Over a century ago, a black family sought find something better for their children. Having lived in New Orleans for centuries, so far as they could
tell, freed in theory several decades back, they looked for a way out of their current circumstance, not just for themselves, but really for their
children, as will become apparent.
At the time, trains, like everything else, was segregated. You could buy a ticket, a black ticket, or an Hispanic ticket. Were you white, the world
was available, if you were to seek it. Hispanic, while not the chance of white folks, out west your prospects were significant. Black, on the other
hand, you were assured of the lowest tier of the working force, regardless of skill.
Through years of interracial "mingling," some of the family was very light skinned, including the father and his children. Mom was clearly black,
with both facial features and skin color, but one son could pass as white, while the others could pass as Hispanic.
So John, still a very young boy, got onto a train registered as being a white boy, and entered into a new, promising, and extremely damaging world.
Growing up after leaving New Orleans for Chicago, John was no longer a black boy, but a white one so far as the world was concerned. So far as he was
concerned, though, he did not belong anywhere, including his own body.
There would be times, even, where, working in the same hotel, he would have to deny and even degrade his mother to maintain the illusion. He became a
dichotomy, both black and white and neither. He no longer belonged anywhere, in society, in his family, his friends, even with himself.
He grew up and had a family, and they had children of their own, those children having more children, and now that generation is starting to add
another generation to this family. There are many dozens, and all growing up thinking they were white until one faithful trip to New Orleans to seek
their roots in 1987. The family secret was no longer secret. Granted, around that time there were hints if folks knew where to look, but who would?
Many "cousins", 4th generation children from one of John's daughters who were at a restaurant and saw an older blacker woman and ran up to her
yelling, "Uncle Jim! Uncle Jim!" thinking she was their great uncle, for example.
For most, it seemed a reasonable explanation for an exceptional tanning ability.
However, it seems there is something deeper to this. The family has often gotten together and had misfit conversations. No one ever feels they belong.
Some voice this, some lash out against this, but no one seems to fit, nor does fit. Temporary homes will be discovered, but there's this underlying
fear of being discovered. What, exactly, is unknown, but the feeling persists, friends move on. Though most, when asked, would die in a second on
behalf of any other family member (from John, who is now great great grandpa to the family, all the way down to the "cousins"), many don't even
feel like they belong in the family.
There is a Psalm I came across the other night that fits this emotional state perfectly, I thought. Specifically, verses 9 - 14:
Be merciful to me, O LORD, for I am in distress;
my eyes grow weak with sorrow,
my soul and my body with grief.
My life is consumed by anguish
and my years by groaning;
my strength fails because of my affliction, [a]
and my bones grow weak.
Because of all my enemies,
I am the utter contempt of my neighbors;
I am a dread to my friends—
those who see me on the street flee from me.
I am forgotten by them as though I were dead;
I have become like broken pottery.
For I hear the slander of many;
there is terror on every side;
they conspire against me
and plot to take my life.
Upon first hearing of this, I largely dismissed it. Yet, as I look at it, and look deeper, this is a feeling prevalent through the family. More
obvious in some than others, but there none the less. How could a secret, unknown for so many decades and, after having been discovered, for many
heralded (pun intended for any who may get that ) as a badge of honor ("Yeah, I have roots in slavery") could inspire in 4, possibly 5 (They're
still a bit young) generations without us even realizing.
It seems something that weighs on us as heavy as stone, yet, having the burden all our lives, it is like carrying the 15 pounds per square inch we
carry daily in Earth's atmosphere.
I can honestly say that, while, from an intellectual perspective, this idea of generational curses spoken of in scripture was interesting. Having
seemingly discovered on in the family myself, it has become a lot more real. Something I've just chalked up to as a character flaw, or maybe a
prompting from God to keep me moving on, moving away, hopefully moving up, could be so much more, something sinister rooted in what a man felt society
forced him to do to save his children.
So what's this about The Stone?
I suspect that song captured John's heart most of his life. I know it captures mine, though I know not specifically what the wrong is, it has seemed
present. Thankfully, there is hope Psalm 31 continues:
But I trust in you, O LORD;
I say, "You are my God."
My times are in your hands;
deliver me from my enemies
and from those who pursue me.
Let your face shine on your servant;
save me in your unfailing love.
Let me not be put to shame, O LORD,
for I have cried out to you;
but let the wicked be put to shame
and lie silent in the grave.
Let their lying lips be silenced,
for with pride and contempt
they speak arrogantly against the righteous.
How great is your goodness,
which you have stored up for those who fear you,
which you bestow in the sight of men
on those who take refuge in you.
In the shelter of your presence you hide them
from the intrigues of men;
in your dwelling you keep them safe
from accusing tongues.
Praise be to the LORD,
for he showed his wonderful love to me
when I was in a besieged city.
In my alarm I said,
"I am cut off from your sight!"
Yet you heard my cry for mercy
when I called to you for help.
Love the LORD, all his saints!
The LORD preserves the faithful,
but the proud he pays back in full.
Be strong and take heart,
all you who hope in the LORD.
That Dave Matthews could capture such an emotional strain so well, though, makes me wonder... How many others are under a curse unawares, rooted
somewhere generations ago that has plagued or at least made difficult the lives of so many for generations.
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