Mind On The Run: “Forgive! But Never Forget!” (Part 1)
“The greatest casualty is being forgotten”
— Slogan of the Wounded Warrior Project
(Musical Accompaniment: “This Little Light of Mine” — Gospel version.)
I almost yelled it out, but discretion overcame impulse as I realized that we were running out of time to make it to the airport for our flight back to the Steel City. Additionally, I was fearful of what the cab driver’s (and, even more so, my wife’s) reaction would be to a request to revisit the Memorial on Meeting Street (or was it Calhoun Avenue?) in Charleston, SC for one last encounter with the “hallowed ground.”
“I have already forgotten in which direction the arrow was pointing,” I bemoaned to myself.
But I would not find this out, at least on that particular day. I would not re-experience the overwhelming awe and solemnity I had felt one week earlier, when I had unwittingly wandered off the Old South-style porch of the Courtyard by Marriott in downtown Charleston to investigate the reason why a small crowd of people of all ages and color were loitering in front of a puny white church a few hundred feet down the street. Some were singing “This Little Light of Mine,” while some were merely passing in front of the small edifice as if tossing flowers on a grave.
Being dusk on a Sunday evening, I imagined that I was merely viewing late services alfresco, but as I approached more closely, I realized that I was embracing a shrine like no other: The Mother Emanuel Church — venue of the cold-blooded shooting of nine innocent church members after a prayer meeting service several weeks before. The true inner motive of the young murderer remains known only to himself and to his God.
The memorial site was of extreme simplicity — the church diminutive, dingy white like the clouds of November — and as unpretentious as the crowd of common folk at its threshold. I imagined those singing and patrolling to be starting the “night shift.” What appeared to me at first to be an outside altar was merely a large but simple backboard, the centerpiece of which was the replica of a flag in the shape of a cross with nine stars and nine stripes representing the nine victims. Like a compass, nine hearts flanked the flag to the South; to the North read the inscription: “Forgive as we have been forgiven.”
Studding every spare space of the board were the names of the seemingly countless citizens who had come to worship at this altar of forgiveness. There were several other signing boards and scattered flowers, but little more. To this beholder, the solemnity was breathtaking.
On the top of the small steeple stood a weather vane, and above this, a cross almost too small to identify. The weather vane seemed at first out of place, as if it did not know what it was doing there. I do not remember in which direction the arrow of the vane was pointing, but I think it was to the West.
Perhaps it was the simplicity and the dusk that made the emotional impact so riveting, the urge to leave the site so difficult, and the ability to fathom the wholesale forgiveness of the nine victims’ families so inscrutable.
(TO BE CONTINUED)