The first time I heard about the history of slaves in my hometown, we’d lived in South Carolina for two months.
Accompanying my son on his first field trip at his new school, we squeezed together on a small bench among a group of fourth graders gliding on a pontoon boat. Slowly churning through the mouth of green waters looking for alligators sunning themselves along muddy banks of tall grasses, I fanned myself with a take-out menu from the bottom of my purse while we listened to a guide spew facts. What I learned still haunts me.
Men and women shipped unwillingly from their homes in Africa, once worked as slaves in those same waters we toured. Without modern equipment, they cleared vast acreages of forested wetlands with their bare hands for a large scale cultivation of rice. They were forced into unbearable conditions for the profit of wealthy plantation owners. Many lost their lives to poisonous snake bites and the appetites of steely eyed alligators.
Something felt off as I sat comfortably taking in the sights that others gave their lives at such great cost. I’d read history books, I knew the facts, but this was different. My flesh was mingling with the sacredness of history.
Today, I walk down dusty roads, through well-manicured streets, stand at the end of long stretches of stilted plank over water, a slight breeze pushes hair away from my face and I stand motionless, leaning into a hand rail. And breathe.
I can’t help but think that the beautiful riches I take for granted in my hometown are living monuments to the brutal sacrifices of many before me.
I received a profound response to my earlier post this week after I made some vulnerable admissions, things I’d only said out loud to my H. An email from a friend I’ve known for at least twenty years. She said, “I feel like I know you for the first time. Doesn’t that sound crazy? I have known you for so many years but this was letting me into your life in a way that hasn’t been there before.”
Sometimes we think we’re an open book, but we’ve only revealed the introduction and first chapter. Until you allow someone into your suffering and the deep waters of sacrifice, the work of redemption reads like idealism.
Our stories of overcoming adversity and hardship, they are monuments of hope to those around us. Not random circumstances clumped together but an intentional message we carry in our DNA. When we share them, we extend permission for others to say, “Yes, me too.”
Suddenly, a history tale turns into a lesson in compassion, a beacon of hope that breathes beyond our years. And a simple morning walk becomes a sacred pilgrimage of thankfulness.
“And deep in my heart I do believe we shall overcome some day, as he will, by God’s grace, by helping the seed of the kingdom grow in ourselves and in each other until finally in all of us it becomes a tree where the birds of the air can come and make their nests in our branches. That is all that matters really.” Frederick Buechner