My heart hasn’t stopped spinning, squeezing, wringing and pounding since Thursday morning, when I woke up to the news of nine innocent people murdered in their Charleston church. “Police searching for the suspect, a white male….”
It didn’t seem real then, or now. I thought it was a misprint. Some other Charleston. Some other Wednesday night than the one when I was swimming in the creek under a moonless sky so beautiful and warm, blissfully unaware of the atrocity unfolding just up the Intracoastal waterway from Beaufort.
I know it shouldn’t make a difference that it happened so close to home but when it happens in your backyard it does. I wanted the familiar distance that has separated me from all the other shooting rampages that have broken my heart. I wanted to feel sorry but not scared. But this young killer was on the loose and there are people I love within blocks of his killing grounds. Before the victims became named human beings I ran down the mental list of acquaintances who might have worshipped at Emanuel. Might have been there. Might be no more.
Like our senator, born in Beaufort, the unfailingly cheerful, civility-exuding Clementa Pinckney. A man younger than I am with two daughters who can’t possibly know how to react to their daddy’s death.
I am filled with sorrow and uselessness, feeling vaguely guilty about continuing on with work and the daily sameness of life when nothing will be the same for those girls or any of the families in Charleston. I arrived in Atlantic City last night for work and yet I’m not really here. I can’t put what happened behind me, nor can I summon any reaction other than sadness. Close-to-spilling-over tears are still, days later, all that there is room for in my head and in my heart.
And yet I glimpse snippets of “coverage” and “reactions” on TVs I wish were not blaring in the airport, in the hotel lobby, reposted on my Facebook and Twitter feed. Because then I am confronted what I have done the other times when these shootings were not in my backyard. I’ve blamed. Snapped back with all my liberal, gun-control fervor and spewed my anger at politicians who say things like nice people with guns are the only defense against bad people with guns. Like the NRA who blamed our slain senator for not advocating concealed weapons in churches.
Now I “get” why the families of victims are not usually the ones in front of the camera blaming anyone or demanding the death penalty. They are still dealing with actual grief, still too stunned to contribute to the outrage. In Charleston they are praying for the soul of the man who destroyed the lives of those they love. They understand that he is only 21 years old and that someone so young would even know such thoughts, let alone act on them, is tragedy enough.
Yet the first person I speak to here in Atlantic City wants to rant about it. Barely have the words “how is everyone holding up?” left his lips when he leaps to disparaging President Obama for “making it political” by blaming guns. And this is a nice person who probably thinks he’s making me feel better, in his own way. I open the Press of Atlantic City and read the “world” reaction story — foreigners judging us in exactly the opposite way – shocked at our continual gun culture of violence and inaction.
It’s too much. Please, just hold off on the judgment and the blaming. Let our hearts catch up with our mouths. Let the reality of what we’ve lost sink in, hurt and burn. To move on so quickly does dishonor to the value of those nine lives. Maybe it’s only because it happened in my own backyard, not some school or shopping mall far away, but this time I can’t bury this grief with outrage. Particularly if nothing is really over but the shouting.