I’ve often said Charleston, South Carolina is one of my favorite cities in the world, a place as colorful and complex as its history.
My college roommate was born and still lives just across the Cooper River Bridge, and it was through her I first made Charleston’s acquaintance. I was instantly smitten.
How could you not be? Rainbow Row is enchanting. Ghosts walk among the living along the Battery. And, strolling through the Market, I swear I could watch those old women knitting sweetgrass baskets with their fingers all day long.
So it is with the nation I grieved another headline last week, nine lives sacrificed on an alter of hate and misery, the likes of which I’ll never understand. DePayne Middleton Doctor, Reverend Dr. Daniel L. Simmons, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Cynthia Hurd, Myra Thompson and pastor the Reverend Clementa Pinckney. People keep saying their names, writing their names, to remember. To honor. To make sure we all see the flesh and blood and skin and bone…the personalities, faith, heart and soul of the people slain by a lone deranger.
We’ve all seen his face, those dark hollow eyes and surly mask. Who could’ve have know that simmering beneath was a cauldron of rage, hate and delusion?
Now, we see the signs and hear the rumors and conjecture, but it wasn’t so obvious a week ago. Even the people who knew him and heard his rants didn’t take him seriously. Plenty of people (sadly) make racist statements but they don’t pick up a gun, walk into a church, mingle among the people, and then systematically take them out.
There are a lot of things about what happened at Emmanuel AME Church that concern me, a lot of things that should concern all of us. My heart aches for those who lost their lives so senselessly, so violently, and for those who have to live with the agonizing void created by their deaths. I anguish for them, their mourning a public spectacle, and yet their public forgiveness has preached a thousand sermons. They honor their King beautifully, and I’ve wondered Would I be able to forgive so quickly?
In the bloody and tear-stained aftermath, complexities relative to racism, gun control and symbolic icons have plagued me as a human, but there’s one thing that has rattled me as a mother: Dylan Storm Roof’s age. He’s 21.
My middle child turned 21 this week, and when I first heard about the then-suspected gunman, all I could think of was He’s the same age as Thomas.
Oddly and interestingly, four different 21-year-olds have been on my radar over the past week: in addition to my son and Roof, two others:
Jordan Spieth. If you haven’t yet heard of Jordan Spieth, you will. He accomplished something monumental in the golf world over the weekend even Tiger Woods didn’t manage: winning his second major golf tournament before turning 22. He won the U.S. Open Sunday and back in April he snagged the green jacket at The Masters.
And he’s a good guy, one of the rare ones, the kind of young man people can say only good things about. He draws inspiration from his younger sister, he’s still dating his high school sweetheart. His affections are obvious and outward toward his parents.
But then there’s Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, perhaps a name not so familiar until you realize he’s the surviving Boston Marathon bomber. He was only 19 when he and his brother detonated pressure cooker bombs that killed three, injured more than 260, and left 17 amputees. Now 21, he just received a death sentence for his crimes.
I’ve thought about the mothers of all these 21-year-olds, how they’re processing their sons’ choices. I’ve wondered what their relationships look like.
Of course it’s apples and orangutans, but it’s what I find myself thinking about. Four 21-year-old men, who still look more like boys to me.
Two of whom have the world in front of them, two who will spend the rest of their lives in cages.
God have mercy.
It makes me think about that line in Shawshank Redemption, the one when Red is sitting in front of the parole board for the umpteenth time, when he speaks the truth of his heart —
There’s not a day goes by I don’t feel regret. Not because I’m in here, because you think I should. I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him. I want to try to talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are.
How long will it take for Dylann Roof and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to feel regret? Not regret for getting caught, but true remorse for their slaughter? Will they ever?
Consequence of choice is one of the major tenets of parenting in our home, it’s something we’ve stressed since our children were young. Whenever possible, we let them bear the consequences of poor decisions, while celebrating the consequences of good choices.
This wasn’t a one-time lecture but an on-going conversation commensurate with our children’s age. Conversations at eight about losing a privilege if they choose to disobey, one day gave way to much more adult fare. Of course, this doesn’t guarantee your children will always make the right choice, but on most occasions, when faced with a moral dilemma, they at least consider the potential consequences to their actions.
Did Roof or Tsarnaev consider what the rest of their lives would look like given their choices? Were they so misguided in their beliefs they were willing to sacrifice their lives for the cause? Neither strikes me as that noble. Obviously, they had no regard for the devastation they’d wield against the people groups they hated, but did they consider the pain they’d cause their families? Their mamas?
In the wake of the Charleston shootings, we see unimaginable beauty rising from ashes –
Emmanuel AME Church’s website features a quote by Sister Jean German Ortiz on its homepage:
Jesus died a passionate death for us, so our love for Him should be as passionate.