Standing to Grieve in Charleston
June 19, 2015
Photo credit: Mac Kilduff
I live in Charleston and I love Charleston, but as a relative newcomer, I feel like maybe I have no standing to feel the grief and outrage that I do.
I live midway between the Mother Emanuel AME Church and the neighborhood where little Tyreik Gadsden was left paralyzed after being caught in crossfire. The night of the church shootings, our telephone rang with a message from the police: stay inside. All night, a helicopter crosshatched our street with a searchlight.
I watched television helplessly as black men formed prayer circles outside of the church, their pain so raw that I felt it through the TV screen. And I grieved with them.
I am not a native Charlestonian, I am not black, heck, I don’t even go to church. No one’s going to seek my quote on this tragedy because it isn’t really MY tragedy.
And yet. Tonight, one night after the shooting, a police car lit up and raced past my house, heading into Tyreik Gadsden territory. I heard sirens and my skin twitched the way a horse’s does when a sandfly lands. Because suddenly, whatever tragedy was happening “over there” was mine too.
During the vigil last night as we walked from one church to Mother Emanuel, a neighbor said she had asked the pastor, “Why here?” and said she was not comforted by his answer: “Why not?” She was trying to understand the meaning. But maybe that vigil of black and white, young and old, was the meaning.
Whether or not I have standing, I will be standing—next to the mourners, arm in arm with those who stand vigil and show unity, behind those who lost family members and the first responders who will never erase the images they encountered.
Because despite the rage, despite the hatred, despite those who might shrug off my comforting hand because I could never understand, I’m joining Charleston—suddenly and irrevocably my home and not just where I live—in standing for the strength of love over hate.