The Great Ones
It usually strikes me in the heat of summer as I toil away in under the baking sun. I’m sweating, tired and just want to call it a day, pack it on in and take a load off. It’s then that my mind takes flight into the distant past. Back into the Southern US, under a hot and merciless sun and into the days of slavery. The air is choked with humidity and thick with oppression and in my mind I see them. Bruised, beaten, raped, displaced and robbed of their past and future but there, there they are being ground under the iron yoke of slavery. Their sweat dripping and all too often mingled with their own blood. No shoes on their feet and scant clothes covering their bodies. The atmosphere is thick with heat and humidity and poisoned by an oppressive spirit that we in our modern times and in this country cannot imagine no matter how hard we try. We look back and call them slaves but in my mind they are indeed The Great Ones. Their mental, emotional, spiritual and physical powers dwarf and shame us. How can we compare ourselves to them?
Imagine the man whose wife has been taken by his master, his children sold off, beaten, marred and mutilated at the whim of others. The mother whose child is ripped from her arms and sold for a price. The children forced to watch the murder of their parents and friends. See the man whose foot has been cut off because he ran away seeking freedom. Look back further and see the violence of their capture and the horror of the Middle Passage. Think hard on how their world and all that they could see in this new land was built by them but not for them. Think on all these things, think hard on these things, think deeply on these things, and marvel at their power.
We call them slaves and yes they were bound in slavery, born and lived and died in slavery but oh how great they were!! We call them unlearned and illiterate but their vision stretched from before their time to well beyond our time. Hidden in their hearts was a fire and passion for freedom and equality that would surely consume our very souls. Their desire for learning and education drove them to risk everything, everything just to be able to read. In the dark, in hiding places and in secret they braved the death penalty just to learn to read. Then many, so many ran. They did not run away, they ran towards the dream of freedom. As they ran towards freedom, they carried us along with them and we should be thankful for that. We should be careful not to shame their memories by the way we live our lives.
When I finally return to my toils on this piece of land that is indeed mine my mind is renewed and my outlook changed. I smile in wonder of their strength, their spirit and their power. I am also troubled by this one question. How are we, in our lives, in our relationships, in our pursuit of education and excellence, in our very beings, our hearts and minds and souls, honoring them? Aside from celebrations and festivals and special days and aside from national holidays and aside from every external observation, how in our daily lives and activities are we honoring them?