WHO BUT THE HARDCORE HATERS AMONGST US DID NOT WEEP for the Charleston Nine, and for our nation?
I had tears on a few occasions this past week, and much reflection. And sadness, pervasive sadness. It was the kind that usually comes with the loss of someone you knew but weren’t really close to or didn’t see very often, or sometimes a cherished public figure you felt you knew.
Of course I knew none of the nine. And I’m not black, nor South Carolinian (but was born in the South), nor of the AME faith, yet it affected me deeply. I’m not even a Christian anymore (though Jesus is just alright with me — Byrds, Doobie Brothers), and I’m pretty disdainful of religion and dismissive of those who follow mindlessly. Bible- or Koran-pushers of any persuasion make me crazy.
But being raised Catholic and having a passable acquaintance with faith and the Bible, I understand the mindset and am also sympathetic, and as long as someone is contemplative about their religion, and not didactic, I say, whatever blows your hair back, whatever gets you through the night.
Especially if you have a centuries-long family history of horrific, unthinkable nights (and days), as do almost all black Americans.
From what I heard on TV and Internet, the family, friends and fellow congregants of those slaughtered at Emanuel AME always made some mention of their religious faith, of it getting them through this unimaginable horror. God bless you, I say with all sincerity.
Their unified invocations of forgiveness for the killer, from those from whom he had stolen so much, have to be an inspiration of the highest order, no matter what your faith or lack of it. (Though I have spoken to some for whom that forgiveness, so soon, is so incomprehensible they dismiss it as crazy. We should all have hearts so crazy.)
So what could I do to express some token support, to show that this white fellow American on the Other Coast cared deeply and was standing with them, emotionally, spiritually? Part of an amazing collective out pouring, that might be of some comfort?
I didn’t come up with anything until I got a Facebook message from my friend Craig on Sunday morning, saying he was going with his family to the First AME Church by the Sea here in Santa Monica. It was a private message, not urging or even inviting, but I immediately decided to go.
I did have the thought that maybe I should go to the big AME church in South Central, the famous one. Everyone will be there. It will be memorable. But keeping it local seemed the right way to go.
After nearly three decades living here, I didn’t even know that church existed — on a stretch of Michigan Avenue that dead-ends near 20th and is hemmed in on the north by the freeway — until I came upon it on one of my walk-every-block-in-Santa Monica walks, maybe a year ago. It is tucked away, and because I had memorized an incorrect address, I had a lot of trouble finding it.
When I finally did and scooted across the parking lot I saw a man and a woman in vestments standing on the steps to welcome people. “Sorry I’m a little late,” I smiled, and they said, “Oh no, you’re right on time,” and escorted me in.
Considering that the service wasn’t over for another two hours plus, and that some folks were still trickling in an hour later (they probably knew there was still more than half the service to go), I could see they were not just being kind, but also accurate.
I spotted Craig’s family at the back and said hello, he and his son in their yarmulkes, but chose to sit farther up, to spread the few white folks there out a bit. One other gentleman of the Caucasian persuasion soon came in. The sparse crowd finally reached about 75 souls.
The 13-voice choir was good but could have used a few more microphones. The two keyboard players were very, very good. The youngish piano player was pounding away on the lively numbers and could get a job with Rev. Al Green in Memphis if he wanted, and the organist handled the slower hymns with properly muted jams, and made his creative most of a long, long vamp on “How Great Thou Art.” Inspired. A hidden drummer was icing on the cake.
What can I say? I’m a music guy. I go to church, I review the music. It’s also why when I do go to church, it’s nearly always a black church. Music enlivens the emotions. Everyone knows God is a boogie chile, She’s a boogie on reggae woman, I am sure.
It seemed to me probably their usual Sunday service, but with homilies, and a powerful guest preacher from Louisiana, Rev. Kemp, speaking to the tragedy in Charleston. The locals consider the Emanuel AME there to be their mother church. It has a history, tied in to African American issues, going back to 1791. That church was burned down, banned, knocked flat by an earthquake, and has carried on. They will carry on through this disaster.
Two moments pulled on me most: when the simple, very short but defining prayer was offered, “for gun control, we pray, O Lord”; and when a woman reading the usual Sunday announcements read a brief message of condolence and solidarity from Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of our local Temple Beth Shir Shalom, and she was clearly moved, her voice cracking, the only such display that day, not of letting the spirit slip, but of being so struck by the compassion of another soul who understood.
In a way, that moment said it all, and I was glad I was there.
SOMETHING ELSE YOU MIGHT NOT HAVE DONE BEFORE:Going to the monthly meeting of the Activist Support Circle, this Friday at 6:30 at the Friends Meeting Hall at 1440 Harvard St. No charge, but you’ll probably get one from their dynamic guest speaker, Ed Asner, one very interesting dude. Cookies and Kool-Aid will be served. Yeah, it is pretty kumbaya, but take a chance. Could be life-changing, or at least the best thing by far that you could do early Friday evening.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” —Khalil Gibran
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for almost 30 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at email@example.com.