June 17, 2015 “Granddaddy done had a good life. We knew this was gonna happen.” It was a regular Wednesday night at the Dallas hospital where I worked as a chaplain. I was helping a family whose patriarch had died. They were unusually stoic, so I offered to pray with them. As I prepared to complete the customary paperwork with the family, I realized I didn’t have it with me. I excused myself and went to my office. I still think my forgetting those papers was an intervention by the spirit of God. I had left my phone charging on my desk and decided to take a moment to check my messages. I’d missed several calls from my daughter, Aja. The reception was bad in my office, so I took my phone into a conference room and wiggled my way into the corner where I knew I could get a strong signal. “Aja?” “Mama, Jonquil called me. Something’s going on at the church in Charleston. Granny’s church.” My mother’s church was Emanuel African American Methodist Episcopal Church. We all called it Mother Emanuel. Aja told me all the information she’d been able to gather. My sister’s son, Jonquil, told her something bad had happened at the church, but he had been unable to get more details. He and his mother, Esther, were going down to the church to see what they could find out. I had a really bad feeling, but I brushed it aside because I had to do my job. A family was processing the death of their grandfather.
You don’t know what’s happening yet in Charleston. Go and help these people who lost their granddaddy, then get back to your office so you can start calling people. As soon as I returned to my office, I started making calls. I got through to my baby sister, Nadine, who lives in Charleston. She hadn’t heard anything, but she was going to go check it out: “I’m putting on some clothes and going down there to the church.” I called JonQuil. He told me, “Auntie, we down at the church but nobody’s letting us get close to the building.” His tone conveyed his concern. “They just keep saying something happened in the church. Maybe some shooting. We don’t know.” He said authorities were gathering family members at a nearby hotel. So while everybody was there, holding onto each other, I was in Dallas alone. I kept calling my nephew and my sisters, but the calls went to voicemail. Whatever was going on, I knew Momma would have been at church that evening. Every Wednesday there was a Bible study, and she made it her business to be there and make sure the church was ready. She opened the doors and was always one of the last people to leave that church—every night. My mother loved that church. As long as she was able to get out of her bed, Ethel Lance was gonna be at that church—you could count on it. One time she said to me, “For all the things that I might not have done right in my life, the more time I spend in this church, the more I get to talk to God and ask for forgiveness.” “Ma, I don’t think you did so many things wrong.”
Even after days of watching, I could not tear myself away from the television. If I was awake, the TV was on. The day after the murders, the police arrested Dylan Roof—I hate to even acknowledge his name. The news outlets had been showing a video of him leaving the church. The next day a woman recognized him driving his car and called the police. He was taken to jail in North Charleston. Evil. The first time I saw him, saw his face, he personified evil to me. I was stunned by his youth, though. How did such a young boy get so much hate inside him? His eyes looked dead. That picture they showed of him with that little smirk on his face—I hate to see that picture because it represents pure evil to me. It’s gotten better for me as time has passed, but that look in his eyes is just haunting. I was captivated by the proceedings on television. Praise God! You are not gonna get away with this. They got you now. They got you now.
My parents lived paycheck to paycheck, but I never really knew that as a kid. I never felt hungry or cold or poor. I just remember that we never seemed to have enough space. We had one bedroom for all the kids back then. The girls had to double up in bunk beds and our brother had a bed to himself. I shared my bed with Esther, and for a while Terrie had her own bed. Then, when Nadine was born, she slept in the bed with Terrie. That’s just how things were in those days, and I didn’t really mind, except that Esther was always peeing the damned bed! Later, we found out that she had a kidney problem, but all I knew back then was that I would wake up every morning with a peed-up damned bed.
We had a praying Momma who had a big heart and was always willing to help somebody else. Momma would always say, “Every man for himself, and God for us all.” She loved wearing fine perfumes and dancing to James Brown’s music. Momma was a no-nonsense kind of woman who had a very strict work ethic. She kept her home clean and spotless. On special occasions, when we got dressed up in our Sunday clothes, Momma would spray us with one of her perfumes. Then she would hide the bottle, because she knew, given the chance, we’d be spraying it all over the place. Oh, she loved her perfumes! One time when I was a little bit older, I bought her a fragrance at Edward’s Five and Dime store. It was “eau de something.” I was really proud of buying that bottle of perfume with my own money, which I had earned from running errands for the neighborhood ladies.
Life has given me challenges and failures, good times and bad times. Along my journey I have known feelings of hopelessness, shame, guilt, and unworthiness. Sometimes I have replayed old tapes of toxicity in my mind and plunged into darkness, wallowing in all things negative. Yet, inside I knew, Sharon, you’re better than this, and that eventually I would find my way back to the present. But life has given me some lessons that I want to share with anyone willing to take heed. My stuff may not compare to someone else’s, but we all have stuff. No matter who you are, what you have, the house you live in, the job or title you hold, life is going to toss you around sometimes. Nevertheless, God has given us all what we need to be the best person we can be. The things to ask yourself are, “Am I comfortable with who I am? Can I be content being the authentic me? Is there room for change in my life? Am I willing to do some deep self-reflection and take inventory of myself? Is there purpose in my life beyond just getting through?” Sometimes I sought answers to those questions, and at other times life forced me to reckon with the solutions. Consequently, I have learned a few things along this journey called my life.
LESSONS I Learned!
You cant heal in isolation, Trust your gut instinct and cling to your faith, Be prepared to get rejected.
You’ve got to persevere. Don’t give up on humanity. Everybody has a purpose, You have to put in the work to achieve your dreams.