America can find the answers by listening, working together

Published 1:38 am Saturday, August 19, 2017

“If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.”

–From The Nightingale


If you like to read, you know what I mean when I say the book grabbed me. I mean it in an I-couldn’t-put-it-down, up-til-4 a.m. sort of way.

Last weekend I was in the midst of one of those deep dives, immersed in the stories of two sisters who participated in the French Resistance during World War II. One rescued 19 Jewish children, saving them from concentration camps. The other led downed Allied soldiers through a series of safe houses before traveling with them on foot over the Pyrenees. Twenty-seven times.

As I read about these sisters, I wondered if I would be as brave in the event of war as they were. Who among my friends might stand with me, I wondered. Could we, like those sisters, endure rape and torture and still carry on?

Even as I was reading about these two French women who, each unbeknownst to the other, defied the Natzi’s in bold ways, Charlottesville was happening. The irony wasn’t lost on me.

In the past week, I’ve read commentaries and listened to arguments about monuments to the Confederacy. Joseph McGill, founder of the Slave Dwelling Project, spends nights in former slave quarters to draw attention to what they represent. He visited Alabama to sleep in a slave cabin recently. The Washington Post told his story.

Simply taking down a statue, he said, conveniently obscures a more collective national guilt.

“This was a system that we as a nation allowed to exist,” he continued. “And to hold those military officers and folks whose monuments were taken down responsible, to put the weight on their shoulders, that’s wrong. We’ve got to accept that we were a nation of people who condoned enslaving others and not lay the burden at the feet of these Confederate officers.”

He doesn’t want to topple Robert E. Lee, but he wants Lee’s story to be put in context for all Americans.

I don’t pretend to know the answers for our country in this time of turmoil. I do value law and order, and peaceable assembly. I do believe if we approach the issues with open minds, looking for workable solutions, we are far better off than if we take to the streets in violence, even if the best we can come to is an agreement to disagree.

And I am thankful that I live in a community in which a white minister and an African American minister are prayerfully working together to host a unity event on the Court Square in Andalusia Monday night, to help further our dialogue.

“We are Americans first,” Darryl Calloway said.

“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again,” the poet Maya Angelou said.

I look forward to seeing a group of courageous people on the Square on Monday night. Bring a flag.


Michele Gerlach is publisher of The Star-News.