Then I began to look at the specific things in the landscape: a llama, a cool red truck, windmills and yellow flowers. (Side tangent – I later discovered that these flowers are named Rape… #worstflowernameever.) As the hours ticked by, I felt my eyes wander down to the tracks. An instant overwhelmed me with a sense of awareness of my locality. It was the rocks beneath the railroad ties. They were worn. They had been there a while; a long while. Probably nearly a hundred years. As the thought began to cross my mind; my breath was knocked out of me. People were led to death here. Probably right here. And I felt changed. But, I began to really process what I was thinking because, let’s be honest, I had the time. I realized that no one around me seemed affected by the reality that we were blissfully traveling a track that once saw unthinkable pain. I felt myself judging these Germans for being so blasé about the Holocaust… even though I had not engaged anyone in my thought pattern, and I would have no way of knowing the struggle to absorb and process the state sponsored genocide that occurred less than a century ago. I don't mean to say they actually are blasé so much as I struggled with projecting that on to them in the midst of my reflective moment. And then the thoughts turned toward my own birthplace and lifestyle. I realized that there MUST be tourists that travel to the South - to Georgia who feel a similar heaviness about the sins of the land on which I live my own life.
This Oscar season brought a rare occurrence for this movie-snob. 12 Years a Slave marked the first time in a long time that the movie that won best picture was both my pick and my prediction. Most years my prediction wins, but my pick is much less frequent. I have high expectations for the movie I consider the best film of the year. I want entertainment, of course; but in addition to that, I expect the movie to exhibit masterful acting, directing, and cinematography. I want the whole of the movie production to be excellent: costumes, score, set direction, casting; everything. But, even more than that, I need the content to matter. I want the audience to be driven toward processing something significant, not necessarily something difficult or unfortunate. For instance, Invictus was once my pick for best picture. I think the movie that wins the Best Picture Oscar marks the year and should reflect the people, culture, priorities and values of the time. Well, at least the culture, priorities and values the people of the time should have.
12 Years a Slave pushed all of those buttons in the best way possible. So powerful. As a white woman from the South who comes from a family that has been in Georgia for hundreds of years, I am forced to wrestle with the blood soaked land I travel every day. I am compelled to navigate a terrain on which my ancestors owned people. I sit here struggling with whether or not it is appropriate to discuss the knowledge I have on the degree to which this was true of my family. It just feels like justifying the unthinkable. One is too many. Thinking about oppressing another person in that way is too much.
This experience of pondering the rocks beneath the tracks that once led men, women and children to unthinkable pain, loss, and death forced me to remember the visceral experience I had in the theater watching 12 Years. At the same time JD Walt’s words about remembering and re-membering and the cross, the table, and the empty tomb flood my mind. There is something in our createdness that craves marking powerful events, especially the destructively painful things that dishonored God’s design, His Beloved, and the imago dei. We can’t let ourselves forget the things that break us. I can’t help but wonder if it is the part of us that hungers for reconciliation, for wholeness, to be made new.
May you find renewed hope that God is working to make all things new each time a broken world forces you to grieve and ponder the pain of the past.
Soundtrack – Brand New Day, Tim Myers; Whatever Thing, Enter the Worship Circle.