Yesterday, 5-year old Malik biked some 9 miles. But the last mile was grueling. He simply stopped and yelled that his legs hurt and he couldn’t go on. He knew ice cream was the prize at the end, but at the moment, such deferred gratification wasn’t enough. I gave him some “electric” water, he drank a half-a-bottle and valiantly tried again. It helped for a few hundred yards. I needed a Plan B.
So I told him the story of “The Little Engine That Could” and he started to chant along with me “I think I can, I think I can!” It was working. And as we crested a small hill and saw the ice cream store in the distance, we changed it to “I knew I could! I knew I could!” It worked!
And so knowing the right stories and telling the right stories at the right time is a good skill to have. I made a little story about my hook-in-the-finger adventure yesterday and it seemed to throw some light on the bigger story of racism in my country.
Today I read a passage from a surprisingly excellent book by Steven Rowley called “The Editor.” The main character has had his book accepted by Doubleday Publishers and his editor is…Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Good material! In the context of helping him with a passage, she tells him the ancient story of Isis and Osiris. Osiris was a king who is usurped by his brother Set, murdered, chopped into pieces and scattered around the countryside. His wife Isis searches for and collects the scattered pieces to put them back together and bury them as one whole body—in fact, the first mummy. The story goes on with the birth of their son, Horus, but for now, that’s the background for this little meditation about the difference between curing and healing.
“Don’t tell your story to change something about the past; the past in inherently unchangeable. There is no cure.…The goal is to find a way forward. To assemble all the lovely bits, like Isis did. To truly remember, I believe, is to heal.”
Are you with me here? I find this stunning. The dismemberment of African cultures, tearing apart families, languages, customs, religions, music, dress, freedoms and more, was an act as brutal as Set’s misuse of power and horrific murder of his own brother. The pieces of the people’s cultures were spread throughout the American South, the Caribbean, South America, the scattered pieces of their once-unified identities, now need to be re-collected and re-imagined. There is no cure for that brutal past. What happened never should have happened from our evolutionary standpoint, but the past is unchangeable.
But to heal is to remember and to assemble and restore, to become the Ancestors that our own Ancestors couldn’t be. That’s a useful story for where we are, a way to find a way forward. A step toward the healing we all deeply want and desperately need. Let’s start walking.
"I think we can, I think we can…"