“We are part of this universe; we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts, is that the universe is in us.” ~ Neil deGrasse Tyson.
As a church minister, my father was not one to be openly political. Ministers were supposed to be neutral, not sharing their views or inclinations. At home it must have been different, because I am told (and I have no memory of this) that at an early age, whenever the Prime Minister was mentioned during the news broadcast, I would yell at the television: ‘Stop talking about Mr. McMillan!’ Both of my parents worked hard to support those discarded by society, helping men recently released from prison. Theirs was a philanthropy and activism inspired by their Christian faith, not by a political fervor.
When my father moved our family from the UK to Jamaica, I was seven years old. For some reason, I felt it was appropriate and necessary for me to give a farewell speech at the ‘going-away’ party they held for us. I wrote my speech on an assortment of colored, mismatched cards and have no recollection of what I said, or how it was received. I tended to take myself very seriously, making it easy for my older siblings to tease me (which would make me cry!). But I can remember feeling that it was my obligation, part of my duty, as if I was saying farewell to my subjects.
After a week or two of wall-to-wall coverage of the life and death of a ninety-plenty year old woman, I have been thinking about my own family’s relationship to the royal family. Again, without recalling any particular conversations about her with my parents, I knew they were not enthralled by her or what the royalty stood for. My father, being proudly Welsh, knew a different history, one of invasion and oppression. He felt more of a kinship with the descendants of enslaved Africans than those who ruled the empire. Recently, when the new King traveled to Wales, he did so on Owain Glyndwr Day. Owain Glyndwr was the last native (Welsh born) prince of Wales, and founder of the Welsh parliament, seeking independence from the English. He led a fifteen-year rebellion against King Henry IV (in the fifteenth century). Unfortunately, the superior power of the English army eventually held sway, but Glyndwr survived, and was never captured.
It was with mixed feelings that I watched the pomp and ceremony of the past few weeks. It is hard not to be impressed by centuries of tradition; by costumes that have not changed over time; by handsome horses; by sharply dressed military men; by shiny carriages and jewel bedecked crowns. But behind the glitz and the glamor there is a less impressive history: of conquest and colonialism; of looting and enrichment; of power and impoverishment.
It is hard to overlook these truths when the legacy of slavery, of the British empire, of European royalty who carved up the world into their possessions still lingers. The fracture lines evident in current US politics originated in the horrors of slavery and are exploited today. It is easy to say these things were not perpetrated by my generation, therefore I should not be held accountable, but when the disparity, injustice and inequities have not been eradicated or repaired, it is time for correction, not forgiveness.
I recently heard about the ‘Reverse freedom Rides’ of the 1960s, a cruel plot hatched by Southern segregationists in retaliation for the ‘Freedom Riders’. The Freedom Riders were young activists (Black and White) who traveled to the South on Greyhound buses to help register Black voters. Groups of ‘Citizens’ Councils’ (sounds better than Ku Klux Klan members) decided that they would send busloads of Black people to destinations in the north, promising those they recruited jobs, money, and that they would be greeted by President Kennedy in Cape Cod. The organizers targeted single mothers and men recently released from jail and provided them with bus tickets. This would teach those (insert pejorative adjective here) Northern liberals a lesson. Of course, there were no jobs or houses at the end of the journey, though fortunately there were good people who responded more humanely. Ultimately many ended up living in harsh corners of Boston.
They say that it is not so much that history repeats itself, but that it rhymes, with stories of the past sounding very much like stories of the present. Although the current times are exposing many of the unhealed abscesses in the American society, there are also people of all colors who will push back, who will confront the sources of the toxins, who will acknowledge the evils that must be corrected. We are fortunate that the National Park Service does a great job of highlighting the history of this country, even when painful.
The scientist Neil DeGrasse Tyson has recently written a book where he writes of the different ‘truths’: personal truths (our own belief system); political truths (which may just be repeated statements we hear so often we think they are true) and then objective truths: those which can be proven scientifically. If we are not open to hearing about the objective truths of our past, no matter how painful they may be, we are not able to heal and move on.
This Friday morning, I am enjoying the thought that we are stardust, we are created from the same atoms that create the universe, thus the universe is inside us. And that makes us all royalty! May you see yourself reflected in every spark of beauty that surrounds us, and may we all respect the journey that the human race is on. For we all need each other.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!