“My legacy is that I stayed on course… from the beginning to the end, because I believed in something inside of me.” ~ Tina Turner.
I do not bake. Not that I haven’t tried, I have, but like many perfectionists who are also blessed with impatience, when I did not get the expected results on first attempt, I gave up! But I enjoy watching those baking shows and admire the effort, skill, and patience of the competitors. One day I watched as they met the challenge of creating an impossibly layered cake. There were something like fifteen different skinny layers, alternating mixes of different colors, the resulting cake when sliced showed delicately tiny sheets of sweetness. I couldn’t even imagine myself attempting such a feat.
When I visited Arizona almost twenty years ago, I remember gazing at the hills of Sedona, the amazing vistas of the Grand Canyon, and being in awe at the colors and strata of the rocky structures. Layers upon layers of rocks laid down over the millenia, then weathered into interesting structures, crevices and ravines. In Sedona the resulting formations in an in-your-face red rock have been named after their appearance: Cathedral Rock; Madonna; Coffeepot; and even Snoopy! It is a geologist’s paradise, illustrating textbook definition after definition. All you can do is stand and gaze.
I studied geology for two years back in high school. I had always loved rocks, in fact at one point I had a huge collection of small stones, which eventually filled up a large (empty) whiskey bottle to be turned into a lamp. In Wales you can stand on a beach and pick up a smooth blue-gray rock that has been shuttled, hustled and polished all the way down from the mountains, along bustling streams and slower rivers, to be deposited near the ocean’s edge. Then, wafted back and forth by the restless sea it sits, waiting to be held and appreciated. The principle of uniformitarianism states that the earth changes in uniform ways, and so we can learn the past by studying the present.
I was watching that genealogy show (PBS) the other day, seeing the detective work that goes into finding out where people come from, who their ancestors were. One of the celebrities on the show (Pharrell – ‘Because I’m happy!’), an African-American, was hearing about his fourth or fifth great grandmother, who was born a slave. The detectives had uncovered a document which appeared to be a first-person narrative of her life story. Please don’t quote me, as I usually watch TV with half an eye, but I believe it told the story of a girl born into slavery, who was ‘freed’ at the age of ten, and the hard life which followed. Watching Pharrell as his family history was uncovered, you could see he was fighting with a mix of emotions. He had a hard time expressing himself, he was in such turmoil. In fact, the interview had to be paused and resumed some weeks later. It was as if Pharrell had known hypothetically that he was descended from enslaved Africans, but that first-person narrative hit home, it was real.
The history of the nation of the USA (as opposed to the geological history, or even the history of the Native Americans who were here first) is a layered one. Unfortunately, many of the layers have been buried so deep for so long, that the country has been able to make believe, to present a white-washed, censored version. Even the history books have been cleansed, as dictated by local School Boards. When you control the narrative, the result is generations of students who can now believe the fiction version: that Africans (and the Native Americans before them) were less human than white folk; that slavery was actually a good thing for people of African descent – they were fed and housed and saved from the savage continent, brought to a much better place. There are slurs and lies and misrepresentations all over the place. So when generations of children are fed this misinformation, the result is white kids with a superiority and entitlement complex. And children of color who believe that they cannot succeed, and even if they do, they may be subject to random acts of brutality that can wipe everything out in one night.
Sociologists study patterns of human behavior, and looking back over the history of this nation there were periods of construction and reconstruction. Like our earth, there are periods of building and erosion, construction and deconstruction, breaking down to build up better. The end of this last presidency showed us the ugly seam of racism that has persisted since this nation was formed. In fact it was the foundation of it. By denying the rights and humanity of the Native Americans who were here in the first place, and then by using slave labor to build up the infrastructure and wealth of the country, the Founders were creating their more perfect union on a principle that was never implemented: that all men are created equal.
Are we up to the task of the present moment? Is it possible to confront the past and honor the sacrifice of those who have gone before? In the upstream theory of solving huge problems in our society, we need to plan ahead, by changing the way we educate children, by teaching them the truth. I read a quote attributed to a Native American who said that the problem with the settlers was that they always spoke about their rights to the land they had claimed. In Native American traditions, they look at the land as something they have an obligation to protect. What is our obligation to the land and to future generations?
This Friday morning I hope you can look back to those strong people who came before you and gave you life. I hope you can do your own research to find out the truth, the truth about your own layered life, and the life of the society in which you live. It is up to us to seek our own truths, and to teach our children well.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!