This is a trail even under asphalt.
– from “Artemis in Echo Park” by Eloise Klein Healy
Yesterday, P and I walked up the mountain to where our lodge will sit on the farm, a walk to cleanse, to air, to hope again after a hard week.
As we came back down the trail, I noticed how it had bowed, curved into its center, etched – in just months – deeper than we had made with intention. I think this is how stories are.
In my mind, I keep trying to separate my stories – the farm, the history and legacy of slavery, the practice of writing – as if they are discrete trails that I run – a segmented centipede with my feet going wide in direction.
But I only have one trail, blazed the blue of my name.
On Saturday, I spent the day with people for whom the trail of slavery was writ large. They were the children of people who received little if any education – “My father finished third grade,” one man said.” They had attended Rosenwald schools that were built to make things more equal and separate. The separate came through loud; the equal did not.
Some of these people walked 5 miles to school each day, wearing a trail with their tired feet.
I listened to them talk, to discuss the preservation of the buildings that held close this segment of their stories, to figure out how to preserve the trail markers these buildings represent. I was honored to be there, to listen, to learn. Honored to have my trail mesh with theirs for a few paces.
Our culture seems to say more and more – Focus. Pick one thing. Put all your energies there.
I hear that, and I know that some of that idea is true – the need to say “No.” The need to fight for the time our passions require. I’m a fan of saying, “No.”
Yet, sometimes we say “no” because we believe that these things are not on our trail, that our path goes elsewhere – and maybe it does. Or maybe, our job – especially as writers – is to find the way these other trails intersect with our own. Maybe it’s our job to see where the ground bows beneath our feet, to see where we have walked into trails carved by the stories of others.
Maybe we need to know that our trail bends where we go – narrow and true – following our blue blazes across paths and stories far and wide.
I did not attend a Rosenwald School, and had I been alive when they were functioning, I would not have attended one. The color of my skin, the label on my family would have sent my trail elsewhere for education. And still, this is my story, too, the story of what came after Emancipation, the story of what it was to live in my home during Jim Crow, the story that plays out in the lives of my friends and family even now. My story, even though I did not live it.
It’s too easy to claim that things are “ours” or “theirs,” to label “my people” and “your people,” “my story” and “your story.” But then, these are just paths in the same landscape. Whether we pave them over or not, they are still carved deep into your places. Reminders of our connectedness. Beautiful and bowed.
What are the major themes in the trail of your life? Do you ever find yourself trying to separate them from each other or from someone else’s trail?