A FEW NIGHTS AGO, Natalie was reading an encyclopedia while I braided her hair. Natalie is my 10-year-old daughter. She is perceptive, kind, generous and tender, too. She is also Haitian and relatively new to western culture, having been adopted in Haiti where my family lived for a number of years.
Natalie had just turned a page and began reading about the African slave trade when she became quiet for a moment. When she looked up, she asked, “Mom, why did the Dutch steal people?”
We all have moments in parenting for which we feel ill-prepared. For a split second I wished she could have been asking me something easier or delving into the mysteries of puberty. . . but there we were at the intersection of our ancestral histories – a lens zooming to the moment when history tied my people to hers.
Some may say that we can’t possibly be held responsible for the choices of our forefathers, but no matter how you look at it, we all come from a heritage that impacts us.
OUR COLLECTIVE PAST
My family name was among those who were slave traders in West Africa. “My people” profited from the enslavement and mistreatment of others. I also know that those who emigrated to the U.S. generations ago were given opportunities that those in chains were never offered, even after slavery was denounced.
So we talked about slavery and the role my people played, what her people endured, and then, as happens in conversation, moved on to the more mundane.
The next morning, I was getting ready for the day when Natalie came to me, grabbed me in a squeeze around the waist and with her head pressed under my heart said, “Mom, I just want you to know that I forgive your people.”
Oh, my little girl! While tucked in her bed through the night she had mulled over thoughts in her mind and had understood the reality of our collective past!
I hugged her back and then, like a whisper of truth, I knew in that moment that God was choosing her to remind me of his bigger purpose – that no matter where we come from, what we inherit, even what we have done, there is grace.
And so I thanked her. With tear-filled eyes, I thanked my wide-eyed child and I told her that we are more than our past and while we live in the shadow of history, we write a new chapter. And our story, by the grace of God, is of redemption!
So here’s the thing – if we want to participate in the good work of renewal that God calls us to, it won’t happen if we don’t listen to those God lovingly calls “the least of these.” If we think we have the edge on experience but won’t see it through the eyes of my little girl, the poor or the powerless, the marginalized or the maligned, then we will miss the opportunity to see Truth we have not had to live.