No one told me that writing a novel could put you in a pensive mood. I’ve written a number of novels and none have made me stop writing and ponder life as this one is doing. Granted, the material I am covering in this section is a hoary one — American slavery in the South. Yikes. And, to make matters even more interesting, I am an African American.
No, I am not a militant. No, I am not a bleeding heart. No, I’ve never read and studied this time period in any great detail outside of what was required in public school. In college, my English and History classes focused on other time periods. So thankfully, I did not have to confront the skeletons in my own lineage. However, now that I am neck-deep in it, I’m not sure thankful is the right adjective. Pensive is most definitely more along the right track.
Forget about being a part of the lineage, when anyone reads about a 10 1/2 month old child that is surreptitiously taken from its mother when said mother is a scant 5 feet away peering into the crowds looking for her husband. When she turns around, her child is missing and the slave trader in his place explaining that her trusted beloved former owner sold her and her child and lied about them meeting her husband a few towns over. What is one to feel? How is one to react? How do you reconcile your brain to understanding that 170 years ago this was reality for one’s great-great-grandparents? I dunno. I guess I’m still trying to process.
My family is not from this country. I could more accurately say that I am of Caribbean-American descent. From what I’ve learned from my family on both sides, we cannot trace slavery to someone directly. That means very little in the scheme of things. Slavery was on the islands, too.
I am currently reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. I stop reading for a day or so then go back. I stop reading on weekends. The reading is physically painful and at times I cry — no matter where I am. No human can read it without feeling some smidgen, some iota of something that moves the heart unless…
I will not pretend that we live in a perfect world where all that happened has been fixed. I will try to forget the too recent May 11th, 2015 Time magazine cover.
It brings home ultimately the question of do we have control over our lives today. Do we? As people of color, can we say that we have full autonomy of our destinies? Of course the answer must be yes as we get up, prepare for our day and are not shackled or have papers in someone’s vault stating that we are their property. So, clearly we have control of our lives.
However, is that the right question?
This is the pensive mood that I find myself. Posing questions I really don’t want the answers to. Yet, all the same, I’m asking them. Reading and researching to discover, or uncover, more challenging questions such as why should we bother going back and seeing what’s there? Why can’t we just move forward and build anew? Or, better, we know what’s back there. The choices were made then so we can have, be and do what we’re doing today. What more is there to be done that we aren’t doing?
Can you look yourself in the eye and tell yourself you’ve released all the morass from the past and function objectively with everyone you meet? That you have no pre-judgements (read: prejudices) about anyone you newly meet? And this last question is meant for us ALL.
Just as slavery was an institution that was kept going by those in power that needed the labor of the slaves. It was kept an institution because there were many who did not feel their voices could do anything to make changes. They did not feel their “tiny” singular actions could do any good.
Well, guess what? That new-fangled notion of pay it forward does work and you don’t have to believe in something greater than yourself to be kind to someone who does not look like you.
If Pope Francis can do it…so can we.
So, how the heck did I end up here with this diatribe raging? Oh, yeah. It’s that darn book I’m writing.
The writing life can take you places you’d never dream you’d venture.