Today we took the children to the Underground Railroad museum (the Freedom Center). It was amazing. Our older boy had been learning about slavery in school, so we thought he might find it interesting. There was a rebuilt slave pen that had been used to corral slaves before taking them to auction. There were videos explaining how the slaves were marched for hundreds of miles by foot to the auction block. There were re-enactments of mothers being ripped away from their young children and young men making the tough decision to leave their families to seek freedom. These brave young men decided that they would rather die free than live as a slave.
Can you imagine if you had to make those kinds of truly life or death decisions? There are so many of us whose most gut-wrenching decision is about what to wear, wear to live or whom to befriend. What if every day the choices you made determined if you lived or died? What if your journey was a perilous one filled with danger and obstacles at every turn? Do you have the fortitude to handle that kind of test? Would you crack under the pressure of extreme danger?
At the museum today a storyteller took us back to the mid-1800s and told such a story. His message was powerful, but he was a gifted yarnspinner. He didn’t knock you over the head with a message filled with fire and brimstone. Instead, his message snuck up on you and filled you with compassion and made you stop and think. He had many ‘takeaway’ messages and some even made me a little weepy. He said “life is about more than just breathing“. What that said to me was that we can’t just sail through life without really living. We can’t ignore our surroundings and what is REALLY going on. We must be engaged and aware. What he said to me is that we need to make our lives mean something. It’s not so much WHAT we decide on that matters but the fact that we take the time to make a conscious decision about the true meaning of our lives.
When his segment was over, I just had to approach this man and tell him how truly wonderful I thought he was. I gave him one of those hearty handshakes. You know, the kind where you shake with one hand and clasp the top of their hand with your other hand? He seemed touched that I was so moved and took a few extra minutes to talk with my boys. He asked them if they understood what the Underground Railroad really was. He said, “you know their weren’t any trains, right?” My boys nodded. He went on to tell them that not only was the Underground Railroad not about trains, it was about people helping people. He told them that people still need to help other people and he asked them to think about that. He had noted earlier that those young black folks were on a journey to freedom many years ago. Not all of them made it. While their journey was dangerous and sometimes tragic, he said that we all go on journeys that require courage and strength.
This was such a moving experience for me. You think about the folks that have done so much before you and feel so small when you complain about such trivial things in your own life. My enslaved ancestors walked 750 miles or more in bare feet to an auction block yet perservered and some eventually tasted freedom — and I can’t balance my checkbook? Come on now! Life IS about more than just breathing. Life is about strength and conviction and reaching out for your goals. We all are tougher than we think. I guess we have to just dig down deep to realize who we really are inside.