Toxic and Beautiful
I am processing what went down the other night the best way I can, through my writing. Thoughts shook loose and piled upon one another. I’m sharing them with you.
Today, I cannot help but reflect upon the events that happened in Charleston, South Carolina a few nights ago. I refused to immediately process it at all. I deliberated about whether to even comment on it at all. I realized yesterday evening, I was not indifferent to the horror, but I was numb. You see, I was born in Memphis, Tennessee, though conceived in Charleston, S.C. My mother was born and raised in the poor area of Charleston, the equivalent of “The Projects”, and there wasn’t so much color as there was class. My grandmother, through situation and circumstance, was a divorcee struggling to make ends meet in the late 20s and early 30s, so they fell very much into the poor class. My parents recall the riots and garbage strike in Memphis in the 60s (when I was a mere baby) when Martin Luther King was tragically shot and killed. My father was born of a farming family in Oklahoma and joined the Navy and met my mom in Charleston, SC while in port and they got wed sometime later. Though he never considered himself poor, as most farming folk were largely self-sustaining, they would’ve definitely fallen into that end of the spectrum. My father worked hard, provided well, and climbed the corporate ladder. My mother never forgot the poor times from her youth and often scrimped and worried without reason. Growing up in Memphis, I saw a lot of polarity among the races. My folks taught me everyone was the same, regardless of social class or color, and to treat them like I wanted to be treated. (In reflection, this was particularly progressive for the region, but not so much factoring in my parents’ backgrounds.)
Here’s where we loop back to Charleston. I went to The Citadel (like in the book and movie of the same name, The Lords of Discipline). Imagine boot camp and hazing all rolled up into the first week of school and you get HELL WEEK. We were assigned roommates and I recall mine. He was gangly. He wore glasses. He looked kinda nerdy. Those were the details that first caught my attention. With the added, minor notation of “he was black”. This last detail informed much of my first year as I got to partake in the targeted attempts to drum him out because of his color as I was included in the excessive hazing “so it appeared okay”. That was never directly said, but after talking with other freshmen, this was confirmed. There weren’t many people of color at The Citadel. My roommate was the only freshman in my company. Neither of us complained, we accepted that things would just be a little tougher for us both. After that first year, he and I got different roommates and didn’t talk much. He was into sports. I was more into reading and gaming. But we would give each other the nod and smile of support we did starting out after that first hazing session. I had family in Charleston and among the islands. I never took the handful of narrow-minded folks as representative of my classmates. On the contrary, most of us embraced unity and camaraderie and a decidedly low tolerance for slackers.
Yet, Charleston, the city, has long been accepting of different people and faiths. When I lived in Charleston and visited friends in other parts of the state, race was never an issue I encountered. Everyone was friendly and mellow, like what you’d expect along the coast in a tourist destination. I did not see the animosity there, that I’ve seen elsewhere, like in Memphis. There is a wound in Memphis that has yet to heal.
I have walked Calhoun Street. I have walked throughout Charleston, by day and night. I have felt its history beneath my feet. Felt embraced and invited by the warm salt air. I felt safe in a way I have not felt elsewhere. Charleston has always felt like my second home.
Murder has befallen Charleston. Words escape me and I weep for everyone who was personally touched by the tragedy of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Nine people were killed. I weep for a world where this can happen.
If you are so able, consider a donation to help them in this most dire hour.
The world is full of beauty, majesty, trauma, and tragedy.
And suffering and loss. It is a good week when there is little more for us to worry about than who is cast as whom in which show or our collective disappointment about the end of a much beloved series. Even those moments are met by many with sneers of derision or cries of “people are flooding my social networks with too much of this or that”. We can opt out of those channels. We can allow ourselves not to be consumed by the consumption. We can separate our true selves from our digital masks. We can live beyond the screen, beyond the twenty-four news cycle.
If you choose to sit in water, you shouldn’t complain about being wet.
There are things that reach beyond the polarizing points of politics and beyond the color spectrum. There is good and there is evil. We feel the need to seek reasons in this rational age and are hard pressed when reasons fail us. And even when reasons provide answers, closure is something more often found in movies than in the real world. We want resolution. As a culture, we expect it.
The world is messy and violent and toxic and beautiful.
Some small moments are etched forever in our personal memories: a song, a sonnet, a first kiss. Others are momentous and collective to us all. You can likely think of a few and our wills are strong enough to bear the weight of it all. Yet poets and politicians and philosophers shall draw their conclusions and turn tragedy into talking points to support their positions, and humanity is no better for it. Far better to grieve and strive for the betterment of humanity and let tragedy unite us, rather than tear us further apart.
We cannot go about wearing gas masks for fear of future malfunctions, nor can a weaponized society provide peace and prosperity.
Or can it? Is it illusion, delusion, fact, or fantasy? Words are weaponized these days. Images and soundbites used by the masses to support positions. People expect others to provide due diligence on anything and everything they post, wherever it may be. Perfection is expected and candor is condemned. Wise thinkers silently observe while others violently cry for peace and rant about a need for unity. We have to remember to forgive and not meet hate with hate.
This is an age of insanity, an age of entitlement, masked beneath a thin veneer of reason.
The cycle continues. The snake, as always, devours itself. And we will survive.