There are two things about the horrible crime in Charleston that I can’t shake just yet.
The first is a witness’s report that the killer spent nearly an hour among his future victims as they held a Bible study and prayer meeting before he began to open fire. We don’t know exactly what they said, but if it was anything like my experiences, it was an hour of lamentation and exhortation, of asking forgiveness and offering praise, of the pain but also the hope we have in this life.
To sit through as much, and still to pull out the weapon and aim it at another human being and pull the trigger, and to aim again and pull the trigger again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again — it brings to mind the Bible’s description of one whose heart has become calloused, who hardly hears with his ears and has closed his eyes.
The second is a realization that this Father’s Day will be dramatically different for two girls who lost their daddy Wednesday night, and for the man whose son did the killing.
Nine people died in the ambush at Emanuel AME Church, each one precious to friends and family and we who mourn with them. But what hits me hardest is the thought of those two girls waking up Sunday morning and, instead of making a Father’s Day breakfast in bed for their dad, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, facing a void that stretches from their home to the church where he served and died, and beyond, for the rest of their lives.
It’s the thought of his dying at the hands of another man’s son, who in relatively short order regressed from high-school dropout to small-time criminal to dabbler in white supremacy to accused mass murderer. And it’s the thoughts his parents must be having today about what they did wrong, as in Lionel Shriver’s chilling novel “We Need to Talk About Kevin.”
This will be my seventh Father’s Day on the receiving end of a Hallmark card, and my sons aren’t yet old enough to have heard about what happened in Charleston.
So they aren’t yet asking why something like this happens, and whether we’ll be safe Sunday morning in our own church, and what makes a kid in America start wearing the flags of apartheid regimes in Africa that ended before he was born.
And I don’t yet have to tell them about the evil in our world, a broken place with a broken human race: an evil that we can’t keep behind bars or end with a lethal injection, an evil we can’t legislate away by banning this kind of weapon or that kind of speech, an evil that infects and disrespects all races, colors and creeds.
I don’t yet have to tell them, with a gulp, that we’ll be just fine Sunday morning, and next Sunday too.
I don’t yet have to tell them that the way we respond to evil far away from us is with more kindness and love toward those near us, that we will know hurt in this world but believe in a God who will deliver us to another place where we’ll know only joy.
Instead, I think I’ll just hug them, and think of Charleston, and squeeze them a little tighter.