is what will extinguish tiki lamps and slowly heal - not magically or instantly cure - 500-year-old wounds.
The balm is called
Spewing opinions on social media - even valid and thoughtful ones - can't do it.
Facts and quotations from historic greats - albeit inspiring - can't do it.
Video clips - proof of however one defines the tomfoolery - can't do it.
Holding people at a distance with our words and our furiously flying thumbs only tempts us to do what white supremacists have been doing for decades: it tempts us to de-humanize. To extract worth and worthiness from. To deem the other as deplorable and, thus, extinguishable.
The truth is that all of us are a thought - or a Tweet - away from inciting a Charlottesville in our own souls.
Proximity, on the other hand, begs us see the
in each human, to examine and witness the possibility of goodness and redemption, to consider the sinner and think, "Oh, amazing Grace!" We still see and name the sin, but we commit it to a loving God versus condemning the sinner with our own prideful judgment.
I'm understanding more, I think, why Jesus didn't curse Judas at the Last Supper. Why He, in fact, sat next to Judas and offered him the choice bread dipped in the wine. I'm understanding that His obedience to His Father was of supreme importance, even more compelling than the pain from a friend-turned-enemy. That relationship with Him was the invitation, even to the end.
Every time I've driven past an officer for the past 14 years, I've gotten nervous. Every time. But to see Sgt. Eric's and Officer Fred's faces, to shake their hands, to see my kids smile and laugh because of them - made all the difference. Distance was no longer possible because I saw their humanity.
Tonight, I received a letter in the mail. It read:
Thank you again for reaching out to us (and the cookies too!)
Please don't hesitate to contact us with any questions or concerns.
I hope Brooklyn & Miles enjoy the [Junior Police Officer] stickers. :)
- Sgt. Eric & Ofc. Fred
They remembered my kids' names. Sweet proximity.
The next day, a Confederate flag popped up down the street from us. More anger, more sadness. But there was something else. I remembered my friends: Steve, Kelli, Carly, Sarah, Mary Anne - and the countless others who declared that they were "with me." And I remembered Sargent Eric & Officer Fred. And you know what? I felt safe.
I don't know what to do with Charlottesville, or our government, or with our country's history. I really don't. But what I do know is that to prevent ourselves from becoming the assailants and aggressors in someone else's eyes, we
name three things:
1. We must name the wrongs and the sins that have been done to us and our brothers and sisters - in our world and, especially, in our country. We must see them and grieve them. We must learn to carry that grief together. (If you're not familiar with what sins I'm referring to, I humbly submit that you may be blinded by privilege. But it's not too late to see!)
2. We must honestly name the ways in which we've allowed our pride to dehumanize others.
3. We must name - out loud - the people with whom we'd rather create or maintain a comfortable distance: the police, or the Democrats, or the Republicans, or the homosexuals, or the heterosexuals, or the men, or the women, or the immigrants, or the Evangelicals, or the Muslims, or our exes or black people, or - dare I say - the white supremacists.
And then - one way or another - we must ask for the grace to see them differently, with the eyes of God. This will not always mean or suggest a manifestation of physical proximity. But whether through prayer or meditation or letters or an invitation to coffee . . .
We must draw closer.
In Charlottesville - in our souls - as it is in Heaven.