I can not sleep. I am unsure what to write and how to express my feelings. Since the mass murder of the 9 people at “Mother Emmanuel” AME Church in Charleston, SC, my home town, I have not written. There is nothing travel related that’s appropriate. I have nothing funny to say. I have no hotels to review. I just haven’t been in the mood. This is a very personal post and not what you’ll typically find on this site.
I have been, as one person called it, “consumed” with the tragedy over the past week. I am horrified and devastated by what happened. So this post won’t be about travel, it will be about June 17, 2015 and the days since. So many people have written much more eloquently than I will about the impact of the tragedy. All I can share is my own personal experience and how it has touched me.
On the morning of June 17th I woke up tremendously excited because I was going to be volunteering at an event that I’d been looking forward to for days. That day I met a man named Ty. It was the first time we’d met, and sadly, would be the last time we’d ever meet. Turns out Ty was Tywanza Sanders. At first glance you’d assume Ty and I would have little in common. But we learned, in short time, that we had so much more in common than not in common. In the very breif time I got to know him, I learned that he was a smart, friendly, person who was very passionate about many things – ironically, the exact same things I am passionate about.
Later that afternoon I very briefly met Senator Clementa Pinckney as he walked by and shook a few hands. His enthusiasm was visible and contagious. You could see the crowd lean in to hear his words while waiting to shake his hand or pat him on the back. I didn’t know the Senator, but I sure wish I had.
At 5pm I left the event location and said goodbye to many of the people I had met that day, there were lots of new names and faces to remember. I went to dinner and just as I was leaving the restaurant I saw dozens of police cars with lights and sirens wailing, speeding towards downtown Charleston. I knew something was happening, but would never have imagined what we soon learned to be true. There was a massacre at Mother Emmanuel. A crime of hate.
I didn’t know that Ty, or the Senator, were at the church that night. I didn’t know that the Senator had specifically left the state capitol to return to Charleston for an event and for the meeting at the church that night. I sat up all night in shock because I couldn’t believe that someone walked into a church, a place of worship, and opened fire murdering 9 people. Nine.
The next day, as we started to learn the names of those who had been murdered, I learned that Ty was amongst the dead. I said bye to Ty about 4 hours before his life would be taken by an evil, hated-filled person. I couldn’t put any words together. I couldn’t understand what I was feeling. I wasn’t a friend of Ty’s, and while I had just met him, I still felt devastated.
I’ve spent the entire week thinking about what happened, for many reasons, and participated in some of the activities that have occurred here in Charleston over the past 9 days. During the week, I have felt consumed, saddened, exhausted, angry, and just about every other possible feeling. People would ask me if I was okay and I would respond, this isn’t about me, it’s about the victims. I said that so many times over the week until I had a very unexpected conversation yesterday that woke me up.
The families are grieving for their loved ones and their friends are grieving for their losses as well. But us strangers, the community, or casual acquaintances, or people who had only met 1 time are also grieving and trying to come to terms that a hate-crime occurred in our community.
For me, I realized two things. First, I feel haunted by what’s happened. It’s haunting to know that someone can walk into a church and open fire on people at prayer. It’s haunting to know that I’d met Ty that very day. I accept the fact that perhaps I am taking this a little harder than some would expect. It only hit me when someone said to me, “I CAN’T even imagine being in a situation like that.” I finally realized why I am taking this so hard. Well, I CAN imagine being in a situation like. I can because I have been on the receiving end of hate before. It’s hit me hard because I can imagine myself, my family, in Ty’s and the Senator’s shoes.
I am 40 years old now, yet I can still see the swastikas that were pained on our high-school school lockers. I’ve been the brunt of “Jewish jokes”, childhood friends would tell my sister and me we were going to hell because we were Jewish. I have seen synagogues desecrated and graffitied with swastikas and other symbols of hate. Sadly, I have also seen armed guards in synagogue during the holiest of Jewish Holidays. I have been called kike (if you’re unfamiliar with that word, it’s a slang word used to describe Jews and is very offensive.) Calling a Jew “kike” is somewhat like using the n-word. They are both very derogatory, hatful, words that are offensive to different people because of what the words represent.
I know what hate is. I CAN imagine what those 9 souls must have been thinking before their lives were taken by evil.
That is why this had hit me so hard. That is why I’m haunted. It’s why I’m exhausted. Because hate does exist, it’s out there, and ignoring it won’t make it go away. Staying silent won’t make it go away. I summed up my feelings one night with a poem I will share here.
Written at the end of WWII, in 1945, by Pastor Martin Niemöller:
When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn’t a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.
If we don’t want to see hate crimes committed in our communities, we have to speak out. Because if it’s not us that speaks out, who will? That is why I’m consumed and why I care so much. It’s time for me to speak out because there’s a very real possibility that they could come for me next. Here we are, 70 year’s later and this poem still rings so true.
So now it is 2:30am on the morning of the funerals for several of the 9 victims including the senator. The President, Vice President and several other leaders will be in Charleston in only a few hours. Soon after the services they will leave the city, and soon after that the media will leave too, but the community will still be here and I am committing to be a part of the change. I am committing to speak out. Will you join me?