I have more posts in my head about the Charleston mass shooting, but I am finding them difficult and painful to write. Many of my thoughts are tangled and sorting through those tangles is taking time.
But at the moment I want to call attention to the fact that we need to honor two sets of victims of the mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina: those who were murdered and those who survived.
We are good at remembering the dead. That is in part because of the horror we feel when we think about how nine innocent people were gunned down in a place of worship simply because they were black. We are also good at remembering the dead because we think the dead no longer require anything of us. Few things could be farther from the truth, but that is the subject of another post.
We are not so good at remembering the living. We have seen pictures of those who died, and have both read and heard their names many time. That makes it easier to think of them as individuals. Remembering the survivors of the mass shooting at Emanuel AME Church is more difficult. To begin with, most of us don’t even know, or can’t remember, how many survivors there were. I certainly didn’t. I had to look it up. According to the Wikipedia article, 4 other people were in the same room. Three were uninjured. The fourth was injured but survived. Unlike those who died, we have not seen these names listed multiple times, nor have we seen their pictures. This is as it should be. Their privacy should be both respected and honored. But it does make it harder for us to remember them as people. Harder to remember that they were each witnesses to something that no person should ever have to see or experience: the sight of friends and loved ones being gunned down at close range, and the horror of wondering if they were going to be the next to be killed. That is an experience they will have to live with for the rest of their lives. An experience that typically produces feelings of intense relief that their lives were spared, and also feelings of guilt that they are still alive and others are not.
We need to remember those four survivors, as well as Rev. Pinckney’s wife and daughter who were present in another room of the church during the shooting. It is harder to remember the survivors, but we must. We must continue to hold them in our thoughts and prayers because they have had unspeakable violence perpetrated against them as well. We need to continue to remember the living as well as the dead, and work harder than we have ever worked to reduce the racial hatred and violence that exists in our country. We need to learn to recognize ourselves in each other, no matter the color of our skin, so that terrorist acts against those who are different do not continue to repeat themselves. We need to do all of this not only to honor the dead, but to honor and remember the living.