Reflections on July 4, 2020
I’m on a bucket-list trip with my wife and kids. We’re traveling across the country for two weeks in a rented RV. We’re having a blast.
But I’m also feeling somber. This trip has given me much to think about.
We had to pick up the RV in a town in Virginia that wasn’t far from where my grandmother was raised and my mother spent her summers when she was very small. This part of Virginia was as southern as they get back during the Civil War, and I’m not sure much has changed there.
When I was growing up our family had two bricks from a house on our ancestral family property in Virginia. It was my understanding that the bricks were made by slaves. I’m not sure why we collected these brick back in the day and I never remember them being prized possessions. We never really talked much about them. They are in my possession now, as I couldn’t see just throwing them away when my parents began to downsize their life. To me, they hold a place in my family’s history. Not one that I celebrate, but one that shouldn’t be forgotten.
When I picked up the RV for this trip, I took my kids to meet my grandmother’s 90-year old cousin who had some insight into my family’s history. I wanted to know the story of the bricks.
Someday I’ll write more about this visit, but for today, I’ll just say I left with the understanding that one of my ancestors owned 93 slaves.
93 slaves. 93 human souls were in the bondage of chattel slavery for the benefit of my family.
When I began the process of trying to find out the truth, I had these romantic ideas of spending time finding out if there were any local descendants of my family’s slaves, meeting them, and discussing … whatever it is you discuss with people whose ancestors your ancestors considered property.
But 93? Good god. When I shared this news with a friend his response was to point out their descendants would number in the hundreds now. That’s an understatement. It was almost in the hundreds THEN.
As I shopped at the local supermarket that evening, I couldn’t help but wonder if any of the local black population WASN’T a direct descendant of that group of people. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t feel guilty, exactly. I just felt terrible. I have people tell me not to worry about it all the time. That I don’t need to feel guilty for something I didn’t do. They hide behind fancy words like “intersectionality” and prove how caring they are because they believe all lives matter and life is hard for everyone.
Kumbaya, my lord. Kumbaya…
We eventually made our way to Mt. Rushmore. I’d been to Mt. Rushmore before when I was 9. I don’t remember much about that trip other than being frustrated by how distant the sculpture was and that I couldn’t see it. I think the entire visitors’ center is different today because I can’t imagine being any closer. The sculpture really are something to behold.
The cognitive dissonance I experienced this visit was real. I so wanted to be able to feel the pride I had in the site as a 9-year-old kid. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t shake the reality that two of the men on the mountain owned other humans. But what bothered me more was that a significant portion of our country doesn’t think it matters. Nor do they seem to think it matters that the land on which the monument “sits” was stolen from the people who were there before us.
These things matter, and we need to deal with them if our country is ever going to heal.
(If you’re curious, we didn’t realize President Trump was going to visit Mt. Rushmore this year until we were about 2 hours from getting there ourselves. We left before his arrival.)
When my marriage was about to fail over a decade ago I had to decide if I wanted to save it.
I did. But for this to happen I had to dive real deep into what was causing the divide in my relationship with my wife. We were showing all the symptoms you hear about. We would argue about finances, goals, sex…you name it. But these were symptoms of deeper problems. I had to deal with things I’d done very early in our relationship before healing could occur.
I had to take an inventory of the things I’d done, apologize for them, and commit to making them right. I did all of these things. More than a decade later we’re a bit embarrassed by how in love we are with each other. In some ways we’re stronger because of the bad parts. The process we went through to address those shortcomings created a bond that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.
Our country is going through (and has always been going through) a similar challenge. I don’t think it’s a stretch to compare a failing marriage to a failing country like ours.
We must address the carnage the American way has left behind. We need to listen to how we’ve hurt others, and learn what needs to be done to bring healing. Ignoring the hurt is nothing other than gaslighting on a national level.
I don’t claim to know how reparations should play out. But I‘m convinced we need them. Interestingly, I’m not even convinced reparations are entirely about the money. I believe the most important part of the healing from reparations will come about because our willingness to enact them is the tangible evidence of our repentance.
I didn’t know how to be married when I first got married. I just didn’t. It took a lot of work, sacrifice, and even a change of everything I thought my marriage would be. If we’re willing to refer to the democratic principles our forefathers laid out as the “American Experiment,” couldn’t we expect there were some things there that were failures and are in need of significant change?
Because clearly there are.