The Other Charlottesville Photo

Like many of you, as the one-year anniversary of Charlottesville approached, my mind had been replaying the images and stories associated with this tragic time. In particular, again, like many of you, my thoughts kept coming back to a death that occurred. The death of Heather Heyer.

I saw an article in the Washington Post that focused on “The” picture, and reflection of that tragic day. (“It’s Still Hard To Look At”, Steve Hendrix). That now Pulitzer-prize winning picture which captured the moment of impact as James Alex Fields, Jr propelled his Dodge Challenger into the crowd of people who were celebrating the cancellation of the Unite The Right rally. We all know this picture, bodies flying through the air, tossed like rag dolls. You can see shoes on the ground with no body attached. Eyeglasses and bottles melded with droplets of water and cell phones. In the background, mixed in with the people are signs. Signs of love and solidarity that juxtapose the carnage happening.

The photographer, Ryan Kelly, captured over 100 images in under half a minute. The Washington Post article walks you through some of them, with focus on The Picture. This powerful image truly is worthy of the attention and the award, however tragic the circumstances that led to its existence.

But for me, another picture stands out with a different kind of power. A power I am still grasping to understand, because it’s unfamiliar to me. It’s a picture that shows what are the last seconds of Heather Heyer’s life. The article faded everything in the photo but Ms. Heyer and the murder weapon, shown below.

Photo by Ryan Kelly, from The Washington Post article “It’s Still Hard To Look At” by Steve Hendrix

When you look at her eyes in the picture, there is a power there that I think can only be expressed by someone who is completely free of fear. She is looking death in the face. She is eye to eye with her killer. And yet all I see is steel. I don’t see terror or angst. I see strength.

I don’t know this power. I know that a woman who believed strongly in equality, just as I do, attended a counterprotest celebration, similar to vigils and marches I’ve attended. She is someone who I think I would have been great friends with, had I known her. A kind and beautiful soul. But I viscerally believe that there is a glaring difference between Heather and me. Had it been me in that picture, the expression would be different. It would have been one of abject terror.

You see, I don’t have the power that Ms. Heyer had. Honestly, not many do. We may have conviction. We may have love. We may have courage. But do we have the power to stare at death as it barrels towards us with a steely resolve that screams, “You may break my body, but my spirit will NOT die.”

No. No we don’t. Because our world has very few Heather Heyers in it.

Heather Heyer has a spirit that transcends everything frightening. Everything hateful. She is strength. She is peace. And while it’s painful to write this (and I am in tears as I do), I realize when I look at that picture, it had to be someone like Heather to show us all what we should be in moments meant to break us. May we learn from her unintended lesson, and use it to honor her as we continue the fight that she, and so many believe in. That all are equal and worthy.

Rest in power Heather.