Since the Charleston massacre, my Facebook feed is flooded with anger, diatribes, outrage over guns in America, fury over the Confederate flag flying in South Carolina, white privilege copiously commented on by whites, and op-ed discourses on America’s inability to transcend its history of racial violence.
While social media was (and is) in a furious meme and opine frenzy, the people who actually lost their loved ones spoke to the alleged killer: we forgive you, God have mercy on your soul.
In doing so, those who lost their beloved family members honored the ones who did nothing but open their hearts and spiritual sanctuary to a stranger: they forgave, freely and generously.
With this act of grace, the families show a dignity and wisdom beyond our opinions, and the stranglehold of words and ideas driving the social media clamor. They show power and personal integrity, refusing to be victims of ignorance and hate, a shimmering grace born of their faith.
Not empty platitudes or polysyllabic words on social theory, but the message of love and forgiveness, lived.
This singular triumph of uncommon strength comes written in the blood of nine human lives, and testifies to something larger than the families’ wounds, no matter how senseless and unimaginable. The coroner “called the victims’ families ‘the most gracious group’ she has worked with” (source: ABC News).
In the families’ grace and strength, wisdom appears.
Forgiveness may not change policy, but it changes hearts and minds.
If we want a better world, one in which we move toward equality and justice, forgiveness is the necessary place to start. Forgiveness shows love in action, the message that these families freely chose to give. Lived love transforms diseased hearts, minds twisted in fear, and removes the blindness of ignorance and self-loathing.
Not immediately, and not in the ways we expect. But over time, when practiced without flinching, without qualification, unconditionally. For ourselves, and for others.
Forgiveness liberates the giver, and allows them the clarity to create purpose, and forge meaning and hope from chaos.
Charleston’s families have radically shown the way to power and social change.
Praying for their peace, and ours, in these coming days.