“In the midst of winter, I found there was within me, an invincible summer.” Albert Camus
After years of teaching, summer always feels like a vacation to me although I’ve been retired for years. I think of summer as a time to go swimming, hike through the forest, plant flowers, and wake up feeling happy and energetic. It’s just a joyous, free time when I don’t have to work hard at anything.
But this summer feels more like winter than summer. The intensive rain or extreme heat keeps me indoors and that intensive summer energy vibrates within like it is ready to explode. Then there was last Wednesday and the shooting in Charleston and the darkness descended like a shadow of winter.
Public Shootings Create Grief For Many
My soul has lost its joy. It feels like the middle of winter when there’s little to do and the cold makes going outside miserable. It feels like the 60’s all over again with the endless murders of anyone who tried to change things for the better and stood up against racism.
To say that the death of nine people in Charleston was tragic is an understatement. It is a turning point and we cannot ignore it. What real progress, if any, has been made is merely a shadow of what we still need to accomplish.
We Must Take Action Against Hate
It’s true we are grieving for many reasons, and we have to grieve and feel, but soon we need to move beyond that and find that “invincible summer” within ourselves—that part of us that will take action, that understands we are all human and must be treated humanely. We must harness our energy and take action this time in a way that permanently changes the face of racism in this country.
For one thing, I want to know how we can keep other young people from developing the hatred that motivated Dylann Roof. What really pushed him over the edge? I believe it was more than what he read on the internet. He said the people in the Bible class were so nice he thought about not killing them—but he did it anyway.
For a moment he felt the light but it didn’t matter because he was already lost in the darkness of hatred. And yet those who lost their loved ones refused to let him take away their love, so they forgave him. When you’ve been the victim of hate, to return it only expands it. They understood that. They found their “invincible summer.” I am deeply touched by their choice to love.
Only Love Can Heal Racial Equality
Is there an invincible summer within me? Maybe. I felt it for a while as we attended a solidarity gathering at St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church on Friday. The message was given by the minister there who grew up in the Charleston church where the shooting occurred. He lost dear friends. He was grieving deeply, but that “invincible summer” shown brightly through him.
He urged us all to action—white and black. It’s time to stop fooling around and look at the issues that create the kind of hate that creates violence. It’s time to improve education and employment opportunities for everyone. It’s time to regulate the sale of guns so that the mentally unstable cannot get them. It’s time to stop incarcerating young people for minor crimes. It’s time to fix what is terribly broken.
Racial Equality Creates Opportunity for All
In every city there needs to be serious conversations about how to make life better for everyone. Perhaps this shooting haunts me deeply, not only because of its tragedy, but because it reminds me of so much of what I saw in New Orleans during the years I taught there. In five years I only had one white student. Most were African-American or mixed race.
I saw poverty, hunger, and children with parents who could not function, usually because of drug addictions or because they held down multiple jobs to feed the family. They went to school in buildings smelling of mold and urine. In one school the bathrooms were so filthy, students wouldn’t use them. They would cut class and go home. And my highly intelligent students were harassed by some teachers who were incompetent. This was all before Katrina.
We Need to Release Our Obsession With Always Winning
In this country we are obsessed with a competitive, hierarchical mentality that creates a need for being the one who wins despite our democratic foundations that state we are all equal. Our equality is an illusion. Two of the things that have happened during my lifetime that have been detrimental to society and contribute to the rash of public shootings have been the loosening of gun sale regulations and the ease with which young people can find sites online that encourage racist attitudes.
When we need to always win, to always be superior, even if violence is the only way we know to win, it is always rooted in fear and often those that act on this impulse are not mentally stable. For those who need mental health services, there are fewer choices because so many are being cut. Couple that with the ease to obtain guns and we have a serious problem.
Public Media Needs to Create Shows That Show Our Humanity
In addition, the kind of films and television shows that are commonly watched are very violent, and even the nonviolent programs, the characters are often despicable. One of the most popular is “House of Cards,” but the main character will stab anyone in the back to get what he wants. I’ve heard people say they are addicted to it. That’s because our dark side is drawn to the darkness in others.
If we are stable adults, we have the strength to resist this, but a child or teenager who is vulnerable, particularly one who is a loner longing for attention may see those powerful, negative personalities as heroes. That dark one becomes a role model for becoming a hero.
There was a time when entertainment as a whole was pretty harmless. In the beginning of television there were high quality dramas written by major writers. There were funny, harmless comedies. It’s true that the characters were often idealized, but there were few really evil characters around. It was a more positive world that we as young people were exposed to.
People Need Positive Role Models in Life and the Media
So why do we continue to tolerate this? It all comes down to money. If it makes money, it is tolerated. Hollywood knows that stimulating people’s fears will draw them into the dark stories. The image of becoming a hero by killing people has pulled many a young person into committing horrendous acts. Dylann Roof wanted to do what he thought no one else was willing to do—be a hero and get rid of “those people” whom he perceived as trying to take over his world.
So we are left with a dilemma. One of our basic rights in this country is free speech and our constitution gives us the right to bear arms. In “the winter of our discontent” we must find a way for these freedoms to co-exist and to create an “invincible summer. What are we going to do about it?
© 2015 Georganne Spruce ZQT4pQ5ZN7F5