The House My Ancestors Built
"Keep fresh before me the moments of my High Resolve, that in fair weather or in foul, in good times or in tempests… I may not forget that to which my life is committed. Keep fresh before me the moments of my high resolve."
—Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman
When my spouse was a little kid, my mother-in-law's father—Grandpa Carter—made a dollhouse as a special gift. The house is two stories, with a stairwell in the middle, an attic that opens with rooftop hinges, and chimneys at either end.
A few years ago, my in-laws gifted our older child with this dollhouse. She was excited about it at first—and then it got dusty. During these months of quarantine, my tired eyes repeatedly came to rest on the dusty dollhouse in a basement corner. Just recently, though, I bought some new furniture for the dollhouse: brightly-colored chairs and couches that the kids have already spent hours arranging and rearranging. Every time they give the dollhouse any attention at all, I remind them that their great-grandfather built it.
Simultaneously, we’ve been trying to explain to our 3- and 7-year-old kids why our family is going to rallies, car caravan protests, marches and vigils, to chant, over and over again, that Black Lives Matter.
“Why do we even need to say that?,” they ask.
“Because over four hundred years ago,” I explained to them this week, “Black African people were brought by force to this land by white people to be slaves, and that is wrong. And then it happened again and again and again, and many Black people were killed and hurt and their lives were destroyed. This went on for hundreds of years, and mistreatment of Black people in this country continues every day. Since it’s hard to talk about, too often white people in this country don't talk about it. We need to talk about these things and figure out how we can do better and make things better, even when these things are hard to discuss and hard to understand.”
Can our kids possibly wrap their minds around the notion of four hundred years? But we talk about the past, and past generations, with our children all the time. The dollhouse built by their Great-grandpa Carter, who they never met, is being encountered anew. So, too, our conversations about the history of our country—the actions of our ancestors—can be made new and relevant and understandable. We can and must have these conversations. We must, and we will, over and over again.
Spirit of Love, Spirit of Compassion, Spirit of Justice, fill me with resolve. Let me not shy away from the hard conversations and the determination to do better. Help me to know that as imperfect and insufficient as our efforts are, they are drops of water in a moving stream in which we must swim, startled and determined by the rush of energy around and within us, carrying us forward.