Last month our family swam through years of history together, dodging slave traders and rabid dogs courtesy of the pages of a Harriet Tubman biography. We spent evenings imagining how cold and frightening it would have been to slink through southern swamps guided only by tree moss and the North Star. We talked about the courage possessed by Underground Railroad travelers, and marveled at the unflinching tenacity of Harriet, “the Moses of her people.”
Shortly after completing the book with our family, I happened upon that wonderful ancestry show, Who Do You Think You Are? The episode I caught featured Lionel Ritchie searching for his origins in the South. At one point he was led to an old cemetery, a scrap of land littered with leaves and stray roots, and not a respectable headstone to be found among the fauna. The guide with Lionel explained that one of his relatives had been buried here, in this slave cemetery, though no one could say exactly where the remains rested.
Breathing in and out slowly, clearly seeking to steady his own emotions, Mr. Ritchie was left alone to consider his heritage. As the camera panned out and away, leaving his black-cloaked figure nearly silhouetted against the autumn branches, I felt the heaviness of his journey. And in that moment it crystalized:
Imagine for a moment all the souls lost to the evil, greedy, heartless enterprise of slavery.
Attempt to fathom the great minds never used. Ignored. Wiped out.
Stop to ponder what would have been the fate of Lionel Ritchie…if born in another time, on another intersection of latitude and longitude.
Even those of you who aren’t signing up for an autographed copy of Dancing on the Ceiling can surely appreciate the mind and sprawling talent of a man whose career spans four decades–a man whose life would have been completely different under the tent of slavery.
And dear Harriet–savior and protector of so many souls–God surely placed her in that time and space for a divine purpose. Yet, I can’t help but re-imagine a life for her free from the oppression and injustice she endured. Free from dogs biting at her heels and the angry growl of an empty stomach in the night. Free from hiding in corn cribs and under piles of hay and carrying a revolver around her waist.
Free from prejudice and hatred.
Reflecting on these things reminds me of the great call we have to be light and love to those around us and to teach our children to look past the thin veil of skin.
And hair and height and weight, for that matter.
Paul writes these famous words in Galations, 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
We are all one in Christ Jesus.
We are all one.