Saturday night I hugged and kissed my 5-year-old daughter and put her to bed. Then I cried.
It had been an emotional day, an emotional week even, for so many personal reasons, but at the moment my heart was extra heavy. I wasn’t prepared for and couldn’t really explain what I was feeling.
My eyes stung and I couldn’t even think about sleep.
My body felt weak.
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I ignored text messages and phone calls from friends. I didn’t know what to say and I really didn’t want to talk about it.
Yesterday, I only wanted to know that the people I love at home were safe.
You see, home for me is Charlottesville. I’ve lived in the Atlanta area for 11 years and lived in two other states prior, but when people ask me where I’m from, I always say Virginia. It’s where I go for the holidays, it’s where all my family is today. and It’s home.
Virginia. You know, the place for lovers.
I graduated in 1988 from Charlottesville High School.
I was born at the University of Virginia Hospital in Charlottesville in 1970. I was born the day before my father had to leave for the Vietnam War. The next time my father saw me I was 10 months old when my mother and I flew to China to be with him.
My father and other men and women in my family fought for this country.
But last night I cried because the war I was seeing was not off in some foreign land. I was witnessing a war right there in my hometown of Charlottesville. The war called racism. It was racism. I don’t really care to debate with anyone about any other word for it because it is what it is.
A war rooted in inexplicable hate. It was frankly disgusting to see. Did this really all get stirred up over the removal of a statue? Seriously? It’s been brewing for months and now people are dead because of it. I’m not being Pollyannaish and naive. Yes, I know Charlottesville isn’t the first place for the hate or where hate led to death and, yes, I know it won’t be the last. And none of us gets to say it can’t happen in our hometown. It happens in every hometown one way or another, even if it’s not played out on national television.
Charlottesville, the town named the happiest city in America in July 2014 by the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research, because of the sense of community there. A story in the Guardian called it “Joy Town, USA.”
“If there’s one place in the U.S. that has more or less everything going for it, this is it,” according to the Guardian.
The story said Charlottesville was named best town for food lovers by Wine Magazine; best college town in the country by Travelers Today; the country’s favorite mountain town by Travel & Leisure; and one of the happiest and healthiest places in the U.S. by Business Insider.
But the photos I saw from my hometown on Friday night and Saturday had me wondering: who are these people? These people aren’t from Charlottesville. This isn’t the Charlottesville I know, and damn it, it’s not the Charlottesville I want others to see. It’s 2017, for goodness sake. What the hell is wrong with this world we live in?
Charlottesville has always been a different place to me, a special place. The place you went to get away from the hustle and bustle of life. The place where people leave talking about its beauty and its charm. After spending some years living in Washington D.C., my mother and father returned to Charlottesville because it would be a better, safer place to raise me and my brother. A safe place to raise a family, away from big-city life and big-city problems.
But what I saw on television, what I read in my social media feed, the photos of men and women carrying torches didn’t paint any picture of safety. That horrible photo of a car taking down people like a bowling ball hitting pins. Those weren’t images of the Charlottesville I know.
I know Charlottesville. My father was a U.S. postal worker there for years, delivering mail to homes. And now in his retirement, he is a school bus driver for the Charlottesville City School District. My mother was a dental assistant at UVa for many years before retirement. My brother graduated from Charlottesville High School, too. My nephews go there; my nieces soon will. Generations of family members all came right out of good ol’ Charlottesville. I can talk about it with authority because it is home.
My mother told me yesterday that the churches across the city were trying to plan events that would keep local people off the streets and out of harm’s way. The community went forward with back-to-school rallies to collect school supplies for needy children.
But later in the day, Charlottesville was in a state of emergency.
My mother sent me a message last night that read: “…We marched to get schools integrated, but it was nothing like today.”
This was the place my daughter had just spent a few weeks visiting over the summer.
And now what would I say to my 5-year-old about Charlottesville?
I am hurting.
I am anxious.
I am angry.
I am sad.
I am sick to my stomach.
As a Christian, I knew I had to pray, but the only thing I could come up with was God help us all.
All of my beloved hometown friends and family members have logged on to social media with one request from the world, from you. And that request is to pray for Charlottesville.
Pray that Charlottesville can regain its sense of community.
Don’t let hate win. I beg this of you.
Please, pray for Charlottesville. There’s a 5-year-old little girl who I know would appreciate it.