Friday, July 28, 2017

Imagination and Reincarnation

Dela, an American born slave,
photo courtesy of Peabody Museum
of Archaeology and Ethnology




Wade in the water....
Wade in the water, children 
Wade in the water, 
God's gonna trouble the water...

Sometimes I sing this old spiritual. I don't know why. I don't even know where I first heard it. But it rises up inside me as if it's always been there. Whenever I sing it, like tonight, I see an African American woman, my age, but stronger and braver than me, and with a whole history book of unspeakable abuses carved into her family tree, hung from her family tree. She's an escaped southern slave and she's following the stars toward freedom. Her muscular body is neck deep in a strange, cold river. Wading in the water, she holds her boots above her head and waits for the dogs and bounty hunters to lose her scent and turn around. Her eyes shine in the moonlight, but she shuts them whenever she hears the distant howling of hounds or the bray of horses. She tries not to pant or move too quickly for fear of making ripples and rings in the water, but she's also steadfast on survival and freedom and so she must keep moving. While she moves in the moonlight, she whispers the words of this song, the song her mama once sang her, before she was sold to a fat white man at the timid, tender age of eight.

Wade in the water....
Wade in the water, children 
Wade in the water, 
God's gonna trouble the water...

What if I was her in another life?

Imagine a world where reincarnation is not only real, but remembered. We would have no reason to discriminate against one another. We humans would experience bodies and lives all over the world. Imagine babies born with wisdom. History would never be repeated or forgotten because we would all have lived through it. We would have endless stories to tell of past lives; not just from our own recent childhoods and unfettered youths. We would intimately know death, illness, injury, and love of all forms. Imagine if every straight person remembered what it was like to be homosexual. Imagine if every man understood what it was like to be a woman and every woman understood what it was like to be a man. Imagine a world where everyone could relate with transgender persons, disabled persons, depressed persons... Imagine if every wealthy person felt distant hunger pangs whenever they met a beggar on the street who was broke and starving. Empathy would be visceral and emotional and full of action. Every soul would know what it was like to be bullied, beaten, and tortured until cruelty itself became extinct. Imagine knowing and loving the world as deeply as we love our mothers. We would prevent pollution and climate change and the destruction of rain forests and rhinos. There wouldn't be dictators or concentration camps or nuclear war. There wouldn't be human trafficking, child pornography or forced marriages between the raped and their rapists. There would be peace and quiet.

On July 28, 1917, exactly 100 years ago today, the Silent Parade took place in New York City. It was the first of it's kind. Some say it was the start of the Civil Rights Movement. The organized silent march was an anti-lynching parade. Lynchings were still so commonplace in 1917 that a mass demonstration had to take place, but still lynchings continued. Imagine if the lynchers became the lynched. It's an interesting thought, but we shouldn't need it. We shouldn't need reincarnation to achieve equality. We humans have hearts and imaginations. It shouldn't be so hard for us to envision life in another's skin. To feel that desperate, illiterate woman inside you, hiding from her hunters in a river at night, her clothes soaked, her skin cold and wet, her tattered boots above her head. We should all imagine what it would be like to want freedom so badly that we'd risk hanging from a tree by the neck to get it.