I came to realize I could not resolve the relationship issues between Thomas and me, no matter what I did. No matter how hard I tried, I could not come to an understanding of why all this happened or why I could not change it. That’s when I had another aha! moment. It finally dawned on me that our issues must be bigger than just us. I began to look at the context of our lives in relationship to previous generations to see if I could find clues about purpose and motivation.
What is my own purpose in the larger scheme of things?
Can I find continuity between generations that might make sense of our story?
Perhaps looking at our family history of generations past will offer clues for a bigger picture.
As I began my genealogy research, I recalled a quote from Eckhart Tolle in his 2006 book, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. It makes clear the importance of perspective in understanding truth:
An illustration of relative and absolute truth, consider the sunrise and sunset. When we say the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening, that is true, but only relatively. In absolute terms, it is false. Only from the limited perspective of an observer on or near the planet’s surface does the sun rise and set. If you were far out in space, you would see that the sun neither rises nor sets, but that it shines continuously. And yet, even after realizing that, we can continue to speak of the sunrise or sunset, still see its beauty, paint it, and write poems about it, even though we now know that it is a relative rather than an absolute truth.
Perhaps I needed to view our life experience from a larger paradigm.
As I researched the ancestors of both my parents, I learned much about myself as I found commonality with what my ancestors valued and the way they lived their lives. Going further back, I discovered ancestors whose values did not match mine, as well. Some of them owned slaves, for example. One of them oversaw the Tower of London and the beheadings that occurred following the reign of Henry VIII.
Perhaps our life experiences are part of evolving, universal human learning that is ongoing and cumulative over generations and centuries. Perhaps individual consciousness is connected to a Universal Consciousness. Perhaps our earthly trials are lessons that stretch us to reach for broader paradigms of understanding built upon the learning of previous generations.
This way of thinking helped me begin to explore the answer to my question, “Why? Why us?”
It was when I researched Micah’s family that I found the gold I was looking for. What I discovered was the saga of his family since the family matriarch arrived in Virginia from Africa on a slave ship in 1750. There is a history of generations of abandonment, from when this great-great-great-great-great grandmother was abandoned by her African homeland and sold into slavery, to 1845 when the slaveowner of the family freed his slaves in his will, only to have it challenged in court for 12 years by the slaveholder’s grandson. When the slaves were losing hope of being freed, in their desperation they set fire to the plantation house in an unsuccessful attempt to get rid of the grandson. When this resulted in the death of a child instead, the leaders of the slaves—who apparently were Micah’s ancestors—escaped lynching and spent the rest of their lives in fear of being found out.
I am able to understand why he did it.
Learning this story gave me a sense of continuity with a greater whole as I developed a deep empathy for what his family went through. This experience, together with what I found when Harry and I visited the east Texas town in which Micah grew up, gave me an entirely different perspective about who he was.
When we visited this small, formerly affluent town, we found that although two-thirds of the town was black, we saw only five black people as we wandered around that day. We asked a waitress where all the black people were. She directed across not one but two railroad tracks to a swampy area at the edge of town. Here we saw the people walking the dirt streets with no sidewalks and living in houses on stilts to keep them dry when the river water came up during the rainy season. The tension in the air was palpable when we, as white people inquired about the census records of Micah’s black family at the local library. Although Micah had described his hometown to me, I had no idea that it was possible for racial prejudice to be so strong it could make most of the population of a town invisible.
With this new awareness, I found my anger toward Micah mellowing, to the extent that I was finally able to forgive him. Although I do not believe his alienating behavior was justified, I can understand why he did it. I see how the helplessness he must have felt growing up in this unjust environment, raised by parents who had experienced generations of abandonment and lack of justice, could lead to the depth of anger and distrust that resulted in the alienating behavior.
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