I’m not going to lie, for me things have been relatively difficult of late. Far from my worst of weeks, my pain was only such when speaking relatively, I learned on Wednesday. After all the few short days since what for me was a major inflection point in my life, a professional pivot I made last week away from a marketing position I only recently settled into, have come and gone with only a dusting of emotional pain.
Instead, save for the scant breeze hinting at coming Autumn we’ve felt this week, time has passed methodically as if weighed down by the sweat-stained swelter of this South Carolina summer. I was lost in the August haze, which thickened with the sudden shock of my transition, I was lost that is, until a metaphorical sound broke my silence of my internal debate… it was the metaphorical sound of a single gunshot.
I only learned about the shooting death of 19-year-old James Island Charter High School student Jaquan Moore a couple of days ago, which was off-putting given my former position as a James Island journalist led to my dedication, over the past decade to the practice of taking James Island’s communal pulse almost each and every day.
What really caught me though was that fellow teenager Harold Alvin Champaigne pulled the trigger just yards from my former home in the Westchester neighborhood of James Island, SC. Being late to the party on the tragic news, I hadn’t the time to prepare mentally for the community rally that took place this Wednesday at the Thomas Johnson Playground in Westchester… though it wouldn’t have mattered. There is no preparing for communal mourning after all.
As a former neighborhood resident and as the author of dozens of articles written on the state of James Island’s tight-knit Black community, I felt it my duty to attend the event this Wednesday. I approached with literal hesitation, circling the block once before finally parking the car and coming to peace with my responsibility to attend the event and in a larger sense, be a living, breathing, contributing member of my adopted, beloved home. The moment the car door shut behind me I knew I’d made the correct decision, in fact, I quietly scolded myself for a moment for even considering the apathetic path.
The park was buzzing with activity. It was busy, but beset by the burden of collective loss. The emotion rung in my ears, it crept up my spine and penetrated my senses as does the shrill sound that assaults the senses when, every 17 years, several thousand buzzing cicadas descend upon the Lowcountry. The tension, the passion, the pain… all were tangible, and each feeling, by communal osmosis found its way to the corners of my soul, taking hold of my emotions before even the first prayer was uttered.
Everyone prayed together on Wednesday. Even those without faith felt it or feigned having it for the evening; even non-believers were averse to being spiritually alone at the emotional affair.
Black people, white people, the elderly, the youthful, women, men, boys and girls each attended Wednesday’s vigil. We as a single community listened to the pastors, politicians, parents, and even former prisoners addressed the vigil, and with loss providing perspective to the people, not a single stone was thrown from a glass house during the evening.
Yes, there was angst in the voices of those who spoke… there too was anger. Auspicious was the absence of Accusation at the event however, but it was an absences undoubtedly shared by all involved as an utterly welcome one.
A number of speakers expressed their thoughts on the unspeakable tragedy and offered support to both of the affected families, each fighting the emotion that pulled noticeably at the heartstrings worn conspicuously on their respective sleeves. And while the oratory was powerful, by the time the last prayer of the evening was uttered, the last hymn hummed, the last song sung, hundreds who’d come to be together retreated to their respective cars alone, apart from one another. Held hands and hugs gave way to handshakes and goodbyes, and the question grew more relevant, the question all so anxiously wanted answered…
Though James Island will never again be quite the same the question languidly, insistently remained: Would this be the last time James Island would let one of its own be killed so meaninglessly, allowed to wither and die through apathy or otherwise?
Though the outpouring of love commandeered by the creators of the community vigil flowed and bubbled at Wednesday’s vigil, when it came to an end each of us, our hearts hardened, had to go on our their respective ways. Life called, and we left the question utterly unanswered as we drove away.
In closing, I turn to this particular idea… the fleeting nature of intense, motivating emotion like that felt Wednesday has, ONLY HOURS AFTER THE EVENT, naturally begun for many to wane. Fragile as we are, pain is rarely embraced and often avoided, and folks likely wanted to move on after arriving home; pain for many is best compartmentalized, if not quarantined.
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