Personal Journeys with Gramma

Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.

Walking Through Fire to Goodness

Occasionally, you meet someone who feels special—more peaceful, more loving, more giving—wiser—than usual. Or you listen to a TV interview of such a person. Their goodness is almost palpable as they stare into the camera and speak their truth. And you wonder how beautiful people—not pretty, but rare and beautiful—people are made. One path, I think, is through fire.

For example, recently I happened to watch two wrenching programs—one a documentary, the other based on a common modern tragedy. The first from PBS focused on the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado—an evil, dark event in which cavalry murdered Native Americans who were peaceful. There was no provocation. A five-year-old boy was used for target practice. Pregnant women had their unborn babies slashed from them and murdered. Body parts of women, children, and old folks were seized as souvenirs. Even a peace chief—who presented his American flag from the government and his letter from Washington, D.C., stating he and his people were not a threat—was murdered and mutilated. Two cavalry officers refused to take part. One testified when an investigation was launched and was later murdered for his integrity. A town that still exists was named for the perpetrator of the massacre, who was hailed as a hero by the many who hated indigenous people regardless of tribe.

The second program was a film directed by Barry Jenkins and adapted from James Baldwin’s book of the same name, IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK. The story challenges and perhaps exceeds the love and longing of ROMEO AND JULIET in its angst. It’s a tale of lovers torn apart by prejudiced false witness by a white supremacist—nothing uncommon in Baldwin’s day or today. The book was loosely based on a true story. The unfairness is almost too much for a sensitive viewer to bear, but only a fool would insist such travesties of justice have been eliminated for members of any minority group.

Where do I go with this? First, I realize people who live with hateful, evil intentions toward others whom they decide are unworthy are not new aberrations in this country or anywhere. I don’t know when hate began, but I suspect it’s as old as humankind. Evolving past it is proving to be hugely difficult. However, I’m not writing about the hateful ones. They get plenty of press. I’m writing about the victims and victims’ loved ones and what happens if they overcome.

The program about the Sand Creek Massacre included interviews with modern-day descendants of the few survivors of the massacre—some were babies hidden in the banks of the stream. What’s remarkable is to watch these people who have sprung from a long history of injustice grappling with not only what was done to their ancestors, but also what lingering hate does to them and their families. Once in a while, a descendant has the look and voice of transcendent goodness I was describing earlier. Wow.

I remember watching an interview with Maya Angelou in which she talked about the rape she endured as a child. Oprah Winfrey shared a similar background. Yet both rose to become role models for thousands within and beyond their racial identity. It’s not surviving horror that makes a person good, but rising through it can hone the shine of someone such as Nelson Mandela or Viktor Frankel. The fire purifies and strengthens the person beneath the tragedy.

I’m certainly not advocating violence, hate, or injustice. There’s no excuse for human beings who are willing to degrade our species. They also degrade themselves as individuals. Many of their victims never fully recover themselves even if they survive physically. But, I am noting that terrible experiences can lend an opportunity for particular victims to rise higher, becoming someone profoundly good and powerful, someone who inspires and breaks new paths for the strong to follow. I am in awe of them.

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