In 2015, the Confederate flag was finally lowered and transferred from state houses to museums in several southern states, but not before a horrific shooting of nine African Americans inside their church in the center of Charleston, South Carolina, by a young white supremacist. That very day and in the days that followed, the loved ones of those murdered spoke publicly to forgive and express their concern for this young man in the same breath with their grief and remembrance of their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children. In the ensuing weeks, an image went viral of a black South Carolina state trooper, Leroy Smith, gently guiding a white supremacist to a seat after he was overcome by heat at a rally protesting the move of the Confederate flag. What he saw, he told a New York Times reporter, was a fellow human being, an older man, in trouble: “Mr. Smith said he was taken aback by the worldwide attention but hoped the image would help society move past the recent spasms of hate and violence. Asked why he thinks the photo has had such resonance, he gave a simple answer: love. ‘I think that’s the greatest thing in the world—love,’ said the burly, soft-spoken trooper, who is just shy of fifty. ‘And that’s why so many people were moved by it.’”
“Love” is not always or often the first response to violence and violation, one human being to another, nor can we expect it to be. Anger is also a moral response. On the front lines of the worst that has happened to bring the unfinished work of racial reconciliation to the fore in the American twenty-first century, the nonviolence of the civil rights elders feels inadequate to many. Love, muscular and resilient, does not always seem reasonable, much less doable, in our most damaged and charged civic spaces.
But it seems to me worth insisting that those spaces where the worst has happened do not utterly define us as individuals or a people. Together, and politically, we have to reckon with excruciating questions of how we reform the culture of policing, the well-being and flourishing of people of color, and the innate injustice of so many of our civic structures. Alongside that reckoning, there remain the quiet spaces of the everyday in which we live and move and have our being. In these spaces, there is abundant and immediate possibility for the power of conduct, of unromantic practical love, towards creating new realities that might just, over time, accompany and shape those larger challenges.
Our world is abundant with quiet, hidden lives of beauty and courage and goodness. There are millions of people at any given moment, young and old, giving themselves over to service, risking hope, and all the while ennobling us all. To take such goodness in and let it matter— to let it define our take on reality as much as headlines of violence—is a choice we can make to live by the light in the darkness, to be brave and free. Taking in the good, whenever and wherever we find it, gives us new eyes for seeing and living.
Excerpted from BECOMING WISE by Krista Tippett. Reprinted by arrangement with Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright (c) Krista Tippett, 2016.
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