On Saturday morning, hearing that a state of emergency had been declared in Charlottesville, Virginia, I phoned Eileen, a dear friend. I didn't have to tell her why I was calling.
"Can your believe it? White supremacists are here, in Charlottesville. Nazis. The KKK. It's disgusting, Laura. Absolutely disgusting," she said.
With hurt and anger in her voice, Eileen told me how a hateful throng of outsiders had descended upon her beloved, adopted city. Exiting the grocery store one day, she saw a white van with a group of white men crowded around it. Red paint in hand, they were writing, "Black Lives Don't Matter" across the vehicle's body. Friday night, on the grounds of the University of Virginia where Eileen and her husband work, a venomous crowd carrying lit torches chanted unspeakable ugliness.
A cold chill ran through me. I wanted to wipe those mental images from my mind. Replace them with ones I knew. Like the nights Eileen and I stood on her wide front porch, laughing until we cried. Sipping mint juleps. The animated dinners I enjoyed inside Eileen's graceful home, meeting people from all over the world who'd come to UVA to teach and learn. The drawing room where I drank wine by warm candlelight as Eileen and her friends played their mandolins. As the scent of herbs and gardenias wafted into the house through the old home's open windows. And the times Eileen took me to the charming university campus and we stopped at Edgar Allen Poe's dorm room. Admired Thomas Jefferson's architecture.
"What's happening today?" I asked.
"There's going to be another rally downtown. After last night, I'm afraid to go outside. I'm telling my son to stay home, too. Lots of people are staying home. My friend with a beautiful toy store, people I know with Mexican restaurants, they're all closing their doors downtown. They're afraid of looting. But there's supposed to be a counter rally, too. A peaceful one."
Except, as we know, it wasn't.
After I hung up with Eileen, I went to the kitchen. Turned on a live news feed on my IPad. Still thinking about Eileen and her family, I saw and heard the moment of impact. The screams. Watched the silver car driven by a disturbed, angry man ram its way down the crowded, narrow street. Shift into reverse and roll back over them, injuring nineteen people. Killing Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal.
Last night, I went to a peace rally. Hoped it would help calm me. Make me feel like I was doing something purposeful.
It didn't. For me, the time for singing songs and holding hands has passed. I am restless. Angry. Tired of watching hatred spread across this country that I love. I wish I had faith in our president to do something about it. Or at the very least, sincerely, vehemently denounce it.
There is a legacy of hatred being fostered in parts of our country. I believe we need to cut off its food source however we can. Abort its growth. Because the white supremacists responsible for the violence in Charlottesville are placing the hometowns of other Americans in their crosshairs, as well.
Heather Heyer is being called a hero. I would say she is. Or, at the very least, a remarkable, compassionate woman with something too little in supply these days: empathy. I wish I could tell her how much I like the quote she left on her Facebook page the day she died.
I wish I could tell her, I am outraged, I am paying attention.