Sometimes you can be judged by the people you leave behind.
The nation was rocked last week by the most heinous of hate crimes. 21 year old Dylann Roof entered the Emanuel African American Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, and slaughtered 9 innocent churchgoers in a purely racist, hateful assault. The agony of this event is compounded by not just the location of the attack, but the method of the attacker. This creep didn't just storm into a building guns blazing; no, he entered the building for a bible study and was welcomed by the participants to their little group. They invited him in. They prayed with him. They shared their discussion and studies of the Bible with him.
And then, after an hour of fellowship and without warning, he slaughtered them.
The shooter had hoped to start a race war, but it appears that his actions have spawned the opposite of desired outcomes. For the moment, and for the first time in many months, this act of racial hatred seems to be drawing people closer rather than driving them farther apart. It is pretty easy to understand, especially when you consider the nature and outstanding character of the victims he selected that horrible night. He attacked the faithful, the trusting, the pillars of a community, and while we do not know much about their personal lives, we can see the exemplary quality of their existence through the steady and incredible voices of those they left behind.
Indeed, the actions and words of the families and loved ones, now facing immense personal loss, are a solid tribute to the indelible character and faith of the those who have been lost.
I was flying home Friday after a hectic week on the road. I often try to get a little writing in when I fly, as the down time that travel provides is a perfect opportunity for undistracted thought. This time, however, I was tired, and opted instead to watch the news via the satellite systems now so common on many planes. I turned on Fox News, and soon found myself watching the live broadcast of the first bond hearing to be held for Dylann Roof.
Beyond the very nature and magnitude of his crimes, the bond hearing for Roof was highly unusual in two ways. The magistrate paused before the proceeding to issue a passionate statement about the strength of the Charleston community, and to ask for compassion and understanding for all innocent victims in this incident. He made it quite clear he was talking about not just the families of those killed, but also the friends and family of Dylann Roof; people who did nothing wrong and "were not deserving of what is happening in their lives right now". The second unusual feature of this hearing was that the judge invited and allowed victim impact testimony. We heard from the grieving relatives who had not even yet had a chance to bury their dead.
It was a gripping, powerful and emotional moment to watch and listen to. And what incredible people they were.
The people making statements were not shown on television. Instead, a split screen showed Roof standing silently via closed circuit television, and the picture of the specific relative whose next of kin was speaking. You could hear the pain in their voices. You could feel the agony within the inflection of their words. Yet, for the most part, you could not detect hatred in the words they used. The first two family members to speak forgave Dylann Roof for his evil actions, and asked the Lord to have mercy on his soul. Others echoed those sentiments. One woman expressed her anger, albeit ever so politely, and said she knew her faith required her to forgive, but that she was "still a work in progress". All of them spoke of faith, and of the pain that challenged them at their very core. They were clearly upset, but over the background sound of sobbing and grief, maintained incredible strength and composure.
They had lost mothers, brothers, sisters, fathers and grandmothers in an attack that could have prompted much violence; but their eloquence through grace was a resounding clarion call for peace and understanding. They were undoubtedly the finest examples of the people our nation lost in a brutal and senseless attack.
They are better people than I, of that I can assure you.
When you are silenced and no longer able to speak for yourself, the people you leave behind will often be the arbiters of your reputation, particularly when conveying impressions to those who did not know of you prior to your death. The magnitude of loss in Charleston is now clear to the world, as the people left behind have become shining examples of the grace and gratitude likely lived by those killed in the attack. They are the voices in the dark, and offer a lesson for a nation shocked by senseless violence.
They and their dearly departed are the incredibly awesome victims of Charleston. Let us hope we learn from their examples.
Robert Wilson is President & CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and "From Bob's Cluttered Desk" comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants - often on workers' comp or employment issues, but occasionally not.
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