I’ve been struggling for days with how to properly hold all the thoughts and emotions swirling around the disgusting displays of hatred, violence, intolerance and racism in Charlottesville last weekend — compounded by our president’s failure to properly condemn the domestic terror of the white supremacists and his complete incompetence at soothing our nation’s collective broken heart or providing any semblance of leadership that teaches how we can move beyond these dark times.
But what makes our nation so amazing is that its people will always rise to the occasion. Wednesday, the parents of Heather Heyer, who was killed Saturday while protesting against white supremacists, gave us the path forward. Mark Heyer and Susan Bro, in the moving eulogies they offered for their daughter, stepped up with the courage of a president to lead a mourning nation by delivering a message of forgiveness and fierce love, with a clear call to raising consciousness, compassionate courage and righteous actions.
I needed to hear those words badly. After Saturday’s atrocities, I found myself in my own web of confusion on how to properly respond. Reject the racist hatred, of course. But then what? It's hard not to fall to the pressure of separating our country into “us vs. them” factions, but that division is what will be our undoing.
I sat with my belief that we are all connected to each other — that there is no difference between you and me, and that is why we are all equal. And if we are all one, how can there be any room for hate? And then I was silenced by the question that would handcuff me for a few more days: Could I truly live up to my beliefs by finding a space where I could love the racists, too? It felt like an impossible task. But only a person with much self-hatred can be so hateful to another. Could I find compassion for that wounded soul while still holding disgust for their actions?
When darkness visits us, we must do all we can to counter it with all the light we can hold. Finding a place in my heart to try to truly love the haters was oddly the only thing that had felt healing for me. It was counterintuitive but liberating. I wanted to share the idea with others. But I hesitated. Would calling for love and forgiveness be misconstrued as giving a Trump-style pass — a wink and a nod of encouragement — to the hateful racists?
But Mark and Susan not only gave us permission to shine our light, they begged us to do it in their daughter’s honor. In the most radical display of love, they chose to very publicly forgive Heather’s murderer and encouraged us to do the same. I’m not sure if Heather Heyer learned from her parents or taught them this courage, but it’s exactly what these times are calling for right now.
If we reject the racist haters and try to make them go away, all they do is take their ideas underground and continue to discriminate against people in their small daily ways rather than in giant displays of protest. Their feelings have not changed. There is no transformation. There is no true relief for my friends of color, the Jewish community, or LGBT families. The hate still exists and it continues to grow and spread.
We must meet these challenges with the strength of our “soul force” and blend the calling of social justice action with the insights of consciousness and our spiritual promptings as masters before us like Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Harriett Tubman and Nelson Mandela have so beautifully taught us.
If we, as Susan Bro eloquently prodded us, “channel that anger not into hate; not into violence; not into fear,” but rather into “righteous action” and “difficult dialogues,” then we have a chance at shifting this. She reminded us that outrage and forgiveness can be held together and that at the end of the day, love and non-violent resistance are truly our greatest weapons of strength.
Heather R. Mizeur is a former member of the Maryland General Assembly and was a democratic candidate for Governor in 2014. She can be reached at email@example.com.