I'm giving over my blog today to Peggy Noonan's comments in the Wall Street Journal. She echoes what I felt as I read about plans to ring all church bells on Sunday to honor the victims of Wednesday's shootings.
A Bow to Charleston
A Northerner bows, deeply, to the South: I have never seen anything like what I saw on television this afternoon. Did you hear the statements made at the bond hearing of the alleged Charleston, S.C., shooter? Nine beautiful people slaughtered Wednesday night during Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and their relatives were invited to make a statement today in court.
Did you hear what they said? They spoke of mercy. They offered forgiveness. They invited the suspect, who was linked in by video from jail, to please look for God. There was no rage, no accusation—just broken hearts undefended and presented for the world to see. They sobbed as they spoke.
“I just wanted everybody to know, to you, I forgive you,” said the daughter of Ethel Lance, killed in the shooting. “You took something very precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you.” She asked that God have mercy on the shooter’s soul. “You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. May God forgive you. And I forgive you.”
A family member of Anthony Thompson said he forgave the shooter. “I forgive you and my family forgives you, but we would like you to take this opportunity to repent . . . confess, give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ, so that He can change it—can change your ways no matter what happens to you, and you will be OK. Do that and you will be better.”
The mother of Tywanza Sanders, also killed, told the shooter: “We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms,” she said. “Every fiber in my body hurts, and I will never be the same. . . . Tywanza was my hero. But as we said in Bible study, we enjoyed you, but may God have mercy on you.”
The granddaughter of Daniel Simmons Sr., also killed Wednesday, said, “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 in love and their legacies will live in love. So, hate won’t win. . . . I just want to thank the courts for making sure that hate doesn’t win.”
As I watched I felt I was witnessing something miraculous. I think I did. It was people looking into the eyes of evil, into the eyes of the sick and ignorant shooter who’d blasted a hole in their families, and explaining to him with the utmost forbearance that there is a better way. What a country that makes such people. Do you ever despair about America? If they are America we are going to be just fine.
Afterward, outside the courtroom, people gathered and sang gospel hymns. * * * I just have to say what a people the people of Charleston are. They are doing something right, something beautiful, to be who they’ve been the past few days. From the beginning they handled the tragedy with such heart and love. They handled it like a community, a real, alive one that people live within connected to each other.
From Thursday morning when news first spread everyone I saw on TV, from the mayor, Joseph Riley, to those who spoke for the church, to the police spokesmen, to the governor, Nikki Haley—they were all so dignified and genuinely grieving, and not the pseudo-grief we always see when something bad happens and the leader says our prayers are with the victims. Haley had to stop speaking for a few moments, so moved was she when she made her first statement.
Riley said today, of the shooter, “This hateful person came to this community with this crazy idea that he would be able to divide us, but all he did was make us more united and love each other even more.” I read that quote Friday afternoon in the Journal, in Valerie Bauerlein’s story, and I thought: Riley isn’t just talking, he is telling the truth.
Charleston deserves something, a bow. So too do the beautiful people who go to Wednesday night Bible study in America in 2015. They are the people who are saving America every day, completely unheralded, and we can hardly afford to lose them. There’s only one thing Charleston doesn’t deserve. People apart from the trauma, far away, have already begun to bring their political agenda items to the tragedy and make sure they are debated. Because this is the right time for a political debate, right?
Here’s an idea: Why don’t you leave the grieving alone right now? Why don’t you not impose your agenda items on them? Why don’t you not force them to debate while they have tears in their throats? Don’t politicize their pain. Don’t turn this into a debate on a flag or guns. Don’t use it to make your points and wave your finger from your high horse. These people are doing it right without you. They are loving each other and helping each other. Let them grieve in peace. And respect them as what they are, heroic.