The man to my left was a Mennonite leader who has worked with a good friend of mine. To his left sat a woman who is writing a curriculum on teaching racial reconciliation and who is a professor at Antioch University Seattle. Further around the table was a man who leads slave tours in the city of Richmond and works for Initiatives of Change, a non-profit that encourages dialogue around issues of race. To my right, a woman told me the story of how she came to understand that she was descended from slave owners and how her love of blues turned this slant on the story in a wonderful way. The final man at the table was a retired Unitarian Universalist minister writing a book on theology and epistemology.
I am a Mennonite who is very interested in racial reconciliation work; I am also a graduate of Antioch University. My former mother-in-law was the person who first sparked my thinking about how slavery has left a legacy of damage and scarring in our country, and she was mentored by the man across the table. As an academic, the philosophical and theological underpinnings of these discussions around race are very important to me, and of course, I’m fascinated by stories of people who have come to know their own history and are trying to make sense of it through writing, as the woman beside me is doing.
As we talked last night, I could barely catch my breath. I felt like gilded gifts were being poured from the mouths of these people I had just met, gifts for me, to remind me of the path on which life has carried me. The path that leads to now, to this book, to this conversation I’m having with myself and others, about how we are all scarred by slavery – all wounded and some of us still bleeding – and that it takes many journeys, many conversations, many confessions to bring us healing.
But if we follow the path set before us, we will find ourselves surrounded by our own stories, and they will be the stories of those whose paths travel beside ours for a time . . . even if just for a minute over salad and rice pilaf.
I am reminded, once again, that nothing is wasted. No hope unfulfilled. No pain unredeemed. No story unfinished.
I was honored to be included in the opening evening of the national Gathering for Coming to the Table, an organization whose “vision for the United States is of a just and truthful society that acknowledges and seeks to heal from the racial wounds of the past—from slavery and the many forms of racism it spawned.”