A bizarre summer. The usual events: baseball, cookouts, killing.
An unusual set of emotions is sweeping the nation, though.
There seems to be just the tiniest glimmer of goodness and purpose on the horizon.
It may be that America is remembering the word “conscience.”
What the press insists on calling “the massacre in Charleston” seemed to have occurred atop a layer of old-fashioned morality. Once the deed was done, the South Carolinian citizen – previously silent, tacit, dependable – was shriveled by shame. As though each man and woman over the age of forty were suddenly wakened from a long nap to the conditions in which they had been sleeping.
It took the deaths of nine clean-living pious, generous people for others to remember the value of individual hearts and minds. More, to remember how easily hearts and minds can be wounded and torn apart, just as easily as families of old were sold, separated, and stripped of humanity.
What made South Carolina’s “mea culpa” so moving and real was that the shame so movingly on display in defending the Confederate Flag resembled weather and age-induced cracks and damage on the face of the Statue of Liberty. Interviewees ranged from the middle-aged soccer moms to the aged grannies who raised them. From hard-as-nails bikers to the city’s top echelon of business interests. It seems to us that millions of South Carolinians could not wait to get out from under the century-old habit of referring to life in the Deep South as a triumph of common sense and Christian care.
The desire to enfold all people in daily unity and life exploded from the seeds of guilt, shame, understanding.
“Shaming” is a fairly new – although centuries old- weapon in maintaining public order.
And even though, to move a few knotches along the ruler towards modernity and to one of our more prominent, although least experienced candidates for the Republican nomination – who seems to exist in a world without shame, value or truth – even he is no longer able to ignore entirely the public call for decency and knowledge.
There is another factor in the New South’s realization that it no longer wants to be the Old South: fear.
Americans seem to be understanding, not an easy intake, that the United States may just no longer have the juice to be the moral leader of the free world. After all, the Free World is changing hourly. The US is no longer a simple monolith who can call shots around the world. People are shooting back. Not only does this make us trepidatious, it reminds us daily that one of our own special Christian tenets is the desire to be treated as we would have treated others. If we are to expect understanding and mercy from others, we have to offer it to them first.
Which, in effect, means that we as a nation must learn, and learn quickly, to remember what loving other people actually means.
We’re not claiming revivalism. But perhaps we can claim remembrance. When every day we see about us others unable to feed their families, educate their kids, work meaningfully and save for retirement – a combo that’s hard enough to choose regardless of one’s background – now, in 2015, we want to know why this is so impossible. And when one of the answers to this question turns out to be our own behaviors, the feelings induced are not happy ones.
Just as the nation as a whole has become ever more scrupulous about the behaviors and actions of our elected representatives, not to mention people who for years have built reputations and fortunes by entertaining and teaching us, these very targets of what once was admiration are having to re-examine their lives, make corrections if possible, apologize for errors if not.
It may no longer be money alone that drives U.S. politics. We hope that instead it is memory – of golden rules, paying it forward, loving our neighbor, being patient and peaceful and reasonable.
For seventy years we’ve watched the US sink into a morass of selfishness. Could it be some of us are finally finding the strength to pull ourselves out?