I have two scars on my body, one just below my elbow and the other at the small of my back.
When I was about 10 years old I was hanging out at a local playground and fell back into a sandpit, landing on my elbows. Little did I know there was a broken bottle hidden just under the surface of the sand. The jagged piece of glass pierced my arm.
I remember climbing on my banana yellow 10-speed Schwinn bike and peddling as fast as I could toward home, pressing my right arm into my shirt as blood squirted all over me. Screaming for help I entered the house and my sister Wendy rushed toward me. She looked at my arm (something I didn’t do). She assured me I would be OK as she looked at the bone sticking out the hole in my arm (I’m glad I didn’t see that). I was off to the emergency room for a half dozen stitches.
Today, all that’s left is a painful memory and a small scar. When people ask me what happened, I tell them I fell on a broken bottle when I was a kid. That’s it. I leave the graphic details out, but since you’re a close friend I wanted to share all the gross details. Aren’t you glad we’re friends? But, I digress.
You know what the great thing about scars are, they have a story. They come with intriguing tales of pain and healing.
Most of the time I write about sports but this week something far more important than a game happened. My city, my hometown — Charleston, South Carolina — was broken. Our city, my home, is an open wound. We are in the process of trying to stitch ourselves back together with the hope that, over time, the wound will heal and a scar will form.
Twenty, 30, 50 years from now our children and grandchildren will see the scar and ask the question, what happened? How will we answer them? Will we tell them the story of nine people being murdered inside the Emanuel AME Church, an event that transformed a community, a city, a country and the world? Will we tell them that the actions of a very sick young man, whose goal is was to start a civil war, is now known as the tipping point that revived the nation? Will we tell them, the hope they feel was born from an open wound that’s healed and became this beautiful scar? Will our scar inspire hope in the future?
In the few days that have followed the shooting, there have been visible signs of emotion: Pain. Sorrow. Grief. There is also an outpouring of unity, even hope. Yes, hope. The Charleston community — and the world — has stepped up to celebrate the lives of the victims and comfort the grieving families.
This past week we’ve heard the victims families share their stories and forgive the shooter to the beat of love, not hate. Their response is a reflection of their faith; it’s what Jesus reveals in the Gospel. They are a witness, not a victim; a light in the darkness; a sliver of hope in a mass of hopelessness. Right now, hope is floating in Charleston, but here is what I fear:
In a week, Charleston will be old news and the media will move on. The local congregations will return to their own church and routine schedules. The Charleston community will comfortably return to the beach. We won’t forget, but fatigue will take over; more important circumstances will take priority. The hope and unity we are feeling right now will fade away.
Then what do we tell our children and grandchildren when they see the scar and ask the question, what happened? Will you, will I, be able to look them in the eye and tell them we failed? Will we tell them the story of nine people murdered in a local church and we did nothing? Look, it just happens, we will say. Understand? Will we tell them that the actions of a sick young man, whose goal is was to start a civil war, nearly pulled it off? Will we have to tell them the events on that fateful day are responsible for dividing our community? Don’t let this happen.
Scars are permanent. Our children (or grandchildren) will see our cities scar and they will ask, what happened? We have an opportunity — right now — to define how we will answer them.
Don’t let them down.