When I was in elementary school, I lived next door to the county sheriff. The sheriff’s family was best friends with my family. One of the daughters in the family was our favorite babysitter and second mom. We loved that family.
The sheriff’s family had a dog. A German Shepherd. His name was Shane. Shane protected our house the same way he protected the sheriff’s house. My mother, who was single at the time, had some problems with dates coming to the door—Shane didn’t like it. So Mother would tell the sheriff’s wife whenever she was going out on a date, and Shane would be put up. My little sister Bettie rode Shane like a horse. He was silky to pet, a big, beautiful, smart dog whom we hugged around his neck. We loved Shane.
One day, coming home from school in my plaid school dress, I was walking past the sheriff’s house. About thirty feet from my house, Shane attacked.
Barking and snapping, teeth bared, he raced down the hill from his house toward me. I backed up to a car parked at the curb, saying, “Shane! Shane! It’s me, Shane!” He kept coming. I scrambled onto the hood of the car, sobbing now as I yelled, “Shane! It’s me!” certain if he recognized who I was, he would stop. He lunged, and I curled against the glass of the windshield, drawing up my bare legs out of reach of his sharp teeth, cowering against what might come next.
Like so many traumatic memories, I don’t remember who came and rescued me. Who heard my cries and pulled Shane off. Who got me safely into the house.
What I do remember is…nothing changed. Life went on as usual. The attack was chalked up to an aberration—it had nothing to do with his attacking Mother’s dates. Shane was protecting his house. He would never have hurt me. Somehow I was in the wrong walking down the sidewalk. Our collective love of that dog led to the attack—frantic snarling and lunging with fangs bared—being downplayed to the point it was as if it never happened. Shane was left free to roam and, if he so chose, to inexplicably attack the next person walking down the sidewalk.
Wednesday I watched an angry white mob attack the nation’s Capitol. I watched them overrun barricades, scale walls, pound windows until they splintered. I watched as they chased police officers, almost crushed them against doors, fought those defending the Capitol until they killed one and trampled their own to death.
Many want us to downplay the attack. To act as if it didn’t happen. We want to excuse the anger, the intent to harm because these are people we love. They are our neighbors. They are our family. Our political allies. They have protected us in the past. They would not have acted in such a way unless provoked. We do not want to entertain the idea that they could have gone so far astray. Despite the zip ties and ropes and pipe bombs and nooses and chants to hang the Vice President, they couldn’t have actually meant to harm the representatives who huddled against the mob, cowering against what might come next.
No matter how hard it is to see, Love cannot be blind. Love can admit a terrible outbreak of harmful behavior, and love can continue even after punishment for that action is applied. Love can—and should—assist those who have lost their way to return to the road of civil behavior. If love cares, love steps in.
If love doesn’t step in, then those who have turned away from love will never know to cease. Desist. Quit this irrational, rabid behavior. They will continue to attack. And when they do, something terrible will follow that no one—not the attackers, not those they love, not the ones who love them—ever wanted to happen.
What became of Shane? One afternoon, I found his body lying in the grass by the brick pedestal that marked our side yard. His lips were drawn back from his black gums. Lapping up a puddle with fertilizer runoff in it, our families said. Others whispered that someone in the neighborhood hated that dog and poisoned it on purpose.
If we let dangerous paths continue undeterred, we will find ourselves kneeling in the grass, sobbing with grief over a terrible death that need not have happened.