I try to be the best person I can be. My guiding principle is to be better than those who wrong us. I don’t always succeed, but living up to the such an ideal is an eternal struggle for anyone. It can be hard to take the high road, as it’s not always the sexiest or most satisfying route. Some days, there’s very little traffic.
After the Wednesday shooting at a church in Charleston, S.C., that left nine people dead, I admit my resolve faltered a bit. I looked into the dead eyes of that racist sociopath and felt a hate for him as acutely as he felt the hate that compelled him to infiltrate a church for the express purpose of murdering black people. Rarely in real life do you see someone whose every thought, and every cell, seems utterly irredeemable. It’s enough to challenge even the strongest senses of empathy and compassion.
So I could only imagine what the family and friends of the victims would have to say to him on Friday when they confronted him remotely from court.
“You took something really precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you.”
“As we said in the Bible study, we enjoyed you, but may God have mercy on you.”
“Everyone’s plea for your soul is proof that they lived and loved, and their legacies were live and love. Hate won’t win.”
Holy Jesus. Literally.
That kind of resolve in the immediate aftermath of such a vicious hate crime might be the most Christlike thing I’ve ever seen. Or, put secularly, it’s as high a road as anyone can take.
These comments echo what I saw in Charleston on the news in the hours after the shooting — people mourning and grieving, who refused to stoop to vindictiveness. Right or wrong, virtually everyone would have understood feelings of hostility and vengeance so soon after this deadly show of bigotry. And yet, even in their palpable grief, those closest to the tragedy showed a unified spirit of forgiveness.
Dylann Roof’s diseased belief was that the people he killed represented all that was wrong with America. But the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church took him in and warmed to him, because they were good people. After the shooting, more good people refused to feel the hate for him that he had expressed in violence. That takes more humanity, more courage, more guts, than someone like Roof could ever comprehend.
In an age where Christianity is so often used as a weapon of division, it’s wonderful to see its absolute best lessons lived out. I’m not religious, but today, I’m inspired by the example of those who are. If they can keep their heads straight even as their eyes are wet with tears, then maybe all of us should aspire to their spirit.
Beats the hell out of hate.