Marc and I went to Charleston, South Carolina this past weekend to celebrate 17 years of marriage. It is a place I have always longed to go. It’s one of those cities that seems picture perfect with it’s beautiful architecture and scenic ocean views. I had heard about the amazing restaurants, famous chefs, eclectic shopping, history and southern charm. I couldn’t wait to go!
Charleston has also been in the news recently for the horrific shooting at the AME Episcopal Church. A scene of such hate and evil that it is hard to even wrap my mind around how such a thing could happen. The shooting then led to the debate over the waving of the Confederate Flag at the State Capital. A furious debate that magnified the issues that our country is confronting around race, and brings to light the deep scars that bear witness to our countries dark past of slavery.
As we drove for our weekend away I had both Charleston’s on my mind. The city full of fun and life, and the city that was reeling from the murder of 9 innocent black people who were killed because of the color of their skin. I wrestled with which Charleston I would find. Would I walk down streets of joy or streets of pain? Would there be a spirit of tension or fear or anger? Would the painful roots of America’s past be uprooting the quaint brick streets of the picture perfect city?
The answer is yes! Charleston was everything I expected and more. We walked through the over 200 year old market where artisans from all cultures and backgrounds gather to sell their goods in a building with a sign reading The Daughters of the Confederacy. We walked along a waterfront which once brought in ships full of slaves and now housed a giant Carnival cruise ship. We saw a few confederate flags, but mostly American flags, big American flags waving from the balconies of the beautiful southern homes I often see on postcards.
I decided the first morning I would take a long walk and explore the city. We had already partaken of some amazing culinary delights which I needed to walk off and I wanted to see the waterfront. I walked from our hotel through the old market. I walked to Waterfront Park and along the palm tree lined streets of old southern residences. I walked up King Street and among all the high-end shops. I wandered into a park with a huge farmers market. I took in the smells and sounds of community and watched a local guy break dance to raise money for his American Ninja Warrior adventure. I was soaking in the spirit of Charleston when out of the corner of my eye I saw where I was standing, Calhoun Street, the address of the AME Episcopal Church.
I took a deep breath in and turned toward the street of pain. I left the vibrant farmers market behind, full of food and music and kids jumping on bounce houses. I slowly crossed the street to the block where the stark white steeple rose to the sun. It was such a beautiful day and the sky was a brilliant blue with streams of soft white clouds. The church was stunning, almost glowing in the bright sun of the noonday. As I approached I had a huge lump in my throat and a heaviness in my heart. I was holding back my tears as I imagined the scene of such evil and hate. But quickly I learned that evil did not prevail on that street corner in that little AME Church. As I approached the church I saw people young and old, black and white, english speaking and non-english speaking. It was quiet and somber yet there was a sense of love and hope. People wept and laid flowers. People knelt to pray. People smiled at one another with such kindness. Messages of love and remembrance had been left by thousands of visitors who had gone before me. Yes, evil and hate took the lives of 9 beautiful souls, but it did not prevail. The street of pain that I was walking was also paved with forgiveness and reconciliation. As I walked away tears of sadness and hope mixed together as they streamed down my face.
Marc and I enjoyed the rest of our trip trying southern cuisine and spirits, walking the shops on King street and just spending some much needed time together. As we neared the end of our time in Charleston we decided to visit a few more shops and debated whether to get one more Charleston meal in before we hit the road. As we wandered down King Street we spotted it, Halls Chophouse! Several people had mentioned that we MUST eat at Hall’s Chophouse, especially their Sunday Gospel Brunch. We tried to make reservations but were unsuccessful.
As we walked by the restaurant there was a line of people out front. Although we thought it futile, we decided to try our luck and see if we could get a spot at the bar. We were immediately welcomed by Mr. Billy Hall himself who greeted us like longtime friends and found us a table in the bar. The place was full of life and the most soulful gospel music filled every inch of the restaurant. We sat at our little two top table between exposed brick walls and huge community tables. We watched as plates full of grits and collard greens and crab cakes were brought from the kitchen. It seemed like everyone there was a regular and they all knew each other. There were lots of hugs and warm greetings, laughter and joy. The entire Hall family was working the room and making sure everyone felt a part of this vibrant community. We sat back in our chairs taking it all in. There in Hall’s Chophouse, listening to “Oh How I Love Jesus”, surrounded by black and white, old and young, southerners and northerners, I found the Charleston I was hoping for. I had to walk the road of pain and sorrow to find it, but there in that old brick building just blocks from the beautiful stark white steeple I found four brick walls that encompassed the beauty of life, healing, reconciliation, and most of all HOPE!
Continued prayers for the families who lost loved ones at the AME Episcopal Church.