“Don’t be discouraged,” she said. Her eyes were kind, and she was smiling. This woman I had just met was encouraging me. The beautiful irony warmed my heart. 'Slave Graveyard' photo (c) 2008, Corey Balazowich - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

We were at a meeting of the Central Virginia History Researchers, a consortium of folks researching the slave communities in our region. I was there because of the book I am writing; this lovely woman was there because she is a descendant of the slaves from a local plantation. I was doing work that was meant to help people like her whose family history was hard to find, and here she was encouraging me. Truly, I was touched.

The focus of this meeting was to hear the story of a man who had just discovered he was descended from the slaves at a local plantation. I looked at the pictures of his family and heard the gasp of the other researchers in the room as they saw new photos of people they had been studying for years. I heard him talk about how his family reunions had been small enough to take place in a car, but now he had all this family. I watched as his brow puckered to hold back the tears. Ah, yes, here’s why I’m doing what I’m doing.

By the time this meeting was over, I had received contact information for at least five people, heard several folks offering to send me materials that would help my work, and had offered to return the favor at least three times. I almost bounced out of the room with excitement – this is just what “community” is supposed to feel like, I thought.

Sometimes it is so easy for me to get isolated, to feel like the entire burden of my writing (not to mention my life) rests on my shoulders. Sometimes this burden gets so heavy that I just want to lay it down, pick up something lighter. I think most people feel this weight on occasion, and I know most writers feel it most of the time. So when I get a chance to be buoyed up by the help and good will of others, it makes me feel like I’m flying.

Now, I’m ready to dig back and find some answers. I’m eager to put more words on the page, and not just for myself, but for this lovely woman who reminded me not to be discouraged and for this man with tears barely restrained who gave me a face for this work. Thank you. Thank you.

The Central Virginia History Researchers have done remarkable work tracing the descendants of slaves at two Albermarle, Virginia plantations. If you’re at all interested in this work, their website is more than worth a visit.