What a time of change we live in. It’s not that I have the illusion that with the new term of Obama’s presidency and the inauguration speeches, everything will just fall into place. But there is reason to notice that the language has changed and it does mean something. And to really see what it means, we need to know our history.
I recently saw a feature segment on the NBC hosted by Lester Holt. It was a story about the Little Rock Nine–nine teenagers who walked through crowds of jeering and hostile students, and adults, to integrate Little Rock Central High School in 1957. I am old enough to have seen that event on our little Motorola black and white TV, and it gave me chills at the time. This month, the same school sent an integrated and dynamic marching band to march in the inaugural parade.
Quoted in the story, Terrance Roberts said “We have to know our history so we can understand our present and anticipate our future.” Do you know your history, your family history, your community, your country’s real history? As those of you who read “The Woman in the Photograph” know, I did not know the real history that was the foundation upon which I entered this world. I knew that I had a horror of war since I was very little. Was it just because I was of the generation of school kids in New York City who had to wear metal name tags in case we were killed by a nuclear bomb? Partially. But I think it went back to the roots of helplessness and shock that my parents carried with them when they escaped from Germany in the thirties. They may have been lucky to leave early and miss the worst of the abuses, but they lost their trust in life, and maybe in other people.
I have always sensed that my journey had something to do with making peace. As a college student in Ann Arbor, Michigan I sat at the table distributing literature for peace organizations, booklets with titles like “Speak Truth to Power.” But that didn’t quite integrate with some deep yearning I had. The yearning was for peace in my heart, and to restore the trust that was lost.
I choose to be encouraged, inspired and hopeful that the words of inclusion in the president’s speech, and the poem by Richard Blanco–One Today–are really the harbingers of even political leaders, often the last to change, embarking on a new path. “All of us as vital as the one light we move through…” says the poet, a Gay man of Cuban descent.
In the news footage of the crowd in attendance, the camera highlighted a woman who held up some photos of her grandparents, sharecroppers in America born after the Civil War. If I had been there on Monday, I would have brought photos of my relatives, including those that didn’t make it safely to these shores. I once heard a Chinese Master say that when you liberate yourself, you liberate your ancestors for eight generations back. I would only wish that every person at the inauguration, and watching it on TV, and reading it in the paper, could feel the slow but constant advance of freedom moving us toward an unknown and but brightly evolving future and sending it’s precious gift back to all who came before.
Let’s understand their stories so we can tell our own.