I just returned from a family reunion—the first time this branch of my family has gathered in nearly 30 years. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to reconnect, or to bear witness while the old guard, our parents’ generation of wise mentors, walk among us. But what I learned shook me to my core.
As in every family, we have genealogists and historians. I was proud to learn from them that our ancestors immigrated early—1600s for one group and 1700s for another, both intent on escaping religious persecution from their homelands. I was proud to learn that our ancestors fought as Patriots in the American Revolution and, pushing roots deep, helped build this country. I squared my shoulders, imagining wonderfully creative and heroic tales of the men and women of conscience from whom we descend.
But, as any good story is rife with conflict the secret door opened, skeletons emerged, and bones began to rattle. I was not proud to learn that two of our ancestors owned slaves.
As that stark truth sank in, my brother whispered, “I’m not feeling so good about our family right now.” The power of understatement.
Scenes of human beings bought and sold as if they were livestock, of people “inherited” as wedding gifts, and images of whips and chains, manacles and slave ships, of families wrenched and broken into fragments all sprang to mind. My stomach turned.
I’ve written novels about the Underground Railroad, the Civil War, and the need to stand for the freedom, rights, and human dignity of others, no matter what the chaotic world demanded, no matter the clamor for greed. I’ve written about the fair treatment of immigrants, and raised my voice against human trafficking of all races, ages, and genders. And, now, to discover this in my own family . . .
It’s simply not enough to say, “Well, it was wrong, but it’s just the way things were at the time.”
“Just the way things were/are” is a slippery slope. It’s what people in every generation have said when the injustice they perpetrated against others or their environment was thrown up as a mirror before them. It’s the revelation of an ugly reflection. And even though most of us are not talking human slavery, it’s what we’ve all said in our time.
Sadly, I can’t change what happened in the past—not my ancestors’ past, not even my past. I can’t heal the injustice or unthinkable cruelty to others or take away inherited shame. But I can change my legacy and offer hope for the future by taking action in the present. I can raise my voice, take a stand, and open my hand for the good and uplifting of others. I can step off the slippery slope of “just the way things are/were” onto firmer, more solid ground.
I don’t know how future generations will view the decisions I’ve/we’ve made. But I pray for the conviction, courage and determination to right whatever wrongs as soon as I identify and understand them. I pray for forgiveness, and for the courage to look, unflinching, in the mirror raised before me.
Bones will rattle, but I’d rather drag those skeletons from the closet now and allow their ugly history to inspire me to do better than to leave them for my children’s children to discover and weep over in shame. What do you think? Can we learn from the mistakes of our past or our family’s past to inspire a better future?
The garden is draped in emerald green—ready for a late spring prom. Recent rain and the sudden surge in temperatures have yielded hothouse growth in the surrounding forest. We’re suddenly, vibrantly cocooned, and summer’s not even begun.
The changing seasons are gifts, and the blossoming peonies, just in time for Mother’s Day, divine! Did you catch their fragrance on the breeze?
How about some sweet iced tea on the porch? A sprig of mint? We’ll settle into wicker rockers, watch the Carolina wrens build their nest in the hanging fern, and talk. There’s much to plan, much to do.
I look forward to seeing you here, in the garden, next week. Happy, Happy Mother’s Day!
God’s rich blessings for you,