In the past few days, we've seen a remarkable series of high-profile news events, including ghastly terrorist attacks that killed dozens across three continents, the Supreme Court ruling that same-sex couples nationwide have the right to marry, President Obama's eulogy for slain pastor Clementa Pinckney and the continuing funerals for the Charleston 9.
In widely disparate but achingly simple ways, these events remind us what it means to be human.
Can't you just see it?
I've struggled with anger since the South Carolina shootings. Truth be told, for longer than that. Politics aside, how can we look around at what black people have endured historically, what we endure still, how cheaply we die, and not rage? How do people fail to recognize that just the one or two stories of unfairness that they've personally witnessed, or been part of, add up to a million injustices compounded over time such that every American should be bent over with the ache of it? Politics withstanding, I saw a social media post of a black father with his three teen girls posing with the firearms he'd bought for them and taught them to shoot. "Acceptable!" someone commented. "I'm looking into strapping up my young Prince." "All creatures who feel threatened by extinction will fight to survive," someone else said.
As abolitionist and reformer Frederick Douglass pointed out: "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both." It is anger that moves people's feet. The expression is "hopping mad." It is not the suffering of people that has caused us to examine policing in America. It is their activism. Passion, fueled by anger, often and absolutely changes laws. It frees people. It ends wars.
But it starts them as well.
Because anger has us always dancing on a knife's edge.
Friday's terrorist attacks around the globe, which included a beheading, remind us of this.
Laws cannot contain anger that bleeds into hate.
I was thinking of all this Friday when I had to drop off my sister and her family at Union Station. When we drove past throngs of people waving flags and celebrating outside the Supreme Court, cheering the landmark ruling that had just been issued upholding same-sex marriage. It was activism that started this revolution, that changed laws state by state and culminated in the ruling.
But as cars honked and a choir sang of equality, it was the signs that got me.
"Love wins," they read.
Love wins. Love wins, and my eyesight grew blurry in the reading.
What is the word for the lessons we know intellectually but we feel anew when the lump rises in our throats and we fear we cannot drive through our tears? Although I was supportive of same-sex marriage, I hadn't known I had a dog in this fight until I saw the fight won. And I messaged someone I loved to congratulate her. And I loved everyone I could see through the water in my eyes.
Shortly after that, I tuned in to coverage of the funeral services in Charleston.
From the pulpit, someone observed that alleged shooter Dylann Roof said "he wanted to start a race war, but he came to the wrong place." And the church said amen.
In eulogizing Pinckney, Obama said simply, "What a good man." He read off the names of the other eight people who were slain, and behind him someone said my, my, my, my, my. At the end, he sang "Amazing Grace," and I knew I had seen a transcendent moment in American history. I was reminded that grief never needs translation.
It is the final lesson in a remarkable series of days. Anger changes laws when laws need to change. Love changes minds because laws aren't enough. Grief reminds us of something unchanging, universal, eternal. It is perhaps our most common bond. It reminds us that we are all human, with everything that goes along with it. All the hatred, all the grace. And love. Love wins.
On some remarkable days more than others, can't you just feel the truth of it?